If you live in an urban area with cars, industry and unpleasant city smells, you might retreat to your house for safety from environmental pollutants. But how good is your air quality at home?
The Environmental Protection Agency defines indoor air quality as how the air in and around buildings relates to the health and comfort of said building’s occupants. Indoor air pollutants might cause health effects soon after exposure, or they could show up years later. Indoor air quality is a global issue. The World Health Organization estimates that every year, 3.8 million people die from harmful indoor air — especially due to fuel and dirty cook stoves. And pregnant women living with indoor air pollution may pass impaired lung function on to their babies.
Fortunately, there are some easy fixes for at least certain causes of indoor air pollution. Let’s look at a few easy ways you can optimize your home air quality.
Vents and ducts
HVAC, vents and ducts are all about air circulation within your house, so they’re an obvious place to start. Have you ever changed a filter in your HVAC system and been disgusted by how filthy it is? That’s stuff you don’t want to breathe. Change your AC filters regularly, as well as those in your household appliances like your clothes dryer and your kitchen vents. Hire a professional to periodically clean out your air ducts to avoid buildup of mold, dust, dander and other icky stuff.
When cooking, use your stove’s vents. Gas stoves are especially notorious for releasing nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Electric burners aren’t innocent, either, though they produce pollutants at lower levels.
Rid your house of dust and dirt
Carpets and rugs are dust traps. On the plus side, they sequester particles from the air. On the minus side, left to their own devices, they fill up with more and more junk. Regularly vacuuming your rugs and carpets will help keep your indoor air fresher.
For a higher-tech solution, you could try buying Ikea’s new air-purifying curtains. These window covers are treated with a special coating that helps break down airborne chemicals and unsavory odors when a light source activates them.
Banish the damp
If you live somewhere humid, you have probably experienced mold. These small organisms play an important part in the ecosystem, breaking down dead material. But you don’t want to inhale them at home, where they can cause runny nose, itching, coughing, watery eyes and other unpleasant reactions. Mold is especially damaging to young children. Banishing mold early in life may have long-term health benefits and decrease the prevalence and severity of asthma later in life.
If you detect mold in your house, you need to clean it up. Moisture sources in your house might include a damp crawl space or basement, a poorly vented clothes dryer or leaks in the roof or the plumbing. You might need a dehumidifier to help dry out your space.
Beware of burning things
Did you know that cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals? Yuck! Obviously smoking is not going to enhance the air quality of your house. And don’t think oh, it’s just an herb, no problem. According to the EPA website, “Secondhand marijuana smoke contains many of the same toxic and cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke and contains some of those chemicals in higher amounts.”
Incense is also not recommended for enclosed places, as it emits fine particles. Scented candles can irritate lungs, too. If you want to burn candles indoors, those made from beeswax or soy may be lung-friendlier than those that contain petroleum waste.
Wood-burning stoves emit smoke that can damage your lung tissue and result in lasting breathing problems. If you’re too attached to your wood-burner to say goodbye, open those windows.
Consider shopping secondhand
From these tips so far, you might think newer is better. That way, you avoid dust, mold and trapped secondhand smoke, right? While these are valid points, new furniture outgases volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs. Glues, paints and fabrics all give off these compounds, which react with chemicals and sunlight in your home’s atmosphere to form lung-damaging particulates.
Instead, consider buying pieces of secondhand furniture, whose outgassing days are behind them. Of course, only choose clean-looking furniture, and vacuum it or otherwise clean it as soon as you bring it home.
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Instead of investing in lots of climate control measures, try opening your windows. And buy some houseplants. According to a 1989 NASA study on clean air, ferns, peace lilies, spider plants and Devil’s ivy are some of the best for removing carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from the air. While it would take a lot of plants to make a real impact in air quality, they freshen your home and will serve as a reminder to cultivate the healthy kind of atmosphere your lungs crave.
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