Air pollution is like a slow-killing poison. The question is, do you know your poison?
Be it a major clean-up or a tree-planting project, most environmental acts focus on minimizing outdoor air pollution. While these projects are noble to say the least, there is still one major problem many people tend to overlook: indoor air pollution.
From petting your dog to disinfecting your coffee table, many factors contribute to indoor air pollution, making you vulnerable to a number of serious health conditions. So if you want to make a significant change in your home, here’s everything you need to know about indoor pollutants, along with several ways on how to reduce indoor air pollution.
Indoor Air Pollution: Causes and Health Risks
The Environmental Protection Agency released the top 12 indoor pollutants and sources in the US, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), tobacco smoke, radon, secondhand smoke, and heating equipment like chimneys, heaters, and stove, which may emit cookstove smoke, the 4th worst health risk in the world.
To give you a wider perspective of what you’re up against, here are some of the main sources and health risks associated with the top harmful indoor pollutants:
Main source: heat-resistant fabric, transmission parts, and building materials like paper products, floor tiles, roofing shingles, and asbestos cement product
Health risk: Asbestos is not a health risk in its original form. But once its fibers are disrupted, it becomes airborne. Long-term
Main source: naturally-occurring gas mostly found in the soil
Health risk: Inhaling high amounts of radon can lead to radon poisoning or fatal lung diseases. In fact, overexposure to this gas ranks 2nd to smoking as a top cause of lung cancer.
Secondhand smoke (Environmental Tobacco Smoke)
Main source: incompletely-burned tobacco products inside and around the home
Health risk: Short-term exposure may lead to throat, eye, and nose irritation, while long-term exposure may cause a variety of lung diseases such as pneumonia, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and lung cancer.
Main source: emitted by organic compounds used in household building and cleaning products (e.g., varnish, paint, pesticide, disinfectant, and other types of cleaning agents)
Health risk: As in other health hazards, the extent of exposure to VOCs greatly affects the severity of possible health risks. Some of the common problems associated with VOCs are headache, nausea, and eye and nose irritation. Extreme exposure may also cause cancer or damage to the kidney, the central nervous system (CNS), and the liver.
How to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor air pollution stems not just from natural gases and household products, but from faulty habits that keep you from breathing clean (and healthy) air.
As a guide, we’ll break down everything you need to do to improve your indoor air quality into three major steps:
Identify and Control the Source of Pollutants
Let’s face it: pollutants are everywhere. From organic products down to the soil, toxic compounds can always find a way to your home. While you cannot fully eliminate these toxins, you can minimize or control their presence by the following:
Based on a study, 50% of secondhand smoke particles only decay after 55 minutes, which means that harmful tobacco compounds still remain suspended in the air long after you smoke.
Use Natural Cleaning Products
Since organic cleaning agents release VOCs, using natural products such as vinegar, baking soda, and lemon can help lessen your exposure to these compounds. Alternatively, you can stow commercially-made products away from living areas and wear gloves and other protective clothing when cleaning your home.
Clean Household Equipment
Never neglect the importance of cleaning your stove, air conditioner, air purifier, humidifier (if you have any). This way, your equipment won’t emit pollutants that downgrade indoor air quality. Also, on days when there is an increased amount of pollen or smoke, change your air filters more frequently.
Keep Regular Grooming Practices in Place
If you own a pet, eliminate allergy-causing pet dander by maintaining healthy grooming habits. If possible, keep your pets out of the bedroom.
Replace Carpets with Hardwood Flooring
Carpets are a breeding ground for dirt, mold spores, pet dander, and dust. Save money from buying a carpet and stick to hardwood flooring instead.
Let Air Circulate
Stagnant air trapped with harmful particles is more dangerous than outdoor air pollution, making proper ventilation a critical element in improving air quality. So instead of closing down your doors and windows all year round, here’s what you should do:
If Possible, Open Your Windows and Doors
Let fresh air circulate inside your home by occasionally opening your windows and doors if the weather permits. But before doing so, check the pollen levels outside, especially if you have allergies.
Turn On Your Exhaust Fans
Turn on your kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans when applicable so you can vent smoke and other particles out. If the pollen levels outside are too high, don’t open your windows. Instead, set your air conditioner to its “fan” mode.
Invest in Potent Air Cleaners
Use Plants for Reducing Indoor Air Pollution
There is a wide variety of plants that improve indoor air quality. With or without a green thumb, most of these plants grow well given the right environment. Not only can they filter most indoor pollutants, but they can also add more style and texture to your home.
Find the Right Air Purifier for Your Needs
Air cleaners are designed to get rid of pollutants that pose multiple health risks, but just like all equipment, not all air purifiers function similarly. For instance, while HVAC filters and central furnaces can purify air throughout the home, portable ones may only be efficient when used in a smaller area. That said, you should always read the product guide so you can set the right expectations.
The air quality in your home is never out of your control. Remember, your house, your rules. By cultivating mindful cleaning habits, you can significantly change the air you breathe and the way you live.