Breathe Easy: 5 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

 

We tend to think of air pollution as something outside — smog, ozone, or haze hanging in the air, especially in summer. But the truth is, the air inside homes, offices, and other buildings can be more polluted than the air outside. Poor air quality can threaten your family’s health, so it’s important to keep things out of your home that cause pollution, and ensure that your house is well-ventilated.

1. Keep your floors fresh. 

Suck it up. Chemicals and allergens can accumulate in household dust for decades. By using a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter you can reduce concentrations of lead in your home. You can also get rid of other toxins, allergens like pollen, pet dander, as well as dust mites. Using a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes, and a HEPA filter ensures that dust and dirt won’t get blown back out in the exhaust. In high traffic areas, vacuum the same spot several times. Don’t forget walls, carpet edges, and upholstered furniture, where dust accumulates. For best results, vacuum two or more times each week and wash out your filter regularly.

Mop it up. Mopping picks up the dust that vacuuming leaves behind. You can skip the soaps and cleaners and just use plain water to capture any lingering dust or allergens. New microfiber mops (and dust cloths) reportedly capture more dust and dirt than traditional fibers and don’t require any cleaning solutions whatsoever.

Keep it out. Put a large floor mat at every door.People track in all sorts of chemicals via the dirt on their shoes. A door mat reduces the amount of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants from getting into your home. If the mat is big enough, even those who don’t wipe their shoes will leave most pollutants on the mat — not the floors in your home.

2. Keep a healthy level of humidity.

Dust mites and mold love moisture. Keeping humidity around 30%-50% helps keep them and other allergens under control. A dehumidifier (and air conditioner during summer months) helps reduce moisture in indoor air and effectively controls allergens, Lang says. An air conditioner also reduces indoor pollen count — another plus for allergy-sufferers.

More tips for dehumidifying your home:

  • Use an exhaust fan or crack open a window when cooking, running the dishwasher, or bathing.
  • Don’t overwater houseplants.
  • Vent the clothes dryer to the outside.
  • Fix leaky plumbing to prevent moisture-loving mold.
  • Empty drip pans in your window air conditioner and dehumidifier.

3. Make your home a no-smoking zone.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. Research shows that secondhand smoke increases a child’s risk of developing ear and respiratory infections, asthma, cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). For the smoker, this addiction causes cancer, breathing problems, heart attacks, and stroke.

If you want to stop smoking, support groups, nicotine-replacement therapy, and other medications can help. Find a method that works for you, get some support (friends, family, fellow quitters, counseling), and think positive. Focus on your reasons for quitting — not on your cravings.

4. Smell good naturally.

You may associate that lemony or piney scent with a clean kitchen or clean clothes. But synthetic fragrances in laundry products and air fresheners emit dozens of different chemicals into the air. You won’t find their names on the product labels. Conventional laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and air fresheners in solid, spray, and oil form may all emit such gasses.

In one study, a plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including seven regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws. But these chemicals were not included on the label — only the word “fragrance” is required to be listed. But the actual composition of the fragrance is considered a “trade secret.”

Most fragrances are derived from petroleum products, and generally haven’t been tested to see if they have any significant adverse health effects in humans when they are inhaled. (Tests usually focus on whether a fragrance causes skin irritation.) Some that have been tested raise concern. Phthalates are a group of chemicals often used in fragrances and also used to soften plastics. Studies show that phthalates disrupt hormones in animals. What can you do?

  • Look for fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products.
  • Switch to mild cleaners that don’t include artificial fragrances.
  • Stop using aerosol sprays — deodorants, hair sprays, carpet cleaners, furniture polish, and air fresheners.
  • Let in fresh air. Open windows so toxic chemicals don’t build up in your home. What if you or your child has pollen allergies? Then keep rooms ventilated with a filtered air- conditioning system.
  • Use sliced lemons and baking soda to get a clean scent in the kitchen.
  • Bring nature indoors. Any room is prettier with a fern, spider plant, or aloe vera. It’s also healthier. NASA research shows that indoor plants like these act as living air purifiers — the foliage and roots work in tandem to absorb chemical pollutants released by synthetic materials. *If you have kids or pets, make sure the plants aren’t poisonous if ingested.

5. Close your windows.

Ozone and other forms of air pollution, as well as outdoor allergens and dust, can affect your lungs. This can be especially troublesome if it’s allergy season, if the winds are howling, or if you live in a place prone to dust accumulation.

On high air-pollution days keep the windows closed. You can check air quality throughout Singapore at http://www.haze.gov.sg/.

If you’re cleaning, though, you may want to open a window to clear the air of cleaning chemicals, according to the American Lung Association.

References: Health.com, WebMD, GoodHousekeeping.com

 

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