On average, Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors where, according to the EPA, the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations and in some instances, up to 100 times higher.
The EPA has ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.
There are a wide variety of toxins that can be found in all areas of our home:
gas from cooking/heating
chemicals in new furniture
chemicals in new rugs/carpet
chemicals in new fabrics
chemicals in building materials
chemicals in paint
chemicals in cleaning products
fragrance from personal care or other household products
industrial emissions and more
A lot of these toxins are linked to many health issues including asthma, headaches, fatigue, rashes, neurological conditions and even cancer.
With lowered temperatures, especially for those of us living in cold climates, our windows and doors are almost always shut, trapping in a lot of potentially toxic air that we breath in all day and night. But there are a lot of things you can do to drastically reduce the level of irritants and chemicals that may keep you from feeling 100 percent. Here are a few recommendations:
1. Open your windows for 15-20 minutes each day. Keeping your windows open for a short amount of time each day can significantly reduce indoor pollution and bring fresh air inside to dilute any toxins. Yes, you will lose a bit of energy, but the health benefits you get from bringing fresh air inside can offset the money and energy you lose.
If you live near crowded roads, open the windows during slow traffic, to ensure minimal amount of toxins entering your home.
2. Fill your home with air purifying plants According to NASA’s Clean Air Study, which was designed to find ways to clean the air in sealed space stations, plants can be effective in absorbing carbon dioxide, release oxygen into the air, and remove pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. These chemicals can cause irritation to the skin, ears, eyes, nose, and throat, as well as some cancers, according to the EPA. See the photos below, from LoveTheGarden.com for plants you can bring into your home:
3. Use an Air Purifier with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to capture the pollutants in your home. I will write a future article on best air purifiers and what to look for.
4. Remove all air fresheners and scented candles While these products make your home smell nice, they are filled with many toxic chemicals that are harmful. Studies measuring the different substances that air fresheners emit, found numerous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, m,p-xylene, phthalates, and more.
Paraffin is a byproduct of petroleum, and that is what most commercially made candles are made with. When you burn a paraffin candle it can release VOCs into the air such as acetone, toluene and benzene which are known carcinogens. But even when not lit, all parts of commercially made candles from the fragrance, wax and the wick release harmful chemicals in the air.
5. Replace cleaning and personal care products with non-toxic ones. Environmental Working Group's investigation of more than 2,000 cleaning supplies on the American market has found that many contain substances linked to serious health problems. They are a great resource to follow for learning more about safer products for your home and family.
6. Purchase organic and non-toxic furniture, bedding, rugs, etc. Carpets and rugs, furniture and new fabrics are often made with synthetic materials and toxic chemicals that can off-gas for weeks, months or even years. Off-gassing refers to the release of airborne particulates or chemicals—volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—from common household products. VOCs include many different hazardous chemicals, including formaldehyde, toluene and acetone. VOCs can irritate your eyes and nose, or trigger asthma attacks. Possible long-term effects include liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, and cancer.
Allow all new purchases to sit in fresh air for as long as possible, before bringing them indoors. And consider buying these items used as they will not only be healthier, assuming they are clean and have been used and maintained properly, but they will also be better for the environment by minimizing waste and toxins released in nature.
7. Don't heat your car in an attached garage, even with the door open The very dangerous carbon monoxide could linger in the garage and spread into the house, getting you and your family very sick.
8. Use your Range Hood when cooking or open a window. This helps eliminate steam, smoke, food particles, and any carbon monoxide released by gas cooktops or burned food. Use the highest setting on the fan and when possible, cook on the back burners, as they draft better up into the hood.
If you don't already have a hood that exhausts outside, consider replacing your current one or open the window and use a fan to blow the air out during and after cooking.
9. Use the bath fans during and after a hot shower Leaving the bath fan on during and a few minutes after taking a shower or bath will help reduce humidity. Dust mites and mold love moisture. Keeping humidity around 30%-50% helps keep them and other allergens under control.
10. Keep Your HVAC System Clean Avoid pollutants getting trapped inside your equipment and ductwork by properly maintaining your HVAC system. Start with the filters, which remove contaminants such as pollen, dust, mold spores, and pet dander from the air inside your home.
It’s best to clean or replace air filters whenever they look dirty, or about once every two to three months or even more often if you have pets.
BONUS: Vacuum and Dust Your Floors Often Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter and a damp mop to clean away any pollutants and toxins that you and your family bring in from outside.
What other things do you do to keep your home clean? Share your ideas in the comments below!