"Indoor air quality is often the single biggest health factor in people's lives," according to the air quality experts at Indoor Doctor. Viruses often spread through breathed air, and pollutants and toxic particles can't escape as easily in closed-in homes as they can in public places where external doors are open more frequently.
According to the EPA, Americans spend almost 90% of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations. Concentrations of some indoor pollutants have increased due to energy-efficient building construction (when it lacks sufficient mechanical ventilation to ensure adequate air exchange) and increased usage of synthetics in furnishings, personal care products, pesticides, and household cleaners.
Here are some easy ways you can help improve the indoor air quality in your home:
Control the Sources of Pollution
Chemicals used in cleaning products, bug sprays, hair sprays, aerosol deodorants, furniture polishes, craft supplies, and more contaminate the air in your home. You can help reduce the sources of these pollutants by doing the following:
Switch to natural products and use a little more elbow grease as much as possible, and use pre-moistened cleaning cloths (like Clorox Wipes) to disinfect surfaces.
Instead of insect sprays, use ant bait traps like Terro, or Black Flag Roach Motels.
Do not smoke or vape indoors.
Use your microwave more often than your gas stove, or switch to electric cooktops and ovens.
Handwash items when possible to avoid dry cleaning garments. Dry cleaning chemicals are carcinogens you inhale as you unwrap and first wear your clothes.
Use glues, paints, and other crafting supplies in well-ventilated areas (preferably to the outside).
Open Your Windows and Doors
On balmy days, experts encourage homeowners to open their windows and doors to let fresh air in, as indoor air is 2 to 5 times more toxic than outdoor air quality.
Use Supplemental Air Cleaning and Filtration
Set up air purifiers with HEPA filters to reduce dust and toxins in the air, particularly in bedrooms where you spend most of your time.
Get Your Air Ducts Cleaned
This is a controversial suggestion to some home air quality experts. Family Handyman and Consumer Reports say there are a lot of scams surrounding this service, and the EPA advises caution in selecting a service provider.
The EPA doesn't feel regular duct cleaning is needed unless you have someone in the home suffering from Asthma or another respiratory illness but states it can help improve air quality if done right. They advise that if the service provider does not follow proper duct-cleaning procedures, the result can be even poorer air quality. So, if you decide to move forward with a cleaning, be sure to find a service provider with the necessary expertise to do the job right.
Duct cleaning should also include a thorough cleaning of the air handler, registers, grilles, fans, motors, housings, and coils of your HVAC system.
Cleaning your ducts will:
Remove dust, dirt, and other pollutants that affect indoor air quality and health
Reduce allergens and respiratory issues, especially for people with pets, asthma, or allergies
Increase HVAC efficiency and flow of air by unclogging dirt and debris
Prevent mold growth and damage to the system
Save money on energy bills and maintenance costs
Filter Out Pollutants
It is advised that homeowners switch out their HVAC system filters once a month, even if they don't look particularly dirty. You cannot always see what the filters have trapped, so it is better to err on the side of caution.
The filters on your cooking and bathroom vents should also be cleaned often. Using a disinfecting wipe is often enough, though some should be soaked in detergent like Dawn to remove grease.
Keep it Clean
Frequent vacuuming and dusting will help improve air quality significantly. Every time you walk across a rug or floor, you are stirring up dust. Each time you sit down on a sofa or chair, you are doing the same. Keeping your home clean and tidy goes a long way in helping improve air quality.
Control the Humidity
According to Web MD, dust mites love humid air, so you should keep house humidity below 30 or 35 percent. “House dust mites don’t tolerate dryness well. Don’t want to run a humidifier in the bedroom to encourage their growth if you have allergies.
Super low humidity doesn't work for some, so the EPA suggests keeping indoor humidity levels below 50% to improve air quality.
Lower humidity also prevents the growth of mold and mildew, and because higher humidity requires more air conditioning and heating to maintain comfort levels, it helps reduce your energy consumption.
Speaking of Dust Mites
Dust mites are the most common cause of allergies in the home. They don't just reside in your bed and upholstered furniture, they float through the air when you vacuum or disturb your bedding.
Here are some ways you can reduce dust mites in your home:
Use impermeable covers on your mattresses and pillows
Wash bedding once a week in hot water and dry thoroughly
Dust with a damp cloth or dust mop
Vacuum upholstered furniture, drapes, and rugs once a week
If you are sensitive to dust mites, consider removing rugs from the bedroom
In a recent study published by Scientific America, a common houseplant, the Bromeliad, removed 80% of household pollutants from the air. Other plants, such as a Dracaena, removed 94% of unusual pollutants such as Acetone (used in fingernail polish remover and paint thinners).
Vadoud Niri, an analytical chemist with SUNY Oswego, suggests homeowners, "use a variety of plants to make sure you take all the types of VOCs (volatile compounds/chemicals) from your indoor air." Plus, they are an energy-free alternative to other air-cleaning devices. A truly green solution.
The Little Things
Here are other little things in your home that contribute to the air quality. Experts suggest you limit or eliminate their use:
Particulates from candles and incense
Wood-burning stoves or fireplaces
Gas stoves that are not well-ventilated
Uncovered trash receptacles
Here are some other steps you can take to keep air quality under control:
Remove shoes at the door
Test your home for radon
Use carbon monoxide detectors
Keep the lid on scented candles while not in use
Clean the outside of your ice maker/dispenser (usually moldy)
Use a dehumidifier to keep moisture down
Take frequent walks outside to breathe in the fresh air!
Sources: EPA, Bailey Line Road, SCMP, Mana.md, Webmd, Scientific American, Health Essentials