Your Indoor Air Quality Is Probably Worse Than You Think

Wouldn’t it be nice if the tiny droplets from dangerous viruses were visible to the naked eye? They’d certainly be much easier to avoid.

On the other hand, I’m not sure we’d want to see all the airborne pollutants in our homes and offices. We might never set foot inside any structure again.

A study by Environmental Health Sciences revealed that a typical home’s air could contain up to 500 different pollutants. The EPA says indoor concentrations of some pollutants are two to five times higher than outdoor concentrations.

No matter how clean we keep our houses, we’re surrounded by microscopic threats. Including dust mites, pollen, particulate matter and pet dander. As well as chemicals leaching from carpets and furniture.

Contaminants Cause Health Problems

Now, depending on where you live, outdoor air pollution can be pretty nasty as well. But Americans spend an average of 90 percent of their time indoors. And that was before we started quarantining. The percentage is undoubtedly higher now.

That means indoor air pollution can be worse for our health than outdoor air pollution. In fact, the Lung Institute calls indoor air “much more polluted” than outdoor air.

But aren’t most of these microscopic air pollutants harmless? No. Indoor air contaminants can lead to many health problems.

Including fatigue or trouble sleeping. And waking up sneezing or with itchy eyes. Plus wheezing and coughing fits. These issues are exasperated when someone has  pneumonia, asthma, COPD, COVID-19 or other respiratory issues.  

Plenty of Pollutants to Go Around

Here’s how it happens. Over time, layers of dirt, dust, debris and allergens build up inside air ducts. That surface dust is a haven for bugs such as dust mites.

Then every time the air conditioner or heater turns on, this airborne buildup blows into various rooms. Where your family relaxes, eats, talks and sleeps.

Among other pollutants invading homes and offices are volatile organic compounds. They can be found in household cleaners, cosmetics and paint. Plus new building materials, air fresheners and pesticides. As well as new furniture and carpets.

Other pollutants are black mold spores that can cause fungal lung infections. Not to mention antibiotic-resistant viruses including H1N1, influenza, SARS and TB. Add in bacteria that weakens the immune system and chemicals including formaldehyde.

What Else Causes Contamination?

Indoor air pollution can also be caused by smoke from cooking, fireplaces, candles and tobacco.  As well as from attached garages storing cars, motorcycles and lawnmowers.

Even from radon, a gas that comes from the ground and is considered the second leading cause of lung cancer.

Chemicals from water supplies can enter indoor air when we’re using water for showering and cleaning. When we enter our homes from the outdoors, we often bring in soil and dust that adheres to our shoes and clothing.

And it’s not just older homes that experience these problems. In an effort to become more energy efficient, home builders have designed houses to keep cold and hot air outdoors.

But that means new houses don’t “breathe” as well as older ones. So, indoor air pollutants can’t find their way outdoors. We keep breathing them in and out, day after day.   

9 Ways to Improve Air Quality

Fortunately, there are some things we can do to improve the quality of our indoor air. Here are nine of them.

  • Dehumidify: Dust and mold love humidity, so get rid of it. Fix water leaks before mold can grow and use your exhaust fan when cooking. The EPA recommends a range of 30 to 60 percent humidity in the house.
  • Choose the Right Candles: If you like lighting candles in your home, use beeswax candles. Traditional candles can release pollutants. Beeswax candles help reduce toxins.
  • Get more House Plants: They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. NASA recommends the Peace Lily. Ferns, spider plants and aloe vera are also helpful
  • Change Your Air Filters Regularly: You don’t need expensive filters for your furnace. Some experts recommend less expensive filters because they allow for better airflow. Change them every month or two, year ‘round. Don’t forget about filters for your clothes dryer and vacuum cleaner.
  • Keep it Clean: Dust, vacuum and mop regularly. If you steam-clean your carpets yourself, use a mixture of white vinegar and water. A vinegar solution on hard floors works great too. Keep sheets, mattresses and furniture clean.
  • Clean Air Ducts and Cooking Vents: As discussed, this is where a lot of pollutants can build up and then be spread throughout your home. This might be a periodic job for professionals.
  • Keep Smokers Outside: Smoking is deadly and secondhand smoke is just as bad. Tell smokers to take it outside.
  • Avoid Using Aerosols: Many of them contain phthalates, which can negatively affect hormones. Artificial sprays, plug-ins and fragrances are filled with chemicals that you don’t want to inhale.
  • Open Windows: Proper ventilation is important. Even in the winter there are at least a handful of days when you can let some outside air in without making the furnace do extra work. Use ceiling fans as well.

We’ll never be able to see microscopic pollutants inside our homes. But they’re there. Do what you can to limit them and stay healthy.

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