You might often come across news stories about air pollution and its impacts on public health. But how frequently do you think about the quality of the air indoors?
While outdoor air pollution certainly poses a concern, it might be easy to forget that the quality of the air you breathe at home may be just as important.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), levels of air pollutants indoors may not only be up to
The health impacts of indoor air pollution depend on the type of pollutant present in your air, but they can include:
People with respiratory or heart conditions, as well as young children and older adults, may also have a greater risk of developing some health concerns connected to low indoor air quality.
Unexplained respiratory symptoms could offer a clue that it may be time to check the air quality in your living space. But other times, even pollutants with the potential to cause harm go completely undetected for years.
Taking steps to boost your indoor air quality can help you lower your risk of developing health conditions and may even improve your quality of life. We’ve got eight tips to get you started.
An important way to keep your indoor air clean involves learning about common sources of pollution and avoiding adding pollutants when you can.
Radon, a natural radioactive gas, can seep up through cracks in the earth and build up in your home, leading to health problems including lung cancer.
Home test kits offer a simple way to check for unsafe levels of radon in your home. If testing reveals high levels of radon in your air, you can typically reduce radon by sealing the foundation of your home so that the gas can’t leak into your living space.
Learn more about radon and how to handle it.
Secondhand smoke refers to exhaled cigarette smoke. Anyone exposed may have a
The best way to keep second and thirdhand smoke out of your living space is to avoid smoking indoors. If possible, it could also be a good idea to minimize the habit, since the thirdhand smoke on your clothes may
Formaldehyde is a common volatile organic compound, or VOC — one of many harmful gasses sometimes emitted by common household items.
Commonly found in glues used in composite wood and many types of furniture, formaldehyde can seep into your indoor air. Too much exposure can cause respiratory issues, including bronchitis.
You can reduce formaldehyde’s effects on air quality by:
- opting for used furniture instead of new — furniture tends to release lower amounts of formaldehyde over time
- choosing solid wood furniture over composite wood
Certain cleaning products contain harmful chemicals that may linger in your air, including:
- glass cleaners
- air fresheners
- cleaning sprays
Choosing safer, nontoxic cleaning products can help you keep your home clean, without the excess pollutants contained in some standard cleaning products.
If you’re concerned about the air quality in your home but aren’t sure what changes could help the most, a good place to start involves testing your air quality.
You can either choose the DIY route or call in a pro.
The method you choose can depend on your needs. Doing it yourself is often less expensive, but working with a professional will likely yield more extensive results and personalized info.
DIY air quality testing
You can find a variety of air quality test kits online. Some kits allow you to check for multiple pollutants, while others test for just one, like radon.
Because many at-home test kits aren’t comprehensive, it might make more sense to do at-home testing if you’re only interested in checking for one or two particular pollutants. If you want a full panel of results, working with a pro may actually be more efficient in the long run.
Comprehensive at-home tests generally cost up to $200, but you may need to spend more when checking for more pollutants.
Professional air quality testing
Hiring a professional will likely cost more than using a test kit, but many professionals offer additional services to help you manage any sources of pollution found during the test. For example, pros who offer air quality testing may also specialize in mold prevention and removal.
You’ll commonly find a host of allergens and irritants in many indoor spaces, including:
- pet dander
- dust mites
Keeping these allergens at bay will usually improve overall air quality in your home, not to mention reduce your chances of experiencing respiratory symptoms, including
- runny nose
- watery eyes
- sore throat
- skin rashes
Managing allergens in your house requires both prevention and upkeep.
Preventative strategies for controlling allergens
- brushing and bathing your pet regularly
- washing bedding in hot water twice per month to eliminate dust mites
- choosing hypoallergenic pillows and impermeable mattresses to keep dust mites out
You can also remove allergens from indoor air by:
- vacuuming and dusting to keep pet dander, dust, and dust mites from accumulating
- washing mold off nonpermeable surfaces, like tiles and metal, using a bleach or soap solution
- removing and replacing carpet, wood, or drywall where mold is growing
Bringing an air purifier into your home is one effective way to keep your air cleaner. You may want to opt for an air purifier with a high efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filter, since these tend to do the best job of removing harmful particles from the air.
HEPA filters may remove more than 99 percent of harmful particles from your air, in fact.
Air purifiers can’t remove all types of pollution, so you may want to consider an air filter if you want to reduce:
- mold spores
- excess carbon dioxide
- allergens like pet dander
An air purifier with a HEPA filter can even help remove flu virus particles from your air.
Searching for an air filter but don’t know where to start? Check out our list of the best HEPA air purifiers.
Keeping the air flowing in your home offers a simple (and potentially cost-free) way to improve your air quality. Opening windows and doors to let some outside air flow through is one way to do this — as long as the outdoor air is clean or low in pollen.
But air enters your house through vents as well as weak spots like tiny spaces around doors. While there’s not as much you can do about the air that enters through these openings, it might help to make sure that the air channeling into your living space via vents isn’t contributing to the problem.
- regularly changing out any filters in your home heating and cooling systems
- making sure any air ducts in your home are clean and unobstructed, since dust can build up over time
- checking the filters in appliances that bring air into your home and changing them according to the manufacturer’s instructions
Dampness in indoor spaces can lead to many health hazards, including mold growth. Dampness and high humidity may also cause VOCs to leach into your air.
Damp indoor environments can result from a variety of factors, including:
- humid climates
- leaky pipes or roofs
- areas with pooling water
- low ventilation in areas with a lot of steam, like bathrooms and kitchens
Damp conditions can lead to many respiratory symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and asthma attacks.
You can reduce dampness in your living area by:
- using a dehumidifier
- turning on a fan or opening a window when you shower or cook
- finding and eliminating areas of pooling water or moisture in your home
Some heating systems can also have a big impact on air quality.
Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces can release high amounts of harmful particles into your indoor air that may increase your risk of developing long-term health conditions like lung cancer.
Other potentially higher-risk heating options include heating systems with older furnaces and gas-fueled heating appliances.
Gas-powered heating systems have the potential to release more carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that can cause suffocation and death, into your air. Some experts recommend using direct vent gas appliances, which keep the gas from mingling with your indoor air.
Solar and electric heating options could keep your indoor air much cleaner than other heating systems. If you have the option, these are usually your best bets for cleaner air.
People commonly recommend using house plants to help cleanse the air in your home.
Research on this remains contradictory, though.
A 2017 research review found house plants could help reduce specific indoor air pollutants, including VOCs and fine particles, but the results of many of the studies differed when it came to how much of an impact indoor plants really have.
What’s more, the results of a
Indoor plants might even contribute to more problems than they solve if they become a source of mold or trigger your allergies.
Another factor to consider is the type of plant. When it comes to removing pollutants, not all plants are equal.
Plants recognized as more effective at keeping indoor air clean include:
- Dracaena, a popular genus of houseplant that often has sword-shaped leaves that come in many colors
- Spathiphyllum, also known as peace lily
- Hedera helix, or common ivy
Of course, indoor plants can still offer plenty of benefits.
A variety of factors can impact the air quality in your living space, and they can contribute to a range of short- and long-term health effects.
Testing your indoor air quality can bring some peace of mind if you’re worried about indoor air pollution. From there, taking steps to prevent and reduce specific problem pollutants can help you maximize the quality of the air in your home and minimize any associated health risks.
Courtney Telloian is a writer with work published on Healinggeeks, Psych Central, and Insider. Previously, she worked on Psych Central and GoodTherapy’s editorial teams. Her areas of interest include holistic approaches to health, especially women’s wellness, and topics centered around mental health.
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