Some studies show that the air inside your home is actually 2 to 5 times worse than the air quality is outside, which is shocking when you think about how much time we spend indoors.
The air inside your home is impacted by all sorts of things you may not have considered, from the type of paint on your walls to the scented candle burning in your entryway. Health effects caused by poor air quality can range from short term problems, like allergic reactions, sneezing, itchy eyes, or asthma, to long term issues like heart disease and cancer. A recent study found that prolonged exposure to household cleaning chemicals can be as bad for your lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes a day!
Because we spend so much time in our homes, it's imperative to look for ways to not only improve the quality, but reduce the number of pollutants we introduce into our living spaces.
Where does indoor air pollution come from?
Indoor air pollution comes from a wide variety of sources, with some that are introduced by your house's occupants, and some that occur naturally. These are some of the most common sources of indoor air pollution:
VOCs (Volatile organic compounds): VOCs are gases emitted from solids or liquids. They invade your home in the form of fumes from things like paint, carpeting, PVC, or household cleaners. VOCs are released into the air when you clean with chemicals like ammonia or bleach, burn candles or incense, use hot water that's been treated with chlorine, spray any type of aerosol like hair spray or air freshener, or install new carpet or paint.
Read more: Sources of VOCs
Mold, Dander, and Other Biological Allergens: Biological agents come into homes from natural sources like pollen, pet dander, and bacteria from rodent droppings, while molds and mildews spawn in the damp areas of your home. These pollutants cling to soft surfaces like furniture, carpeting and curtains, or grown and collect in areas that are consistently damp like bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements.
Read more: Biological Pollutants
Secondhand Smoke: Also known as environmental tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke from burning cigarettes, cigars or tobacco products, and smoke exhaled from smokers. According to the EPA, secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in approximately 3,000 non-smoking adults each year, in addition to a wide variety of adverse effects like asthmatic reactions, bronchitis, pneumonia, and even ear infections.
Read more: The Science Behind Secondhand Smoke
Radon: Radon is the by-product of decomposing uranium. It's a radioactive gas that's released naturally in nearly all soils, and can seep into your home through the walls, foundation or even the water supply, particularly if your house's water comes from an underground supply. There is no known "safe" level of radon, but fortunately it's easy to test for and reduce.
Read more: A Citizen's Guide to Radon
Carbon Monoxide: Commonly referred to as "the silent killer," carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that enters your home from appliances like ovens, radiators, furnaces, or chimneys that burn fossil fuels, as well as from nearby sources of car exhaust like parking garages or nearby roads.
How do I reduce indoor air pollution?
While the quality of air inside your home can be contaminated from a startling number of sources, it's also relatively simple to decrease your living space's exposure to pollutants. Here are a few common ways to improve the air quality in your home:
Ventilate: One of the main reasons indoor air can be so much worse than outdoor air is pollutants stay trapped inside! Opening doors and windows regularly increases natural air flow inside a home and helps keep indoor spaces vented when working with chemicals or burning fuels. Running fume hoods, kitchen or bathroom fans, or HVAC systems with proper air filters exhausts pollutants outside.
Take It Outside: This should be a no-brainer - if you are a smoker, smoking outside is the best way to ensure you don't introduce secondhand smoke into your home. The same can apply to projects that involve a lot of fumes, such as painting, sanding, welding, or working with appliances like generators that burn fuels -- taking these activities outside prevents them from pollution your home in the first place.
Treat Soft Surfaces: Carpets can be both a blessing and a curse for indoor air quality: they trap dander, mold, dust, and other allergens in their fibers. While trapping pollutants in carpet fibers keeps them from spreading all over your house, you'll need to vacuum and treat carpets often so pathogens don't build up too much. The same goes for curtains, bedding, and even your pets' fur - frequent cleaning will reduce the number of pathogens being hosted and spread by these soft materials.
Reduce Humidity: Mold loves moisture - especially those damp corners in bathrooms, under sinks, and in the basement where dampness lingers for long periods of time. Ventilation helps with mold prevention too: Running the bathroom fan after a shower, exhausting clothing dryers outside, or cracking a window while running the dishwasher. Dehumidifiers are incredibly helpful during damp months, as is proper insulation on doors and windows to reduce condensation.
Be Careful with Chemicals: As mentioned above, pollutants can come from a variety of seemingly innocent sources like air fresheners, hairspray, and even candles. The simplest way to reduce VOCs in your home is to avoid bringing them inside in the first place: avoid aerosols (or use them with really good ventilation), don't cover up smells with plug-in air fresheners or candles, and keep leftover paints, pesticides, solvents or other heavy duty products outside in the garage.
Choose the Right Cleaners: Cutting out toxins in cleaning products is simple: instead of products that use harsh ingredients like formaldehyde, phosphates or borates, so look for cleaning products that use natural alternatives. Vinegar, lemon, and baking soda are all great base ingredients for non-toxic DIY cleaning solutions that freshen your home without harmful chemicals.
Frosch cleaning products are a great alternative to traditional household cleaners, too. Our products are designed to be health-conscious and are sourced from natural ingredients. We never use formaldehyde, phosphates, borates, PVC or other toxic chemicals (you can see the full list of chemicals we avoid using in our FAQs).
For extensive guides on reducing pollution in your home, check out the EPA's Indoor Air Quality site.
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash