5 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

We tend to think of air pollution as something outside -- smog, ozone, or haze hanging in the air, especially in summer. But the truth is, the air inside homes, offices, and other buildings can be more polluted than the air outside. The air inside your home may be polluted by lead (in house dust), formaldehyde, fire-retardants, radon, even volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners. Some pollutants are tracked into the home. Some arrive via a new mattress or furniture, carpet cleaners, or a coat of paint on the walls.

In that mix, you'll also find microscopic dust mites -- a major allergen -- plus mold and heaps of pet dander. Even if you don't have pets, you've probably got pet dander. Pet owners carry it around on their clothes and shed it throughout the day.

Children, people with asthma, and the elderly may be especially sensitive to indoor pollutants. Indoor allergens and irritants have become much more important in recent decades because people are spending more time indoors. Because modern homes are airtight, these irritants can't easily escape.

1. Keep your floors fresh.

Suck it up. Chemicals and allergens can accumulate in household dust for decades. By using a vacuum with a HEPA filter you can reduce concentrations of lead in your home. You can also get rid of other toxins, like brominated fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs) as well as allergens like pollen, pet dander, and dust mites.

Using a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes, and a HEPA filter ensures that dust and dirt won’t get blown back out in the exhaust. In high traffic areas, vacuum the same spot several times. Don't forget walls, carpet edges, and upholstered furniture, where dust accumulates

Mop it up. Mopping picks up the dust that vacuuming leaves behind. You can skip the soaps and cleaners and just use plain water to capture any lingering dust or allergens. New microfiber mops (and dust cloths) reportedly capture more dust and dirt than traditional fibers and don’t require any cleaning solutions whatsoever.

Keep it out. Put a large floor mat at every door. People track in all sorts of chemicals via the dirt on their shoes. A door mat reduces the amount of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants from getting into your home. If the mat is big enough, even those who don't wipe their shoes will leave most pollutants on the mat -- not the floors in your home.

2. Keep a healthy level of humidity. Dust mites and mold love moisture. Keeping humidity around 30%-50% helps keep them and other allergens under control. A dehumidifier (and air conditioner during summer months) helps reduce moisture in indoor air and effectively controls allergens, Lang says. An air conditioner also reduces indoor pollen count -- another plus for allergy-sufferers.

 

More tips for dehumidifying your home:

  • Use an exhaust fan or crack open a window when cooking, running the dishwasher, or bathing.
  • Don't overwater houseplants.
  • Vent the clothes dryer to the outside.
  • Fix leaky plumbing to prevent moisture-loving mold.
  • Empty drip pans in your window air conditioner and dehumidifier.

 

3. Make your home a no-smoking zone. "Probably the single most important aspect of indoor air pollution is second hand cigarette smoke," says Philip Landrigan, MD, a pediatrician and director of the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. Research shows that second hand smoke increases a child's risk of developing ear and respiratory infections, asthma, cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

4. For Homes with forced air heating and cooling systems, it is recommend you change filters at least every three months. However, the life of a filter can depend on the individual conditions in your home. You may need to change your filter more often if your home has:

  • Construction work in progress
  • Furniture or drywall sanding in progress
  • Pets
  • Smokers
  • A fan running continuously

In these cases, you may want to change the filter more frequently.

5. Smell good naturally. You may associate that lemony or piney scent with a clean kitchen or clean clothes. But synthetic fragrances in laundry products and air fresheners emit dozens of different chemicals into the air. You won’t find their names on the product labels. Conventional laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and air fresheners in solid, spray, and oil form may all emit such gasses.