With more people spending time at home than ever before, indoor air quality has become a critical issue. What has brought it into sharper focus is the indication that indoor air quality is significantly more polluted than outdoor air.
This is particularly problematic for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies.
So it is not surprising that many manufacturers are touting one product or the other as the solution for your air quality problems.
Knowing which one to buy can be tricky, especially when you don’t actually know what is wrong with your indoor air quality, and so that is a fitting place to begin. This article will walk you through how to improve indoor air quality.
Common Air Pollutants in our Homes
You would be amazed by the number of things lurking in the corners of your home, waiting to give you one allergic reaction or the other. What’s even scarier is that some of them are carcinogenic!
No wonder indoor air quality is two to five times worse than outdoor air. Knowing what the problem is will make it easier to solve, so here are the most common pollutants in our home:
1. Asbestos: we are going to kick this off with the deadliest of the bunch. Asbestos is a natural mineral with fire-resistant properties. Up until the 1970s, asbestos was used in the construction of millions of homes.
So, imagine the surprise when we found out it was carcinogenic. But, shockingly, that did not stop it from being used.
There are hundreds of consumer products in the US with asbestos – the regulation permits that it represents no more than 1% of the product.
Long-term asbestos exposure has been known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Asbestos can be found in the insulation in walls and attics, vinyl tiles, shingles, siding of houses, heat-resistant fabric, and car brakes.
If you live in an old house, chances are you may have been exposed to asbestos. New houses should not have this problem.
2. Mold and mildew: nothing makes you want to set a house on fire like the sight of mold and mildew sprawling all over the walls and ceilings. But being hideous isn’t a crime, so what is the real problem with mold and mildew?
For starters, molds produce irritants and allergens. If you touch or inhale mold, you may begin to sneeze, develop a rash, have a runny nose or red eyes. Mold can also cause attacks in people with asthma.
Even people who are not allergic to mold can get infected and experience the symptoms above. Mold may also affect the lungs of people with chronic lung diseases.
Lastly, the smell produced by mold makes breathing uncomfortable. Of course, there are many other problems related to mold indoors, but these are the most common ones.
3. Dust: when there is a lot of dust in a place, or it suddenly rises, people tend to sneeze. But do you ever wonder what is in the dust?
We know dust as soil particles that blow into our homes from outside. However, 50% of the dust in homes is made up of dead skin cells. So if you just threw up a little bit, you are not alone.
Other substances in dust are pet dander, food debris, metal and wood shavings, hair, clothing fibers, dust mites, and so much more, some of which are carcinogenic.
Knowing this now, you would probably have a hard time staying in a dusty room henceforth.
4. Pollen: pollen from flowers and plants outside constantly find their way indoors. Quite frankly, it is almost impossible to keep them out because no house is completely air-tight.
Unfortunately, indoor pollen can trigger allergic reactions just as it would outside the house. Some common reactions are sneezing, runny nose, congestion, itchy eyes, itchy skin, and cough.
5. Pet dander: every animal with fur or feathers sheds tiny bits of skin every day. These could be from household pets like cats and dogs or household pests like rats. Pet dander causes reactions in people that are allergic to them.
People in the US are twice as allergic to cats than dogs, even though fewer people keep cats. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the fur that causes allergic reactions, but usually the saliva, feces, and urine.
So, whether you have a hairless pet or one with short hair, the risk of pet dander is still high. However, this is not to say you should not keep pets (unless you or someone in your household is allergic, of course).
6. Pest feces: it’s one thing to have cats and dogs doing their business in your house, but another for rodents, cockroaches, and other creepy crawlies. Pests tend to lay eggs and release droppings in hard-to-reach places.
Over time, the smell will get into the atmosphere and can cause health problems. One example is hantavirus from rodents, which can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).
HPS occurs when rodent feces and urine with hantavirus are swept into the air and then inhaled.
7. Lint: lint is harmless. As a matter of fact, removing lint from a person’s clothing can be rather romantic. So why is it on this list? When lint clogs up your dryer vent, it can cause carbon monoxide to be released into your home.
However, this is not a reason not to use a dryer. With regular maintenance, this would not be a problem. But still, we have to make you aware of the threats.
8. Pesticides: something you should be concerned about are pesticides. Whether used in your own home or your neighbor’s, pesticide fumes can still travel into your home.
Symptoms of exposure to pesticides include headaches, dizziness, muscular weakness, and nausea.
In addition, prolonged exposure to pesticides has been known to cause damage to the central nervous system and kidney, increased risk of cancer, and allergic reactions such as irritation of the eye, nose, and throat.
9. Environmental tobacco smoke or secondhand smoke: this is another common pollutant that can cause respiratory problems and poor air quality even when it is not from your own home.
The dangers of tobacco smoke are well-known, so no further detail is needed here. However, you may not know that there are better ways of getting rid of the smell than by emptying an entire can of Febreeze.
10. Radon: Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is a known carcinogenic. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US after smoking.
Radon occurs naturally in the ground and can enter homes through cracks in the wall, basement floors, and other openings in the ground.
While radon outdoors is not a source of concern, it becomes problematic when it is trapped indoors.
The worst part about radon is that it can occur anywhere, at any time. So this is one particular pollutant to be neutralized at all costs.
11. Carbon monoxide: when you live in an apartment above a garage, have a dryer with clogged vents, or fire up the grill often, chances are you have been exposed to moderate to high levels of carbon monoxide.
Some of the symptoms of exposure include dizziness, weakness, nausea, headache, confusion, and disorientation.
When the concentration gets too high, more severe symptoms may emerge, such as impaired vision, impaired coordination, and depression.
Of course, we all know that extremely high levels of exposure to carbon monoxide are fatal.
12. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs): the last item on our list is probably the most problematic of all. VOCs are emitted as gases from many household products and activities.
The most famous VOCs are benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene. These deadly gases can be found in paint, paint strippers, varnishes and finishes, sealants, adhesives, and cleaners.
They can also be found in disinfectants, furniture, pesticides, air fresheners, cosmetics, deodorants, printers, and so many other products.
The health impacts of VOCs vary, depending on the source. While some merely irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, some cause cancer, while others may damage the central nervous system.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
If you have found yourself frightened of almost literally everything in your house, don’t be.
After all, you have been living with them for years, and not all of them have cause sickness, an allergic reaction, or more severe consequences.
However, it is not an excuse to be complacent.
Here are the steps to take to improve air quality in your home.
- Change your filters
If you have an HVAC in your home, it is important to change the filters as soon as they are dirty. Otherwise, the trapped dirt will begin to circulate in the house.
The same is true for other devices such as air purifiers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and portable air conditioners. In case you have problems in changing the filters, hire an HVAC professional to help you out.
- Always keep your home clean.
Before we get to complex devices, it is important to do the basics first. Keeping your house clean is the first line of defense against pet dander, dust mites, dust, allergens, feces, and most of the other pollutants on our list.
Yes, some cleaning agents release VOCs, but you can buy the ones with little to no VOCs.
Carpets are a hotbed of nasty activity, so ensure you vacuum at least once a week. To take your vacuum game up a notch, use a device that has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. These can neutralize some of these allergens instead of just sucking them up.
If you have pets, ensure that you clean your drapes, beddings, and other surfaces they play on regularly. This will reduce the presence of pet dander, dust mites, and feces.
- Crack a window open
Yes, a lot of the bad stuff comes from outside, but remember that outdoor air is more than twice as clean as indoor air.
Ensure that your home is adequately ventilated, and you allow the stuffy air out as often as required. Also, let out fumes from cooking, the garage, or indoor heating devices.
Remember that radon is usually problematic indoors because it is trapped. Therefore, ventilating your home will help reduce the chances of infection.
- Use an air cleaning gadget.
There are several devices that can help improve air quality in the home. The first is an air purifier. An air purifier is a device that does as the name suggests. It can filter airborne pollutants, kill dust mites and other microscopic germs, and/or eliminate VOCs.
Another helpful device is a humidifier. Humidifiers add water into the atmosphere to bring a room or a building’s humidity level up to a bearable range for humans. Low humidity typically happens in winter, but this depends on where you live.
Low humidity affects the skin, lips, lungs, and throat. HumidifierS improve air quality by making it easier for us to breathe.
The opposite of a humidifier maybe even more impressive when it comes to improving air quality. Dehumidifiers remove excess moisture in the air, alongside pet dander, allergens, and other particulates. Dehumidifiers also prevent the growth or spread of mold and mildew.
- Eliminate the sources of the pollutants
While some pollutants cannot be prevented, such as pet dander and radon, most can. For example, using products with little to no VOCs will get rid of that problem.
You can also position gas stoves and other fuel-burning devices, so they vent better. If there is asbestos in your home, the area can be sealed. However, some pollutants cannot be removed without the aid of machines, and we will discuss that later.
Can Plants Help Improve Indoor Air Quality?
As much as there has been a lot of noise about the usefulness of indoor plants, so far, there is no scientific backing. Over the years, many have claimed that plants are able to absorb toxins, or at the very least, improve air quality by releasing oxygen into the air.
However, indoor plants cause more problems than they solve, as they can be a source of humidity, dust, and irritants.
Whatever you have heard about the need to improve indoor air quality is probably true. There are certainly more pollutants in the home than most people know.
Instead of being alarmed or panicking, it is best to understand the sources of these things and how to deal with them appropriately.
While devices such as dehumidifiers and air purifiers can help improve air quality, there are hundred more effective methods to improve air quality.