We’ve all heard the notion that the air inside our homes is more polluted than the air outside. Um, gross but how can that be? Last time I checked, no one was driving a car or operating heavy machinery in my living room. If outside air truly is less polluted, how do we improve indoor air quality?
Every Spring I look forward to the weather getting warm and opening all the windows to ‘air out the funk smell’ that seems to live in my house. We get a few good days of nice fresh air before the pollen hits and the windows are again shut tighter than a bank vault.
Homes these days are so well insulated, except for that tiny crack at the bottom of the door where ALL THE COLD AIR rushes in when the winter wind blows. The challenge with well insulated homes is they trap all the indoor air pollutants inside, where we are living and breathing.
We spend so much of our days indoors, either in our homes or in a place of business, that doesn’t include being outside. Kinda makes me want to be a park ranger. So where are all these pollutants coming from?
Sources of Indoor Air Contaminants
- Fire retardants on everything from furniture to clothing to carpeting and everything in between
- Formaldehyde in many of our cleaning and personal care products
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) in everything from personal care products to cleaning products to paint and furniture and beyond
- Dust Mites (ewww, gross)
- Lead that’s either tracked in on our shoes or in paint in homes built before 1978)
Who’s Sensitive to Indoor Air Pollutants
Anyone who suffers from asthma which, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is 1 in 13 Americans or more than 26 million people. The elderly are also sensitive to indoor air pollutants due to weaker immune systems and just the fact that they have been alive longer and more often than not, have ‘dirtier’ lungs.
Inexpensive, Easy Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
Good news, this isn’t the part where I tell you to hermetically seal your home and only have one highly technical air vent pumping all the toxins out of the house. There are a bunch of easy ways to improve indoor air quality that won’t require you to take out a home loan.
Change air filters regularly – our HVAC guy comes twice a year to do the maintenance and always remarks how clean our filters are. Secretly, I think my husband may change the filters between the HVAC guys visits. Yep, we’re overachievers.
Frequently wash human and pet bedding – keep the dead skin and pet dander to a minimum.
Get a good entry mat and leave shoes at the door – we are awful with leaving shoes at the door. My kids don’t wear shoes in the house but I always do, flip flops in the warmer months because I can’t stand to have crumbs or debris sticking to my feet and warm shoes in the cooler/cold months because my feet are ALWAYS cold. So much dirt, debris, germs, chemical residue, etc comes in on our shoes.
Vacuum several times a week – I feel like I’m always vacuuming to keep up with the shedded dog hair. Preferably use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. We have an old Kirby vacuum (I think we bought it in about 2002) that’s heavier than a cement block but we spent gobs of money on it and I think my husband would kill me if I even mentioned buying a new vacuum.
Mop floors – once your done vacuuming, make sure and mop your floors to remove any dust that the vacuum doesn’t pick up. It’s also a good way to clean up any residue left behind from dog and cat paws or shoes. A microfiber mop and water is all you need; effective and doesn’t leave any residue behind.
Dry Dust Walls – while you’ve got your mop out, go ahead and dry mop the walls to remove any dust that has accumulated. One day the light was shining on my bedroom wall just right and I was shocked by how dusty they were. Who knew dust grew on the wall!?!
No cigarette smoking
Increase Ventilation – make sure to use exhaust fans in the bathroom and the kitchen to vent air outside the house. We run the exhaust fan in the bathroom during the shower or bath and then for roughly 20 minutes after to make sure to clear out as much moisture from the air as possible. No one wants mold growing in the bathroom. To make it easy, my dear husband installed this sweet switch plate timer thingy.
They are relatively inexpensive (less than $20) and easy to install. I can’t find the one we have but this Enerlites Countdown Timer is pretty basic and gets good reviews on Amazon.
Swap Out Cleaning Products – many cleaning products contain synthetic fragrances and other harmful chemicals (ammonia, VOC’s, petroleum-based solvents, formaldehyde, etc) that pollute indoor air. Don’t forget those dryer sheets. Not only are they a fire-hazard but they emit harmful VOC’s and coat your fabrics with a film.
Come check out my Cleaning The Non-Toxic Way Pinterest board for ideas on cleaning without harmful chemicals.
Swap Out Personal Care Products – may of the personal care products we use everyday contain synthetic fragrances and other harmful chemicals (phthalates, VOC’s, etc) that contribute to indoor air pollution. Read more about what’s lurking in some personal care products in this post about getting rid of that stinky boy smell. To learn more about the ingredients in the products you use, check out the apps linked in this post.
Open Windows (when the weather cooperates) – throw open those windows and air that stink out. Bring on Spring (when the weather starts to get warm) and Fall (when the weather starts to get cool) and opening all the windows. Push out the old, stale air and pull in the fresh, clean(er) air. The best is when you get a nice warm day in the Winter or a nice cool day in the Summer and you can throw the windows open for a bit.
Radon and Carbon Monoxide – be sure to periodically test for Radon and make sure to have a Carbon Monoxide detector. Radon and Carbon Monoxide are colorless and odorless but can be deadly. You can buy home test kits like this test for Radon and get yourself a Carbon Monoxide Detector like this to go along with your smoke detector. Radon comes from the ground and can seep in via cracks in the foundation or crawl space.
Candles – if you love candles, good news, you can still use them…just make sure they don’t contain paraffin. Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum and releases harmful chemicals like toluene (contained in nail polish, read more about it here) and benzene. Beeswax candles serve as a natural ionic air purifier pulling toxins from the environment and neutralizing them.
We all want to provide a safe, healthy home for our families and pets. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming, just figure out your pain points and use these strategies to address them. Come on over to my Healthy Home Heroes group on Facebook to join in on the discussion on ways to survive parenting, adulting and creating a healthy home for your family.
Which strategies do you currently use? Which will you try? Comment below and let me know.
Make it a green day!