Chances are, you’re sitting inside right now. But do you know what’s in the air that you’re breathing? How much do you know about your in home air quality? Most people spend the majority of time indoors, whether in homes, workplaces, school, or other buildings. Yet indoor air pollutants are often abundant in homes and other indoor spaces.
What is Indoor Air Pollution?
Indoor air can contain a dizzying array of pollutants, ranging from dust mites to radon to carbon monoxide. The air in most homes contains a mix of particulate matter, volatile gases, chemicals, molds, and pests.
Polluted indoor air can contribute to a variety of health problems, ranging from asthma to heart disease to cancer. Mold has been linked to allergies, skin rashes, respiratory illnesses including asthma, and other health problems. Radon is a leading cause of lung cancer. Secondhand smoke has been shown to increase the risk of asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and cancer. For many people, the effects of polluted indoor air are less “Sick building syndrome” is a phenomenon recognized by health agencies,
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
You can improve air quality in your home by tackling the sources of indoor air pollution. Here are ten ways to improve indoor air quality in your home – and breathe easier:
1: Get rid of the source. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), controlling the source of indoor air pollution is the most important thing you can do to improve air quality in your home. Heating devices such as gas or woodburning stoves can contribute mightily to poor indoor air quality. Properly vent all fuel-burning appliances including water heaters, gas stoves, woodburning stoves, and fireplaces.
2: Test for radon. Radon is a radioactive gas released from the soil. It enters home through cracks in walls and doors close to the soil. Because air pressure in your home is generally lower than outside, radon can become more concentrated in indoor air. In the United States, radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Have your home tested for radon. If your home tests positive, hire a qualified radon mitigation professional to correct the problem. Don’t try to do it yourself. For more about radon mitigation, see the EPA’s guide to radon reduction.
3: Invest in a home air cleaner. Many different types of home air cleaners are available, and each has its uses and limitations. Home air filters, including HEPA filters, are effective in removing particles from the air, but they do not adsorb gases. Gas-phase air filters remove polluting gases from the air using materials to adsorb the gas, such as carbon. However, none remove all dangerous gases from the air. Other air cleaners are designed to destroy pollutants and use ultraviolet light and other technologies. They should be used in combination with indoor air filtration systems designed for homes. Avoid ozone generators, which use ultraviolet light or electric discharge to produce ozone, which can irritate lungs. They have not been shown effective in removing pollutants from indoor air.
4: Ventilate: As a general rule, air that moves is healthier air.
- Let fresh air in. Grandma’s solution to indoor air pollution might still be best: Open the windows. You can increase the amount of fresh air coming into your home by using window or attic fans. Install and use a window air conditioner with the vent control open. More advanced mechanical heating and cooling systems can help minimize emissions and circulate air. Look for air-to-air heat exchangers, which include energy-efficient recovery ventilators.
- Push stale air out. Use exhaust fans to help push out indoor air. Install and use vent fans in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. Use ceiling fans to circulate air throughout the house. Open the vent controls on air conditioners.
5: Go green. Indoor plants can help to clean the air. A two-year NASA research project showed that plants – and even the microorganisms in soil – could help reduce indoor air pollutants substantially. They estimated that to maintain good air quality in an 1,800 square foot house, you need about 15 to 16 moderately big houseplants in 6-to-8-inch diameter pots.
Here’s NASA’s list of the best plants for indoor air quality:
- English Ivy (Hedera helix)
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
- Golden pothos (Epipiremnum aureum)
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa')
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
- Bamboo or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
- Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
- Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron scandens `oxycardium' )
- Selloum philodendron (Philodendron selloum)
- Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
- Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
- Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana')
- Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig')
- Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii')
- Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
6: Post “No Smoking” signs. Create an “outside only” rule for smokers, whether they be family members or visitors. Better yet, help them quit.
Secondhand cigarette smoke actually contains more contaminants than “firsthand” smoke. Children are especially susceptible to its effects. Exposure may trigger life-long health problems including asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has been linked to children’s exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
7: Change filters regularly. Most air conditioners and heaters have replaceable filters. Change filters frequently – once a month or at least as often as the manufacturer recommends.
8: Keep it clean.
- Once a week, strip beds of sheets, pillowcases, mattress pads, and blankets, and wash them in hot water.
- Dust and clean regularly. If you or family members have asthma or other sensitivities, use a vacuum with a true high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
- Nix the mold. Clean up mold. Scrub the mold off hard surfaces with detergent and hot water, then let the area dry thoroughly. Porous materials such as carpet, window coverings, or ceiling tiles affected by mold may need to be thrown away. Bleach is not usually necessary. Fix water leaks and ventilate areas well to prevent new mold from forming.
9: Use safe home cleaning products. Try some green cleaning – as in either non-toxic or homemade cleaning supplies. Lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda, and Borax are the safe housekeeper’s friend. If you must use toxic household cleaning products, minimize how much you use and be sure to ventilate the area where you will be using them.
10: Control humidity: Keep indoor air humidity between 30 and 50 percent. You can purchase a humidity gauge at your local hardware store. To increase humidity in the house, use a humidifier or vaporizer (be sure to clean it regularly). Open windows or, if it’s humid outside, turn on the air conditioner.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. Last updated July 05, 2012. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/careforyourair.html
Wolverton, BC, Johnson, A., & Bounds, K. (1989, September). Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, John C. Stennis Space Center, Stennis Space Center, MS 39529-6000. Retrieved from http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077_1993073077.pdf
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