Inside your home, you feel protected from the pollution that clouds the air outside of your walls — safely sealed away from the smog produced by factories, cars, and other sources. But watch out: recent research actually suggests that the air inside of your home may be more dangerous than the air outside. In fact, the issue is so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency ranked indoor air pollution as one of the five most significant environmental dangers.
The problems we experience as a result of indoor irritants and allergens have become more pronounced in recent decades — as we spend more time indoors. Now that the average person spends 90% of their time sitting in an office or hidden away at home, our airtight modern buildings make the density of the irritants we experience higher than ever.
The more time we spend indoors — where gasses, chemicals, particles, and other pollutants can build up — the more people experience common ailments like eye irritation, headaches, fatigue, and allergies. Clean air can prevent environmental hazards to our health, and protect us from the devastating impact of serious pollutants that promote chronic health conditions. So how can you improve air quality and reduce allergens in your home?
Step 1: Take Off Your Shoes
Shoes aren’t only responsible for tracking dirt onto clean floors; they’re also to blame for 40% of the contaminants present indoors. According to information from the University of Georgia, shoes can be the largest source of external dust. A good way to start removing allergens from your home is to set up a no-shoes policy, with a double entry mat system — one scraper mat on the outside of the property, and an absorption mat on the inside.
It may seem like a lot of hassle, but the scraper mat will remove dirt from the shoes, while the absorption mat wicks away unwanted moisture and particles.
Step 2: Maintain Your HVAC System
Your home most likely has a heating and cooling system, and making sure you care for it properly can help reduce the allergens and pollutants in the air. Change the filter of your HVAC system — and any filters used in your air vents — regularly. Dirty filters are not only inefficient, costing you more on your energy bill, but they also introduce new allergens into the home, instead of trapping them behind the vents. Leaky ducts can also increase allergen and dust levels in your home.
The best way to ensure your HVAC system is properly maintained is to schedule a professional inspection and tune-up once a year. During inspections, technicians can uncover problems that may be impacting the system’s efficiency, or your indoor air quality.
Step 3: Commit to Regular Housekeeping
A clean home is about more than just being presentable when guests visit; it also helps you to get rid of the contaminants that have built up as a result of everyday living. Vacuum, mop, dust, and clean your home to rid your air of unwanted dirt.
When vacuuming, be sure to cover everything — from the carpets to the furniture, and even the drapes — at least once a week. Choosing a vacuum with a HEPA filter will give you the best results, as these filters help to capture toxins and particles around your home, reducing lead concentrations in the air. They also suck up everything from dust mites and pet dander to pollen and dirt. Just make sure to wash out the filter after using it so it can continue working at its best.
Clean surfaces with a moist, microfiber cloth, and scrub kitchen and bathrooms with solutions designed to kill off mold spores and bacteria. As you’re working in these areas, check for water leaks around pipes and damage to extractor fans — leaks can cause mold build up, and fans help to remove contaminants from your home.
Step 4: Use Air Purifiers
Air purifiers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, complementing your other air quality control efforts by removing excess contaminants from the atmosphere. These tools work to trap tiny particles like dust, pet dander, pollen, organic compounds, and mold spores – some higher-end products even have the ability to capture viruses and bacteria.
Consumer Reports put together an air purifier buying guide in 2014 that suggests the best filters are those that can filter out volatile organic compounds (or VOC’s); which are the respiratory irritants produced by cleaning products, paint, and adhesives. These purifiers include filters that must be cleaned thoroughly, or you risk releasing dangerous particles back into your living space.
Step 5: Try Going Natural
It’s not just the common allergens, like pet dander and pollen, that contribute to bad air quality. Typical household cleaning products are often responsible for producing small amounts of volatile organic compounds that clog up the air for long periods of time — contributing to airway irritation, asthma, and headaches.
One good way to fight back against allergens is to try natural, non-toxic cleaners, and homemade formulas that use substances like baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice to freshen up a home. Similarly, some people prefer to use homemade fresh fruit instead of plug-in air fresheners and sprays, in an attempt to reduce the amount of foreign substances in the air.
Step 6: Remember Healthy Humidity
Dust mites, mold, and other dangerous substances thrive best in moist conditions, which is why it’s crucial to control humidity levels in the home. Using a dehumidifier during warmer seasons can help to lower humidity to manageable levels, which can assist in keeping allergens under control.
You can also improve the humidity levels in your home by ensuring that leaky plumbing is instantly fixed, and by drying your wet clothes outside. When cooking or running a hot shower, open a window or install an extractor fan, and try to keep an eye on other areas throughout your home that could contribute to a buildup of moisture.
Step 7: Bring Your Home to Life
Don’t be afraid to bring some life into your home, with pets and plants. Having pets used to be a big concern for families where childhood allergies were a problem, but recent research suggests that early exposure to animals may be essential in protecting children from developing asthma and allergies. Just keep in mind that cats and dogs can be exposed to a lot of contaminants, so bathe them and provide daily brushing to remove excess debris and fur.
Decorating the home with a few house plants can be a good way to naturally purify the air, as NASA researchers discovered that houseplants contribute to a cleaner, breathable environment. Be careful to pick flowers that aren’t toxic if you have pets or children.
Air Quality is Crucial to Good Health
According to the World Health Organization, respiratory ailments are frequently connected to poor indoor air quality. Promote good health for yourself and your family by making sure that the indoor air quality you’re exposed to each day is as clean and clear as possible.
How do you care for the air quality in your home? Have you recently implemented a few of our suggestions and are starting to see the results? Let us know in the comments below!