It's been estimated that 2 to 5 times more pollutants can be found in indoor air than outdoor air. Two of the contributing factors are: 1.) items found in our homes (like dust, scented products, chemicals, mold) and 2.) lack of adequate ventilation to bring in fresh, outdoor air.
We know that improving indoor air quality is important for the health of our families, but some of the more complex fixes can be pricey. Well, fear not – below are ten actions you can take now that will help clean up your air and won’t break the bank.
1. Remove Unused Chemicals
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a large contributor to indoor air quality issues in our homes. VOCs are found in many common home improvement products including paint, varnishes, and solvents. Click here for additional information on VOCs in our home products.
VOCs can escape into the air even from sealed containers. After a project is complete, dispose of the unused chemicals at your town’s next hazardous waste collection day if you don’t expect to need them again. In the meantime, store them with the cover firmly secured to decrease the amount of VOCs emitted into the air. And since most homes don't have an air-tight seal between the basement/garage and main living quarters, store the chemicals in a shed or detached garage if possible.
2. Open Windows
This one is simple but so important – air it out. Remember what I mentioned at the beginning of the post – poor ventilation is one of the two main factors in indoor air quality issues. Since this will increase your energy bill if it’s too hot or cold outside, just focus on the days when the conditions are right and make it a priority to let in some fresh air for a completely free and easy way to make a huge difference in the quality of your air.
3. Use Exhaust Fans
Ok, this one could marginally increase your electricity bill, but it’s a small price to pay for the benefits it adds. Make sure to turn on exhaust fans over the stove and in the bathroom when in use. In the kitchen, cooking with electric or gas burners produces fine particles that can get into the lungs and can cause respiratory issues. The smallest particles can even enter the bloodstream and other tissues. Studies have found that using a fume hood decreases the amount of particulate matter that stays in the home from cooking.
In the bathroom, use the exhaust fan during showering to remove excess moisture from the air. If not dealt with, moisture can lead to mold growth on surfaces. Mold spores get into the air and can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation.
4. Vacuum Regularly
Particulate matter, including dust, is a major contributor to indoor air quality issues. Try to vacuum your carpets once to twice per week to help decrease the dust levels in your home. It’s best to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to keep the dust from escaping back into the air after it’s been vacuumed up.
5. Ditch Artificial Fragrances
Products that contain artificial fragrances like air fresheners, some cleaning products, candles, and personal care products are filled with VOCs and other indoor air pollutants that can lead to or exacerbate allergies and asthma symptoms. Click here to read more about artificial fragrances in your home products.
Start off with the cheap and easy step of simply removing air fresheners from the house and replacing them with lemon wedges or a bowl of baking soda if you have it on-hand. Work toward slowly replacing your cleaning and personal care products with fragrance-free alternatives when the ones you are currently using run out.
6. Replace Toxic Cleaners
Everyday household cleaning supplies contain VOCs and other harmful chemicals. If you have vinegar at your house, you can quickly and easily replace a large percentage of your harsh chemicals with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. Baking soda, lemon, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide are other products you might already have in the pantry that can be used to replace your existing cleaners.
Click here for recipes for DIY home cleaners that use common household ingredients.
7. Groom Fluffy
Keep those cats and dogs groomed – and do it outside! Fur and dander are major indoor air irritants, so removing those from your animals as frequently as possible outside of the house can make a big difference in the quality of the air inside.
8. Clean Air Filters
The air filters in your air conditioner or heating system are designed to trap particulates and prevent them from circulating throughout the house. However, once the filters become clogged with particulates, the system needs to work harder to pull air through which increases your energy bill. In addition, the build-up of dust and dander can lead to an increase in these pollutants being emitted into your air. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning the filters, which generally includes washing them with water and allowing them to dry, or using a vacuum to remove the dust.
9. Remove Shoes at the Door
Our shoes come in contact with hundreds of pollutants every day just by us conducting our daily business. Common pollutants include dust, pollen, mold, pesticides, and residues from pavement or other surfaces treated with chemicals. To keep these out of your home’s air, brush your shoes off on a good-quality door mat outside of the front door, and then promptly remove them and keep them on a tray by the door or in a closet. Walking around the house will spread the pollutants throughout your home’s surfaces and into the air.
10. No Smoking
This one is well-known, but it’s so important that I couldn’t leave it off the list. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. These chemicals can stay in our homes long after the smoking has stopped by adhering to furniture and other surfaces.
Exposing children to second hand smoke can lead to more frequent and severe asthma attacks, ear infections, coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, respiratory infections, and a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Exposure to second hand smoke in adults and children can lead to heart disease, lung cancer, and stroke even for those who have never smoked.
Given the health issues caused by smoking cigarettes, the ideal solution is to not smoke at all. However, this is not always a quick and easy solution. To prevent the indoor air issues, never smoke in or near your home. Stay at least 25 feet from your house to keep the smoke from finding its way inside. Always let visitors know that smoking tobacco is not allowed in your home for the health of your family.
Cleaning up your indoor air can seem overwhelming. I hope you can put a couple of these quick and easy tips into action to help you breathe easier tonight. I’d love to hear your ideas on inexpensive ways to improve the air quality of your home!