There is a common belief that the air outside your front door is much worse to breathe than the air inside your home. But, as studies show, the air inside your home may also come with health implications. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor levels of pollutants may be 2 to 5 times higher than levels outside1.
How did your indoor air get dirtier than your laundry? Think fumes off-gassed by furniture, paint and building materials, chemicals from household cleaning products and fragrances, combustion devises, dust, bacteria and mold. These are all common culprits of poor home air quality.
When you consider that we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, this is a big problem. But it can be especially debilitating for those who suffer from allergies or asthma. Here are some simple solutions to improve your home air quality—many of which are quick, easy and affordable.
Tip#1: Air it out
Open a window to air out harmful chemicals and let cleaner, healthier air in! Even if it’s for a few minutes a day, it’s one of the simplest (and most affordable) things you can do to improve your home air quality. You can also turn on a ceiling or portable fan while windows are open to recirculate household air and push out stale air2.
Tip #2: Use non-toxic household cleaning products
Traditional household cleaning products are one of the leading contributors to poor home air quality. In fact, the average home contains 62 harmful chemicals—more than a chemistry laboratory 100 years ago!3Your home is not a science experiment.
Rather than spend money on household cleaning products, look no further than your pantry for ingredients that possess natural cleaning prowess. Ingredients such as baking soda, white distilled vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, tea tree oil, hot water, coarse salt, and plain ‘ole castile soap all do a bang-up job without spewing harmful chemicals in your home. (Look for easy-to-do recipes online!)
If you prefer something in a bottle, don’t just trust what they tell you on the label. Do some research before you buy. Look for products that tap into plant-based ingredients for cleaning power without artificial dyes and/or fragrances to better your home air quality. And remember, traditionally, the fewer ingredients on the label, the better.
Tip #3: Invest in healthy houseplants
Believe it or not, there are some plants that act as renegade air filters by sucking up harmful chemicals that rest in your air and pumping out fresh oxygen. Not just any plant will do. A study conducted in part by NASA found that a handful of plants are particularly skilled at eating up some of the more harmful chemicals: formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide to name a few. Here are a few of the top plants that proved to be most effective at removing harmful chemicals:
· Bamboo Palm
· English Ivy Hedera Helix
· Gerbera Daisy Gerbera Jamesonii
· Pot Mum – Chrysantheium morifolium
Tip #4: Skip the scent
We are all guilty of associating fresh, aromatic scents with a clean home, but synthetic fragrance found in air fresheners, household cleaning products, detergents and candles infuses your air with harmful chemicals. Since the actual components of a fragrance are considered a “trade secret,” companies are only required to list the catch-all term “fragrance” on the label—but they are not required to disclose what they actually are5.In this case, the devil is in the details. A study conducted by Washington University found that nearly 100 volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) were emitted from six popular air fresheners. Of the 100 VOCs emitted, none were listed on the label and five of them released at least one (or more!) cancer-causing chemicals6. Many fragrances have not been tested for human safety, and a group of plasticizers known as phthalates are commonly used to make the scent last longer. Phthalates have been linked to hormone disruption, cancer, and reproductive and developmental issues9.
To protect your home air quality, look for household cleaning products, detergents and aerosol sprays that are fragrance-free or scented with 100 percent natural ingredients. You can also use essential oils, lemons, or baking soda to freshen up your home.
Tip #5: Buy safer furniture
Your furniture can off-gas VOCs, which can be highly toxic to human health10.Conventional woods in furniture such as plywood and particleboard are fused with toxic glues that can contain formaldehyde and harmful chemicals, and are finished with paints, lacquers, and varnishes that contain even more harmful chemicals. These chemicals can be detrimental to those with allergies and asthma, while contributing to serious diseases like cancer11.If you can, avoid buying furniture made from woods that have been treated with formaldehyde and look for furniture that was assembled with non-toxic glues and water-based or low to no-VOC finishes12.Certifications like GREENGUARD also serve as a great guide by identifying products that have lower chemical emissions for better home air quality13.Since healthier furniture can be more expensive, you can always buy second-hand—a good indication that the furniture has already done most of its off-gassing. You can also open a window for better air ventilation (See Tip #1).
Tip #6: Be picky about paint
Are you familiar with that funny odor that fills the room after you have freshly painted the walls? It makes you dizzy for a reason. Conventional paints can emit toxic fumes into your home over its life cycle . Look for safer paints that are labeled “Zero VOC or “Low-VOC.” The most ideal option is “Zero VOC, no toxics and no solvents,” which states that canister of wall color does not contain any of the harmful chemicals found in traditional paints14.
Tip #7: Invest in a HEPA filter vacuum
Carpets and floors can harbor chemicals and commons allergens, which accumulate in household dust. Vacuuming a few times a week is key, but cheap vacuums can just make matters worse. The problem with cheap vacuums is that they suction chemicals in, and then spew them back out in the exhaust to exacerbate poor home air quality. Purchase a vacuum with a true HEPA filter, which is capable of suctioning up dust, dirt and even the smallest irritants15.
Gene Dempsey, City Forester
Office of Sustainability
Office - (954) 828-5785 Fax - (954) 828-4745