How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

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Knowing how to improve indoor air quality can protect your family’s health and leaves your entire home feeling cleaner. Read on for various sources of indoor air pollution and ways to clean your home’s air.

How to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

So many of us take our indoor air quality for granted. We have walls and windows keeping smog out of our homes, after all.  Even smokers often step outside for cigarette breaks rather than filling their home with second-hand smoke and smells.

But there is more to improving indoor air quality and reducing indoor pollution, and some of the causes may surprise you.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

In addition to the obvious things like tobacco smoke or unventilated chimneys, there are other less obvious sources of indoor air pollution.

  • Radon.
  • Mold and mildew.
  • Organic gasses or volatile organic compounds. These are found in paints, chemicals, pesticides, permanent markers, and glues
  • Formaldehyde. This compound is released by permanent-press fabrics, particleboard, plywood, and some laminates.
  • Aerosol propellants. Products using aerosol dispersal rely on butane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxides as propellants. These substances stay in your home’s air and settle on furniture and flooring.
  • Cleaning products and laundry aids. That laundry product’s “crisp linen scent” can trigger asthma and allergies for many people. Chlorine bleach used to whiten clothes or disinfect bathrooms is also irritating to respiratory systems, eyes, and throats.

Indoor Pollution Causes Health Problems

Many times, we aren’t aware that indoor air pollution is causing us health problems. We’ll have a cold that just won’t go away or sniffles that won’t stop. Maybe we’ll get itchy eyes, a scratchy throat, or even an unexplained rash.

If it’s winter, we assume our home’s humidity is too low, and in the summer we think it’s allergies due to ragweed or something else outside.

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But often, the cause can be traced back to indoor air pollution, which can even lead to cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the World Health Organization, 4.3 million people die each year from exposure to indoor air pollutants.

In short: keep your home’s air clean!

Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Woman opening window curtains to improve indoor air

1. Air Your Home Daily.

Modern homes are designed to be almost air-tight. While this may be budget-friendly, it is not health-friendly. Contaminants accumulate in your home’s air, as do mold and mildew spores from untreated leaks or excess humidity. (Plus the moisture we all add to the air simply by breathing or sweating as we work out.)

Opening windows daily for at least 10 minutes helps reduce contaminants by allowing fresh air into your home. In commercial buildings, this type of air exchange is actually mandated in the construction of their ventilation systems. In residences, it must be done manually.

If a family member suffers from outdoor allergies, do this during times pollen is lowest: immediately after a good rain, 2 hours after sunrise, or late at night.

2. Grow Air-Filtering Houseplants

Some plants are excellent at removing pollutants from your home’s air. Boston ferms, palm trees, and rubber plants all improve indoor air quality, as does the easily grown and propagated golden pothos.

Be sure to read and follow the care instructions for each house plant, so you don’t overwater them. Excess water sitting in potted plants promotes the growth of mildew and attracts pests.

3. Use the Right Duster

Feather dusters and Swiffer dusters don’t do a good job getting rid of fine particles. Even if you vacuum immediately after using one of these types of dusters, they’ll have sent debris floating in your air which will just settle back onto furniture and floors as soon as you’re done.

Instead, use damp microfiber cloths to remove dust and rinse them often while you clean. That way, you aren’t just moving the dust around — you’re getting it out of your home. (Find more of my tips to reduce household dust here .)

4. Get Your Home Tested for Radon

It’s estimated that 1 in 15 U.S. homes has an elevated radon level. This naturally-occurring gas travels up through the soil into your home’s air, which is one reason it’s found primarily in basements.

The leading cause of cancer in nonsmokers, radon is both invisible and odorless, making it essential to test your home at least once. You can find radon kits for as little as $15 at hardware stores or online.

Finding radon doesn’t mean you’ve got to sell the house. Radon mitigation services are fairly affordable ($800-1200, depending on the size of your home) and work by automatically ventilating the affected area.

5. Choose Decorating Fabrics Wisely

Silk and dry-clean-only fabrics may look lovely but, since they can’t be easily laundered, they also hold onto contaminants in our home’s air. Opt for washable fabrics, and clean your curtains seasonally.

If you already have non-washable materials, be sure to vacuum them regularly.

6. Use the Right Vacuum the Right Way

Vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters get over 99% of the ultrafine particles that lead to health issues. (Here’s the one I love.)

No matter what kind you have, be sure you vacuum properly: slowly, making four passes (back and forth then back and forth), overlapping passes each time.

7. Abandon Aerosols

Products that come in an aerosol form contain butane and propane propellants that deliver the product. Those spray cans of air freshener? They might leave your air smelling nice, but it’ll hardly be fresh.

Switch to spray bottles when you can, and run products through The Good Guide to check their health safety.

8. Use Natural Cleaning Mixes

Homemade cleaning products aren’t just economical, they’re better for your indoor air quality, too. Ditch the ammonia-based glass cleaners and make your window spray for pennies.

For more DIY products, check out my section on homemade cleaning products.

9. Filter Your Air

Make the most of your home’s HVAC system by changing your filter seasonally if you don’t have pets or allergies, and monthly if you do.

While cheaper filters do an adequate job removing ordinary dust from your home’s air, if you live in a high-pollution area you should consider springing for the ultrafine particle reduction HEPA filters.

10. Go Fragrance-Free

Scented products emit VOCs, including some that are classified as hazardous or toxic. This includes essential oils as well as cleaning products like disinfectants and sprays, laundry detergents and fabric softeners, lotions, body washes, deodorants, and shampoos.

Opt for fragrance-free versions of products, not merely unscented.

Fragrance-free means that fragrance materials or masking scents are not used in the product.

Unscented generally means that the product may contain chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients.

11. Keep Your Home Clean

Regular, weekly cleaning of your home using fragrance-free, natural cleaning products will go a long way to keeping your indoor air clean, too.

If you don’t have a routine already, check out this list of printable cleaning checklists to get started.

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  1. Michelle Gleason says:

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    1. Katie Berry says:

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