Did you know that Americans spend ninety-three percent of their time indoors? Eighty-seven percent of that time is spent inside of a building and another six percent is spent in a vehicle. With the overwhelming majority of our time being spent inside it is important to consider if the air quality in our homes could be harming us.
Most of us worry about the quality of outdoor air and are hopefully taking steps to minimize air pollution, but how many of us think about air quality in our own homes? We could be doing ourselves and our families just as much harm there as we are by breathing in polluted outdoor air. Not to mention, poor air quality can be detrimental to our pets' health as well. Birds are particularly sensitive to toxins in the air.
So, what causes indoor air pollution anyway?
Just like there is no one particular factor that causes all outdoor pollution, nor is there one single thing that causes indoor air pollution. While some of the offending things or actions are within our power to correct, others are not. There are quite a few things that cause problems, but here are some of the most common:
HVAC equipment like furnaces
Having new flooring or cabinetry installed in your home
Glue or other materials from crafts and other hobbies
Purchasing new furniture
Mold and mildew, especially in damp areas
Dust and dust mites
Toxic chemicals from common cleaning supplies
Burning candles or incense
All of these and so much more can contribute to poor indoor air quality. As you can see it isn't just one thing but a mixture of many things that could be negatively affecting the air in our homes and possibly our overall health and wellbeing.
We simply cannot avoid all of these things and others we wouldn't want to. We've got to cook, for example, and we have hobbies because we enjoy doing them. Many of us, myself included, enjoy the ambiance provided by a lovely burning candle. It isn't reasonable to expect that we could completely avoid pollution in our homes but luckily there are ways to minimize it.
But first, why is it such an issue?
We already know that we spend more of our time indoors than anywhere else, so it stands to reason that continual exposure to dirty air could cause us some problems. Some of the less severe issues that are attributed to poor air quality indoors include:
Dry or itchy eyes or other allergy symptoms
Stuffy or runny nose and congestion
There are certainly larger concerns as well, and some of those include:
Wheezing or coughing
Certain cancers (long term)
Neurological concerns (long term)
Reproductive concerns (long term)
If you or anyone living in your home have respiratory conditions such as asthma or any other conditions that are easily aggravated, the effects could be that much worse. Asthmatics are quite sensitive to respiratory irritants and too much of something could trigger an attack.
What can we do?
There are steps we can take to improve the air quality in our homes. Most of these options are affordable (or free). Even if you only implement a few of them into your own home, that's a few small steps taken towards a healthier home and a healthier family.
Open a window: it really is that simple. When the weather allows, open windows to allow fresh air to circulate through your home. I love the smell of the spring breeze flapping through my curtains, and I can always tell a difference in our home. It smells fresher and cleaner with open windows. I do recommend using caution with this if you suffer from pollen allergies and something is blooming nearby.
Keep things clean: our floors take a beating. Regularly vacuuming and mopping floors can greatly reduce the amount of dirt, pet hair, and dust that accumulates in our homes. If you have drapes or curtains in your home, remember to wash them regularly as well. I wash all the curtains in our home about once a month. Keep surfaces dusted and furniture vacuumed as needed.
Don't smoke inside your home: I'm not here to preach to anyone about smoking, and it's no secret that it's detrimental to health. If you do smoke though, it's best done outdoors where the smoke isn't building up in your home. This is incredibly important if you've got babies, children, elderly people, or any compromised people living with you.
Reconsider your cleaners: traditional cleaners are full of nasty chemicals that can wreak havoc on our bodies. Consider purchasing all-natural cleaners or making your own. Baking soda and vinegar are two affordable staples that can clean so many things in your home. You can check out two of my prior posts that touch on this topic here and here.
Cut out fragrances, or reduce them: "fragrance" in commercial products is not a single ingredient. It's a blend of any of thousands of different chemicals protected by proprietary trademarks of brands. They can cause many symptoms from rashes to respiratory problems. Consider using fragrance-free products when possible.
Reduce air freshener and candle use: as I said before, I do enjoy candles. Instead of paraffin wax candles, consider soy or beeswax candles. They release fewer toxins into the air. The smoke can still be a trigger, however, so you will want to use your own judgment. Things like plug-ins and automatic air freshener sprayers also contribute to diminished air quality. You might choose to replace them with something else, such as an essential oil diffuser.
Keep house plants: one of my favorites! House plants naturally filter our air, and you have the added bonus of how pretty they are. Some good choices are aloe, spider plants, and golden pothos.
Make sure damp areas stay dry: If you've got a basement, crawlspace, or just a damp bathroom, you might want to buy a dehumidifier. While they can be pricy, they will save you in the long run by helping prevent the growth of black mold.
Buy an air purifier: another option that can get pricy but it's worth it if you are noticing symptoms as a result of unclean air. These machines will help clean the air and leave less bad stuff behind for you to breathe in.
Research your home improvement purchases: if you're repainting, look for low or no VOC paints. There are many on the market these days. When you buy furniture or mattresses, try to find the most natural option that suits your needs and budget. If you can let new furniture or mattresses "air out" in a safe place outdoors for a few days, this is also an option to consider.
There are other ways to improve your indoor air quality, of course, but these are all excellent places to start. One small step at a time is better than nothing. Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic last year we have all spent even more time inside of our homes. We want to be as healthy as possible to avoid catching the virus (0r anything else), and healthy begins at home.
Do you have any other tips and tricks for keeping the quality of the air inside your home top-notch? If so I'd love to hear them!