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Healthy home, healthy lungs

Breathe Better: Simple Strategies for Cleaner Indoor Air

Montana Denton
February 28, 2024

In our daily lives, we often overlook the air quality within our homes, assuming it to be safer and cleaner than the air outside. However, the truth is that indoor air quality can be affected by various factors, including household activities, building materials, and outdoor pollutants infiltrating indoor spaces.

Clearing the Air: What’s Going on with Your Indoor Air Quality?

Household activities such as cooking, cleaning, and using certain products can release pollutants into the air, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, and allergens. Additionally, building materials such as paint, carpets, and furniture can emit chemicals in a process known as off-gassing, which can contribute to indoor air pollution over time.

Moreover, outdoor pollutants such as vehicle emissions, industrial activities, and environmental factors like wildfires and urban smog can infiltrate indoor spaces through open windows, doors, and ventilation systems. These pollutants can accumulate indoors, leading to poor indoor air quality and potential health concerns for occupants, exacerbating existing health concerns or causing long-term health implications.

Common health effects associated with poor indoor air quality include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, fatigue, and respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Long-term exposure to indoor air pollutants has also been linked to more serious health conditions, including respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases, and even certain types of cancer.

However, there are lots of quick and affordable fixes to improve your home’s indoor air quality, ensuring a safe and healthy environment so you and your family can breathe easy.

1. Keep it Clean — Establish Regular Cleaning Habits

One of the simplest and most effective ways to improve indoor air quality is by maintaining a clean living space. Dust, pet dander, and other airborne particles can accumulate over time, leading to flare-ups of respiratory issues, allergies, and asthma. Regular vacuuming, dusting, and mopping can significantly reduce these pollutants, improving the overall air quality in your home.

2. Easy, Breezy — Increasing Natural Ventilation

Opening windows and doors whenever possible allows fresh outdoor air to circulate inside, flushing out indoor pollutants and replenishing oxygen levels. Airing out indoor toxins is particularly important after the West Coast’s wildfire season, when dense smoke particles can infiltrate indoor spaces. Creating cross-ventilation by opening windows on opposite sides of the house also enhances airflow, promoting a healthier indoor environment. Obviously, this should be done at the end of fire season, not during.

3. Indoor Plants: Nature's Air Filters

Plants not only add aesthetic appeal to your home but may act as natural air purifiers, taking in carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Certain houseplants, such as spider plants, peace lilies, and snake plants, are particularly known for their ability to remove common indoor pollutants like formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene. Incorporating these plants into your indoor space can significantly improve air quality while adding a touch of greenery to your décor.

Although recent studies have called into question the depth of the effectiveness of plants' ability to improve indoor air quality significantly, they do offer mental health benefits — and isn't that worth adding a touch of greenery to your decor?

4. Clear the Air: Air Purifiers

Investing in a portable air purifier is a cost-effective way to remove airborne contaminants and allergens from your home. These devices use filters to capture particles as small as 0.3 microns, including dust, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander. Look for ENERGY STAR-certified models with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters for optimal performance and energy savings. Not ready to buy? If you have a box fan lying around, you can try making one yourself.

Pro tip: Regardless of what air filtration or purification system you settle on, make sure you’re regularly cleaning or replacing your filters — over time, systems can accumulate dust, dirt, or other airborne particles in their ducts and filters, which can compromise their efficiency and actually contribute to worse indoor air quality.

5. Managing Moisture: Dehumidifiers and Ventilation

Maintaining optimal humidity levels in your home (ideally between 30-50%) can prevent mold and mildew growth, which can worsen indoor air quality and trigger respiratory issues. In humid climates or during rainy seasons, using a dehumidifier can help reduce moisture levels, while proper ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens can prevent moisture buildup.

6. Green Cleaning: Looking Towards Natural Alternatives

Many conventional cleaning products contain harsh chemicals that can negatively impact indoor air quality — in fact, a study conducted by a Norwegian hospital found an association between women who regularly cleaned their homes and more rapidly decreasing lung function. While this study only shows a correlation, it’s not entirely new news that cleaning product chemicals like ammonia, bleach, and other volatile organic compound (VOC) containing products can have negative health effects. Instead, opt for DIY cleaning solutions using natural ingredients like vinegar, baking soda and simple fragrance-free dish soap. Not only are these alternatives safer for your health and the environment, but they also contribute to better indoor air quality by reducing exposure to harmful chemicals.

7. Smoke-Free Zone: Eliminate Indoor Smoking

Cigarette smoke is a major indoor air pollutant, containing over 7,000 chemicals, including carcinogens and toxins. Establishing a smoke-free policy inside your home not only protects your family's health but also improves indoor air quality. Designate outdoor smoking areas away from doors and windows to prevent smoke from seeping back indoors. The same goes for e-cigarettes and vape pens, whose smoke and chemicals can still infiltrate the respiratory system of bystanders — although more cities are expanding legal action to ban the use of electronic smoking devices in public spaces, with e-cigarette users joining smokers outside.

8. Going Electric: Transitioning Away From Gas Stoves

Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide and other harmful pollutants, which can compromise respiratory health, especially for children and individuals with asthma. By switching to electric alternatives such as induction cooktops, you’ll eliminate indoor air pollution associated with gas combustion.

Another home upgrade that’s an investment in your air quality is a machine that heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system with a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) — machines that capture the heat or cool from the stale indoor air, transfer it to fresh incoming air, and filter out any remaining particles floating around.

Take a Deep Breath: Your Path to Cleaner Air

Improving indoor air quality doesn't have to break the bank. By implementing these affordable strategies in your own home, you can create a healthier living environment for you and your family. Whether it's through regular cleaning, putting your green thumb to the test, or upgrading your bigger appliances, taking proactive steps to enhance indoor air quality is essential for a healthier, happier home.

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