Did you know that February is National Care About Your Indoor Air Month? If not, it’s just a timely reminder that the air we breathe in our homes can significantly affect our health and well-being.
Even though we often concentrate on air pollution outside, most of our time is spent indoors. In fact, we spend 90% of our time indoors. Depending on the job, you may need to be out and about much more than in other jobs. Additionally, kids spend a greater amount of time outside than adults do. Regardless, we spend a lot of time inside.
Imagine how this 90% figure might affect your life. When we reach 40, for example, most of us have spent 36 years indoors. To find out for yourself, multiply your age by 0.9. The result is your indoor age. By looking at it this way, we can see that our indoor environment would disproportionately impact our health over time.
Moreover, pollution levels inside are estimated to be five times higher than outside. Also, according to the National Air Duct Cleaners Association, we produce plenty of contaminants daily. Cleaning products, candles, and hair spray can affect indoor air quality. These pollutants, plus dust, dirt, and pet dander, circulate through your air ducts five to seven times.
Ultimately, this hidden threat will trigger allergies, asthma, respiratory diseases, as well as chronic illnesses. As a result, it is crucial to take steps to improve indoor air quality.
February is a month to prioritize indoor air quality and create healthier living spaces. As part of this blog post, we’ll discuss the hidden dangers of indoor air pollution and how to improve indoor air quality.
Understanding the Problem: Invisible Threats in Your Home
A silent enemy is lurking in our homes and buildings: indoor air pollutants.
The air we breathe indoors contains a vast array of gases and particles, from microscopic dust mites to cleaning products. Even though some, such as oxygen and nitrogen, are essential for life, others may pose health risks.
These are some of the most common indoor air pollutants:
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Products such as paint, building materials, and household cleaners emit these toxins. VOCs can cause irritation, headaches, nausea, and even Damage to the liver, kidneys, or central nervous system.
- Dust mites and allergens. Warm, humid environments are ideal for these microscopic creatures, which trigger allergies and asthma in humans.
- Mold and mildew. People with compromised immune systems may be particularly at risk from mold growing in damp areas, as mold spores can trigger respiratory problems and allergies.
- Carbon monoxide. A faulty appliance or gas heater can produce this odorless gas, which can cause death if it’s left unattended.
- Secondhand smoke. Smoke contains harmful chemicals that persist long after a cigarette is extinguished, posing severe health risks to everyone around the smoker.
Furthermore, there are biological pollutants like pet dander, bacteria, and viruses. Also, combustion pollutants such as smoke from fireplaces, stoves, and gas appliances can contribute to air pollution.
As you can see, numerous factors can contribute to the specific mix of pollutants in your home, school, or workplace, including location, ventilation, cleaning habits, and even the type of materials being used.
The Impact of Poor Indoor Air Quality
The health effects of exposure to pollutants may not immediately come to mind, but they include:
- Respiratory issues. Poor indoor air quality can damage and irritate the lungs, causing allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Headaches and fatigue. There are a variety of pollutants, such as VOCs that can cause headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating, which can hurt productivity and overall health.
- Skin irritation. Many airborne chemicals can irritate the skin, causing itching, dryness, and rashes.
- Increased risk of chronic diseases. There is a link between indoor air pollution and chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Radon, for example, is a known carcinogen of humans and is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
Moreover, indoor pollutants can even be deadly. Short-term exposure to elevated levels of carbon monoxide indoors, for example, can be fatal.
In addition to improving your health, taking care of your indoor air quality has other benefits as well. Moreover, cleaner air can lead to::
- Improved sleep quality. Good air quality is a result of reducing allergens and irritation in the air, and it promotes a deeper and more restful sleep.
- Enhanced cognitive function. It is possible to improve productivity, concentration, and memory by breathing cleaner air.
- An overall sense of well-being. Living in a comfortable and inviting environment is easier when the air is clean and fresh.
- Reduced energy costs. Energy efficiency can be improved by properly ventilating and sealing air leaks.
Taking Action: Breathe Easy with Simple Solutions
The good news is that there are many ways you can improve air quality and protect your health and well-being.
In honor of National Care About Your Indoor Air Month, here are some simple but effective steps you can take:
1. Ventilation is the key.
To improve ventilation and air quality, open a window as often as possible. Even in winter, you should cross-ventilate at least 10 to 20 minutes a day. Remember that indoor air is often more polluted than outdoor air. When your windows or doors are open, fresh air will flow in, and indoor pollution will be reduced.
However, this may not be a viable option in some cases, especially if the outside air is more polluted than the indoor air. “This is a huge equity issue. Not everyone can open the windows and bring in fresh air,” says Kimberly Prather, an atmospheric chemist and professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the University of California, San Diego. In particular, people of color tend to live and work in areas where pollution is more prevalent. There are also frequent outbreaks of poor air quality due to wildfire smoke in numerous parts of the western United States.
In addition to windows, HVAC systems also provide indoor airflow. In most of these systems, the building manager can adjust the amount of fresh air that enters the building. Generally, it is best to aim for at least six air exchanges per hour through ventilation or the equivalent amount of fresh air through filtration.
Additionally, you might consider purchasing a portable mechanical HEPA air cleaner that is adequate for the size of the room. The air cleaner will then capture particulate matter, chemicals, and other pollutants from contaminated air. The clean air is blown back into the room. It is also possible to buy an air cleaner with a charcoal filter to neutralize odors and chemicals in the air.
Ensure that your system works and the vents are open so fresh air can enter and pollutants can leave. In the spring and fall, when heating and cooling demand is at its peak, this is the most convenient time to do this. So, set this as a calendar reminder.
Also, make sure that you replace your filters regularly, ideally with MERV-13 filters.
2. Keep it clean.
Keeping your house clean can significantly reduce dust and animal dander, says Dr. Nicholas BuSaba, associate professor of otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. To eliminate pet dander, mold, and dust from your home, you should focus your cleaning efforts on reducing the accumulation of these factors.
As you clean, keep the following in mind:
- Make sure your carpets and area rugs are vacuumed every once or twice a week using a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner. If you replace wall-to-wall carpeting with hard surface flooring, your home may be less likely to gather allergens.
- If you have pets, you should regularly clean bedding, drapes, and other items that attract allergens. Wash bedding in water at least 130°F, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Cover pillows, mattresses, and box springs with dust-mite-proof cover if possible.
- Getting rid of clutter is important because it traps and holds dust that can cause an allergic reaction. Keep dust magnets, such as stuffed animals and books, in closed containers or away from living spaces so that they do not attract dust.
- Use a damp or microfiber cloth to dust frequently. Dust comprises dead skin, dust mite droppings, and dust mite body fragments, which many people don’t know about. A good mattress cover takes care of all of those issues.
Also, place doormats at the entrance and remove your shoes. As a result, dirt and allergens from the outdoors are not tracked in.
3. Identify and reduce pollution sources.
In addition to cleaning regularly, you can do a few other things to reduce indoor pollution.
- Use low-VOC products for cleaning, painting, and household items whenever possible. Instead of harsh chemicals, use vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice.
- Avoid releasing harmful fumes from paints, solvents, and chemicals by storing them properly..
- Ensure that any mold growth is dealt with promptly and that the adequately ventilated and dried area is kept clear to prevent recurrence.
- Carbon monoxide leaks can be prevented by regularly maintaining appliances.
- Cooking is a significant source of indoor pollution. As such, ensure your kitchen exhaust fan is on or open a window when cooking to remove gasses and particles. If you cook on a gas stove, this is especially important.
- Completely ban smoking indoors.
4. Purify the air.
Using air purifiers, you filter or purify the air and circulate the cleaner air in the space. However, use a HEPA air filter to remove dust, allergens, and other airborne particles. Also, VOCs and odors can be removed with an air purifier equipped with activated carbon filters. I have one in my home’s main living area and the bedroom.
Your air purifier should be placed where you spend the most time and where there is indoor pollution. This includes the kitchen, living room, and bedroom in most households. Ideally, they should be used in smaller spaces.
Additionally, you can Add houseplants to remove pollutants naturally.
5. Control the humidity and moisture.
Mold, mildew, bugs, and bacteria can breed in excessive moisture. For instance, moisture can be created in your home by water-damaged areas, standing water, cooking, and showering.
In order to keep your air free of excess moisture, follow these steps:
- Maintain humidity levels between 30-50%. The presence of high humidity encourages mold growth, while the presence of low humidity can irritate the skin and lungs.
- Use a dehumidifier in humid climates. As a result, excess moisture is removed from the air.
- Increase humidity in dry climates. Consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air during the winter.
- Use a bathroom fan. This will remove any contaminants in your bathroom and humid air. During steamy showers and baths, make sure it is turned on.
- Make sure your dryer vent is clean. It is important to vent your clothes dryer outside to move heat, moisture, and chemicals outside.
- Repair leaks and water damage. Ensure that pipes, roofs, and windows are free of leaks and moisture sources. You should fix them as soon as you discover them.
6. Monitor air quality.
In addition, monitor air quality to detect contaminants like dust, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide. You can identify areas where further action is needed by tracking the effectiveness of your air quality improvement efforts.
You should also test for dangerous gasses, such as radon. The American Lung Association offers radon test kits at low prices.
7. Be an advocate for change.
In order to improve indoor air quality, we must go beyond individual actions. For example, to enhance the quality of air in our communities, we must advocate for policies that promote cleaner air:
- We should support stricter regulations to reduce VOC emissions from consumer products and building materials.
- Support increased funding for research on the health effects of indoor air pollution.
- Make schools, workplaces, and public buildings aware of the importance of indoor air quality.
can be achieved through simple steps, long-term investments, and support for policy changes. It’s a right to breathe clean air, and we all have a part to play in making this happen.
What is National Care About Your Indoor Air Month?
As part of National Care About Your Indoor Air Month, which takes place annually in February, individuals are encouraged to improve indoor air quality (IAQ).
Why is indoor air quality important?
We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and indoor air can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Poor IAQ can cause respiratory issues, allergies, headaches, and even chronic illnesses.
What are some common indoor air pollutants?
Many pollutants are found in indoor air, including dust mites, pet dander, mold, radon, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and carbon monoxide from building materials and cleaning products.
Do I need to test my indoor air quality?
Testing might be helpful if you are concerned about specific pollutants or health issues. If you need help, contact a qualified professional.
Where can I learn more about National Care About Your Indoor Air Month?
Learn more about National Care About Your Indoor Air Month and how to improve your indoor air quality by checking out resources available online and in your community. You may find these links helpful:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- American Lung Association
- National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA)
Image Credit: cottonbro studio; Pexels