What do you need to know about indoor air quality to keep your family safe and healthy?
It can be pretty overwhelming, but there are a few simple things you can do to keep your indoor air as clean as it can be. But first, let’s look at why it’s important.
Why do you need to think about indoor air quality?
Your home is sealed to keep it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. That means that airflow is controlled.
Some HVAC systems allow fresh air to flow in and out of your home, but much of the air is recirculated to keep the temperature comfortable. That also means that what’s released in the air stays in the air—unless you filter or vent the air.
What pollutants can make your indoor air unhealthy?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as cleaning supplies, office equipment, and air fresheners.
Fuel-burning appliances that aren’t properly vented, such as gas stoves, fireplaces, and dryers.
Radon, an invisible, scentless radioactive gas that can sneak into your home.
How can you keep your indoor air clean?
There are a number of inexpensive or free ways to ensure that the air you’re breathing indoors is clean:
Use your exhaust fans
Exhaust fans are crucial to the quality of your indoor air. Why? Because humidity encourages mold and mildew to breed in your home and can aggravate allergies or respiratory conditions.
Exhaust fans at the source—where you cook and shower, especially—remove humid air by venting it to the outdoors. Every time you cook or use the hot water, run the fan. If you have a home built mid 2000s or later, crack a window or a door as well, so it will vent more completely.
Regulate indoor humidity
The EPA recommends keeping indoor humidity between 30-50%. Check your local hardware store for a humidity gauge to check the levels in your home.
If it’s not humid outdoors, you can decrease humidity in your home by simply opening a window. Air conditioners also keep humidity in check. If it’s warm outside, just turning on the air can help regulate humidity. Or you can adjust the humidity setting on your humidifier.
If a space is extra humid—such as a basement—consider running a dehumidifier to take moisture out of the air.
Change or clean your filters regularly
Change your HVAC filters regularly. If yours has replaceable filters, keep a stash of replacements handy and mark your calendar to remind you when to switch them out. If yours is a cleanable, reusable filter, make sure you know how to clean yours (YouTube probably has a bunch of tutorials) and set a calendar reminder to help you remember to clean it on a schedule.
If they’re clean, your filters will catch dust and other pollutants before they can circulate in the air.
Test your home for radon
Radon is a scentless, invisible poisonous gas that can sneak into your house. The only way to find it is to run a test.
You can have a professional do it or you can find radon tests at a hardware store. The home test requires you to leave the test in your home for a certain period of time. Then you send it to a lab for results.
Keep furniture and carpets clean
Carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture, and area rugs can hold onto contaminants that are trapped in dust. Keep these items vacuumed and clean to keep those contaminants from getting kicked into the air.
Scrutinize your candle collection (and other scented home products)
What you put into the air stays in the air.
Many scented household products release nasty compounds that can hang around and get into your lungs. A study on the National Institutes of Health website, “Indoor Air Quality: Scented Products Emit a Bouquet of VOCs,” notes that of the scented consumer goods it tested—such as laundry detergents, deodorants, dish detergents, all-purpose cleaners, and shampoos—
the average number of VOCs emitted was 17. Each product emitted 1–8 toxic or hazardous chemicals, and close to half (44%) generated at least 1 of 24 carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants, such as acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde, or methylene chloride. These hazardous air pollutants have no safe exposure level, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Similarly, paraffin wax candles (the most common on the market) and scented candles emit carcinogenic chemicals and soot. Soy and beeswax candles have been shown to be less harmful.
Products specifically intended to scent the air, such as plug-ins, essential oil diffusers, and incense, can also release harmful chemicals and particulates into the air. If you’re curious about a product, do a little research before you light it, plug it in, or turn it on.