As you are reading this, you are probably sitting indoors in front of your computer. We are spending more time indoors than any other time in history. Because of the way we live, it is now more important than ever to find ways to decrease our exposure to indoor air pollution. Read on to learn easy ways for improving indoor air pollution.
It is estimated that we now spend up to 90% of our time indoors. This percentage has increased greatly in the last 30-40 years. Because of the large amount of time we spend indoors, it is vital that we find ways of improving indoor air pollution to ensure that our indoor environment is as healthy as possible.
The Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) states that ‘Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks.’ (source) They also believe that air pollution is two to five times higher than outdoor air pollution. I live in a city where smog is a real problem. Therefore the thought that the air inside my home is considered more polluted, quite frankly scares me. This lead me to research ways of easily and cheaply improving indoor air pollution in my own home.
Exposure to chemicals, pollutants and toxins within our homes has a direct impact on our health. The terms ‘sick building syndrome’ and ‘building related illness’ are now being recognized by doctors. Symptoms range can be acute complaints of dizziness, headaches, eye irritation and respiratory irritation to name a few. Or chronic exposure, which have long term effects and can include respiratory complaints and cancer.
Articles on indoor air pollution statistics and sources of exposure can make scary reading and be overwhelming. Luckily there are some simple and inexpensive things you can do today which will make a dramatic difference in improving indoor air pollution in your home.
Sources of Air Pollution:
Indoor air pollutants can come in two forms. Particulate matter and Gaseous pollutants.
Particulate matter are all solids and liquids that are suspended in air.
- Dust Mites
- Animal Dander
- Viruses and Bacteria
- Tobacco smoke
These pollutants are the result of a combustion process. These can come from cooking processes, tobacco smoke or vehicle use. However, some less obvious sources include;
- Soft furnishings
- Building materials
- Cleaning Products
Volatile Organic Compounds
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted from some liquids or solids. They may have short term or long term negative health effects. VOCs can be emitted by thousands of products and the concentration of VOCs can be up to ten times higher indoors.
‘EPA’s Office of Research and Development’s “Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study” …..found levels of about a dozen common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than outside, regarless of whether the homes were located in rural or highly industrial areas…. and elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after the activity is completed.’ (source)
VOCs can be found in many common products we utilize everyday in our homes.
- aerosol sprays
- cleaners and disinfectants
- air fresheners
- dry cleaning
- paint, paint stripper
- building materials
- printers and copiers
Health Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
The health effects of indoor air pollution can be categorized as either Acute, (rapid onset, short, severe course), or Chronic, (persisting for a long time or constantly reoccurring).
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Headaches and/or dizziness
- Runny Nose
- Allergic skin reaction
- Nose bleed
- Muscle and joint pain
- Poor concentration
- Chronic runny nose
- Digestive issues
- Memory problems
- Sinus problems
- Damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system
- Some VOCs can cause cancer in animals and are suspected to contribute to cancer in humans
- Sleep issues
Steps to Improving Indoor Air Pollution
The above all seems very grim and frightening. However, there are some simple, cost effective things you can do in your home right now to improve the quality of air.
Eliminate the source: Have a look around your home and identify some of the possible contributing factors to air pollution and make a plan to fix, repair or remove the source.
Clean air conditioner air ducts regularly.
Adjust gas stoves and heating appliances to decrease the level of emissions.
Properly vent all fuel burning devices, including fireplaces, water heaters, gas and wood burning stoves.
Use natural pest control to decrease exposure to pesticides.
Minimize dust mites in your home. For tips on how to do this, refer to my blog post on 10 ways to minimize dust mites. You can read it here.
Eliminate odours in the home instead of masking with artificial smells. Or use Essential oils to provide scent where needed.
Ventilate: Let fresh air in. Simply opening windows to let in fresh air whenever you can will go a long way to help remove pollutants from your home.
Ensure that you have good exhaust systems in place in bathrooms and in the kitchen.
Put down a welcome mat: To stop people bringing in pollutants from the outside, place mats at every entrance to encourage wiping of shoes and ask people to remove shoes within your home.
Where you have the option, opt for hard flooring and have washable rugs.
Ban smoking from your home.
Invest in a home air cleaner: These are pricey but may be an option for some. For those of us who simply do not have the budget for this level of protection, grab your Essential Oil diffuser.
Essential oils have many health giving and cleansing properties. Some Essential oils are antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal and some will kill airborne mould spores. Diffuse these oils for half an hour a day in bedrooms and living areas to help keep air clean, I like to use a combination of sweet orange, cinnamon. clove, rosemary and eucalyptus.
Change to a natural clean: cleaning products and disinfectants are responsible for a large portion of the air pollution we have in our homes. Changing to an all natural, non toxic cleaning system will help to keep air pollution inside your home to a minimum.
Go green: Houseplants are a great way to help lower indoor air pollution naturally. Here is a list of some good ones to try. List is taken from an article written by Mother Earth Living. You can read the full article here.
- English Ivy: An excellent choice for removing formaldehyde, benzene and even airborne fecal matter, this native of Asia, Europe and North Africa is somewhat difficult to grow indoors. It prefers moist air, so mist leaves regularly when humidity is low and keep in bright light. Beware that the leaves are poisonous to pets and humans when ingested.
- Ficus ‘Amstel King’: Adept at clearing formaldehyde and a good general air purifier, the new ficus cultivar Ficus alii is rapidly gaining popularity. Native to Thailand, this plant is related to weeping fig, but less finicky and with long pointed leaves. Water thoroughly, allowing the top half-inch of soil to dry out between waterings, and provide bright, indirect light.
- Gerbera Daisy: This lovely plant from Africa adds a splash of color to the room and removes a variety of chemical vapors from the air, notably formaldehyde and benzene. It makes a delightful plant in the summer garden, and if brought indoors in the fall, it may continue to flower through the winter. This is a relatively difficult indoor plant that requires bright light and moderate temperatures.
- Peace Lily: This lily is adept at removing a variety of alcohols and chemical vapors, including acetone, benzene, ammonia, formaldehyde and xylene, and it scored among the top plants tested for removing several toxins. This easy-to-grow lily can raise humidity levels by up to 5 percent, a helpful feat in dry climates. They enjoy semisun to semishade and being watered a lot at once, then being allowed to dry out.
- Rubber Plant: This handsome houseplant from southeast Asia, known botanically asFicus elastica, is near the top of the list for removing formaldehyde. Under proper conditions, a rubber plant can reach a height of 8 feet. Rubber plant is extremely forgiving. Ideally, it prefers bright, indirect light; regular watering; and mist on its leaves when the air is dry.
- Snake Plant (also known as mother-in-law’s tongue): Native to West Africa, this evergreen perennial clears smog, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene from the air. Like aloe, the snake plant produces oxygen and removes carbon dioxide at nighttime, making it ideal for bedrooms and other low-light rooms. This plant can withstand considerable neglect and infrequent watering.
- Spider Plant: This flowering perennial is native to Africa and removes smog, formaldehyde, benzene and xylene—found in auto exhaust, synthetic perfume and paint. A NASA study found this plant can remove 96 percent of the carbon monoxide and 99 percent of the nitrogen dioxide within a sealed chamber. This resilient plant thrives in a variety of environments. It prefers medium to bright light, but avoid extended amounts of direct sun.
- Weeping Fig: These popular tropical trees, known botanically as Ficus benjamina, are excellent at removing a variety of pollutants, including formaldehyde, xylene and toluene. They come in three main varieties: a bush, a standard tree and a braided tree with entwined trunks. Weeping fig has a tendency to drop its leaves when moved. They enjoy full to semisun and moist soil.
In conclusion, this article shows, indoor air pollution is a very real problem that most of us are unaware of. It can be the root cause of a myriad of health related problems. Left unchecked and the health implications are huge. The above suggestions are simple and effective things you can do right now to improve the quality of air in your home.
Have you implemented any of the six suggested ideas for improving air quality in your home? If so, i would love to hear what you have done and how it has worked for you. Please leave a comment below.