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Learn about the most common air pollutants in homes. And apply these 10 steps to improve home air quality and ensure your family can breathe easy.
For most, home is a safe space. And in the face of COVID-19, that is more the case than ever. But for many of us, there’s a good chance our home’s air quality isn’t as quality as we think.
In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that indoor air pollution levels are often two times higher than outdoor air. In some areas, they may be up to five times more polluted!
But you have the power to correct that and make sure your home is your family’s temple. Read on to understand the most common indoor air pollutants and learn 10 easy, effective steps to improve home air quality by eliminating them.
Indoor Air Pollutants, a Refresher
As we mentioned in our previous post about air purifiers, poor air quality can results in headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and nose/eye/throat irritation, to name a few. The most prevalent indoor air pollutants include:
- Formaldehyde (a hazardous, colorless, strong-smelling gas)
- Mold (fungi that can cause breathing problems and allergic reactions, especially in asthma sufferers or those with chronic conditions)
- Pollen (originates from plants and causes allergic reactions in many people)
- Radon (a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that is released naturally from native soils in some places)
- Carbon monoxide (harmful combustion byproduct generated during cooking or using fireplaces)
- VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds, chemicals that come from a variety of sources and materials)
Many homeowners will purchase air filters or run their HVAC system and assume that everything will take care of itself. However, that is a dangerous misconception to make. This is especially true when considering the potency of some of the pollutants that may be present in your home.
So is it even possible to improve the air quality in your home if there are so many pollutants being introduced? Absolutely! But it takes a multi-faceted approach.
Take Action: How to Cleanse Your Home’s Air
It is up to each of us to control the various factors we have power over in order to reduce the indoor air pollution of their dwellings. The U.S. EPA advises that the most effective ways to improve your indoor air are by taking a comprehensive approach to remove pollutants.
Here, we provide 10 steps to improve home air quality, and it is fabulous if you implement them all. However, you can start with one or two simple changes and then add a few more over time. Or you can lean into the list while quarantined at home and work your way all the way down!
Let In Fresh Air
Perhaps the easiest of the steps to improve home air quality is to open your windows and let in fresh air! The act of “ventilating” your home simply means opening your windows for at least 15 minutes and allowing air exchange between the inside of your house and the outdoors. Our air quality is cleaner than ever right now, so take advantage of that!
Be sure to focus on areas such as the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, and interior rooms where stale air may be trapped for longer periods of time. You can repeat this process every couple days to regularly remove pollutants and increase fresh air circulation.
An added benefit of airing out your home? Introducing fresh air through the home on a regular basis can reduce dampness, regulate humidity, and remove odors!
Bring the Outdoors Indoors with Houseplants!
Nature is incredibly effective at filtering out many harmful pollutants, both outdoors and indoors. So bring the outdoors in! Certain species of houseplants excel in reducing the toxic chemicals in the air. In particular, the American Society for Horticultural Science recommends snake plants, spider plants, and golden pothos. Some gardening companies even offer a “clean air” medley for you to easily order a selection of air purifying plants to your home.
Clean With Non-Toxic and Non-Chemical Cleaners
Whether you’re doing a deep spring cleaning or a weekly run through the apartment or house, we all rely on cleaners to keep our home disinfected. Unfortunately, many of the household cleaners available at the store are packed with toxic chemicals. So though they may get the job done, they are quite hazardous to your health. But there are a growing number of environmentally conscious brands with non-toxic cleaners that pack a punch without threatening your family’s health. You can also make your own non-toxic cleaners with ingredients that you already have at home, such as vinegar.
Remove Your Shoes At the Door
Another one of the easier steps to improve home air quality is to take your shoes off at the door. You would be surprised (and disgusted) by the pollutants, dirt, bacteria, fungi, and other unsavory particles that you track in on the bottom of your shoes. The Center for Disease Control has even found that viruses can travel on shoes! One of the best ways to prevent pollutants and potentially harmful substances from entering your home is by leaving them at the door. Literally! So institute a new rule to remove shoes before you enter your home, or immediately inside the door.
Air Out New Furniture
Have you ever noticed a strong smell when removing the packaging from your new couch, or unrolling a new rug? That odor is actually a combination of potentially harmful chemicals known as “VOCs”—Volatile Organic Chemicals. These chemicals are abundant in materials such as the fabric, glue, paint, or other construction materials used when assembling furniture. New furniture releases these chemicals in large quantities at first, and slowly decreases over time. If possible, leave your new furniture in the garage or another lower-traffic area with high ventilation for several days. If that isn’t possible, at the very least make sure you are frequently ventilating the room that your new furniture is in or running a fan or air purifier to minimize your exposure to VOCs.
Choose Your Paint Carefully
Like new furniture, some types of paint can emit very high levels of VOCs. What’s worse, paint continues to release VOCs longer than furniture. Even long after odors are gone. This is why it’s important to mind these three steps for your health and safety, regardless of the paint you use: wear a mask; ventilate the room(s); and avoid spending too long in the freshly-painted room(s) for a few days.
It is difficult (if not impossible) to find paints without any VOCs. But you can find low-VOC paints and varnishes that do not release as many of these chemicals. You can also take further precautions, such as proper paint storage, to prevent unnecessary VOC exposure.
Alter Your Cooking Habits
There are a few different ways to improve the air quality in your kitchen (and surrounding rooms). Firstly, and most effective, is to ventilate your kitchen by installing (and then using!) a high-efficiency range hood above your stove. This will enable you to rapidly and efficiently remove smoke from your kitchen.
A much simpler and cheaper alternative is to change the oil you cook with. Interestingly, the smoke point of the cooking oil you use can have an impact on lingering smells and particulates in the air. Switch to an oil with a higher smoke point, such as avocado or canola oil. These oils will generally produce less smoke when you’re preparing food over higher heat as compared to oils with lower smoke points, like olive oil. Want to learn more? Check out this great guide to the smoke points and ideal uses for various common oil types.
Service Your HVAC System Regularly
Your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is designed to function like a giant air purifier that runs throughout your own. It replaces old stale air with cooled (or heated), filtered air. To take advantage of this functionality, you must take proper care of your AC unit/HVAC system. Purchasing the proper filters and replacing them regularly is crucial, as is frequently inspecting to detect leaks. Leaks within the HVAC system can lead to standing water which encourages the growth of mold and mildew. That, in turn, increases allergens and pollutants in the air, which the HVAC system will then circulate through your home. Checking your roof, basement, and AC/HVAC units on a monthly or seasonal basis to prevent and/or repairing leaks is one of the best ways to prevent indoor air pollution. Proper and timely HVAC maintenance can also save you money on your utility bill!
Reduce Moisture, Control Humidity, and Eliminate Mold
This is a three-in-one step. That’s because unchecked humidity in a home can lead to moisture build-up, which can lead to the growth of mold, mildew, and fungi. Mold releases spores that are harmful to breathe and can lead to severe asthma and allergy attacks.
The places to particularly concern yourself with these three elements are areas of the house with less direct light and air circulation. Examples include bathrooms, basements, and laundry rooms, though any room in the house could potentially have mold. There are many ways to get rid of mold, but whatever method you use, be sure to avoid toxic cleaners (which can add just as many pollutants to the air as mold!). We recommend checking out this great piece on three ways to get rid of mold with natural cleaners.
There has been robust debate about whether air purifiers work. We’ll be the first to admit that air purifiers alone may not alleviate allergies or respiratory systems. And they can certainly jack up your utility bill, contribute to more electricity use, and that begs the question: are you sacrificing outdoor air quality for indoor? We believe there’s a way to have your cake and eat it too in this case.
To answer the first concern about effectiveness, combining the first 9 steps to improve home air quality and then running an air purifier to complete the comprehensive approach is where the magic’s at. This holistic strategy—combining behavioral changes with air purifier technology— is the U.S. EPA’s recommendation for anyone attempting to purify the air in their home.
To answer the second concern, not all air purifiers are created equal. But there are many energy-efficient models that can purify your home’s air without significantly driving up your electricity demand. Check out our recent post for more information about the best energy-efficient air purifiers and guidance to pick the right one for your family’s needs.
Invest in your Home’s Air Quality, Improve your Family’s Health
You go above and beyond to make sure your family is healthy. Investing in the air you breathe—particularly in the age of the coronavirus—is a critical piece of this puzzle. These simple steps to improve home air quality are not only easy, but will provide results. Many of the steps also enable you to save money and reduce your environmental impact. Here at WattDoesItUse, we consider that a win-win!
Feeling inspired to whip your house into shape? Check out our energy efficiency checklist and guide to combining spring cleaning with energy savings! For more energy saving strategies straight to your inbox once a month, subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog. And follow us on social to share the latest and greatest in saving energy, saving money, and saving the planet!