Virtually all living organisms require air to survive (anaerobic bacteria being one of the exceptions), but very few of them spend up to 89% of their lives indoors, as humans do. 69% of this indoor time is spent in our homes. And since the average person breathes over 11,000 liters of air every day, it is only natural that the importance of indoor air quality is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Below is a complete guide to the precise reasons why air quality in our homes is so important and what we can do to ensure that the majority of our lives is spent breathing clean air. Once you’ve got a house full of clean air, learn diaphragmatic breathing to manage stress, reduce anxiety and focus your mind with this top-rated Breathing Made Easy course.
A Few Facts About Air Quality
To begin with, indoor air is far more polluted than outdoor air (except in extreme cases). This is a result of several things. The biggest pollutants are the home products we use, the materials that everything inside our homes is made of, our hobbies and activities, second-hand smoke, mold and, while not a pollutant, poor ventilation only intensifies the effects.
How bad is it? Pretty darn bad, as it turns out. According to the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality agency, air inside our homes contains on average two to five times as many pollutants relative to the air outside our homes. The key point here is that this is relative. In other words, a person living in Northern Montana who has a home with two to five times as many pollutants as the outdoor air is not dealing with the same problem as someone living outside of Los Angeles with two to five times as much “smog” inside their home. Once you finish this article and rid your home of smog, enjoy your new clean air with this ashtanga yoga course for power, breathing and control.
People in urban settings are exposed to far higher levels of indoor pollution that people in rural areas, which is increasingly problematic as the turn of the 21st century brought with it a shift in the U.S. population: for the first time in our history, more people are living in cities than in rural areas. Things only get worse from here. I mentioned that the average home has two to five times as many pollutants as the relative outdoor air. Areas with extremely bad air quality, combined with an ill-ventilated home, can reach pollutant levels 100 times worse than the outdoor air.
The Bad Guys Of Bad Air
Let’s take a look at some of the chemicals and other factors that are responsible for poor indoor air quality:
- Chemicals and Particulates: We are, unfortunately, surrounded by chemicals. From the paint or varnish on our furniture to the potent mixtures found in our cleaning solutions. These all contribute to the high levels of airborne chemicals, which can literally cause millions of dangerous particles (known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)) to stay suspended in our homes. Want to learn more about the dangers of chemicals? Here’s an awesome course on chemicals and your health and what you can do to protect yourself.
- Second-Hand Smoke: Not everyone has to deal with second-hand smoke, but if you do, it’s a serious pollutant. It increases the risk of a number of serious diseases (and sadly is quite adept at causing ear infections in young children) and worsens the conditions of other diseases, such as asthma.
- Radon: Radon is a very, very dangerous gas and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States (behind smoking, of course). The terrible thing about radon is that it is naturally occurring (read this informative page published by the EPA for more details). What you need to know now is that radon exists in the Earth’s crust, in rock, soil and water, and it leaks into our homes through cracks and holes in our foundation. It’s a heavy gas, so basements and other low areas are at a higher risk.
- Combustion (Gases): The heavy hitters here are nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Almost every home has these because they are the byproduct of fireplaces, clothes dryers, gas and wood stoves, water heaters and virtually any other device or appliance that burns fuel.
- Mold/Bioaerosols: Mold, bacteria, pet dander, mites, etc. produce a surprising amount of air pollution. Mold loves moisture, and since it is almost impossible to kill mold spores, the best thing to do is to keep your home dry and well-ventilated.
Health Effects And Diseases
The list of negative healthy effects and diseases that result from breathing polluted air is, unfortunately, extremely long. Here is my list of what I, personally, would be most wary of contracting (for a comprehensive guide to pollutants and their effects, take a look at this helpful chart provided by Service Experts):
- Lung cancer (tobacco smoke and radon).
- Vomiting (formaldehyde)
- Allergic reactions and Asthma (dust, smoke, pollen, mold, bacteria, pet dander)
- Respiratory infections (mold, fungus, bacteria, dust, smoke)
- Nose and eye irritation (dust, ash, mold, mildew, bacteria, dust mites, VCOs)
- Skin rash (bacteria, VCOs)
- Nausea (Carbon monoxide, formaldehyde)
- Dizziness (dust, mold, mildew, pet dander, dust mites)
- Headaches (tobacco, pollen, carbon monoxide, VCOs)
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How To Keep Your Home’s Air Clean
The good news is (yes, there is good news) that there a number of easy and simple things you can do to ensure the air quality in your home is up to par. There are some more difficult things you can do, too, but we’ll start with the easy stuff first.
- Clean Regularly
That fine layer of dust that you see on your floorboards and tables? That is hurting your air pollution, especially because that dust probably contains a lot more than just dirt. One of the best things you can do is clean regularly with safe cleaning products (get all the information you need on this with this guide produced by the Environmental Working Group). You should wash clothes, towels and bed sheets regularly (once a week) and vacuum and mop regularly, too, as floors collect all of the pollutants that don’t stay suspended.
Ventilation is essential. While keeping your windows open while the weather is nice is certainly recommended, there’s more you can do, especially if you want to get rid of the pollen and other pollutants that exist in outdoor air. A professional ventilation system can work wonders, from bringing in more outdoor air to eliminating suspended particles, bio-aerosols, etc.
Air filters (for homes with central air) make a huge difference and it’s really in your best interest to stay on top of changing them. If you live in an area such as Los Angeles, where the outdoor air quality is terrible, you should invest in an air cleaner or, better yet, a powerful air purification system.
Now let’s look at some of the more involved things you can do to maintain healthy air.
By monitoring humidity levels (too low with enhance pollutants’ effects on your skin, lungs, eyes, etc., while too high will allow bacteria and mold to flourish) you can keep your home at an ideal humidity for a combination of comfort and cleanliness. This post can further help you identify different pollutants and how to control them.
You should also adjust gas stoves to decrease the amount of emissions, burn less fire wood, air dry your clothes instead of electronically drying them, and finally you can inspect your house for dangerous pollutants, such as asbestos, radon, mold, etc. You don’t need a professional either. There are several cheap, DIY options available at your local hardware stores or online. Just be sure the product has been approved by the EPA or is certified by your state’s legislation. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bringing in a professional, either.
- Intelligent Design
Invest in exhaust fans and install them in your kitchen stoves, bathrooms and clothes dryers so that these appliances’ exhaust vents outside. Have an attic? Get a vent in there, too.
- Stop-Smoking (Inside)
While any doctor would advise smokers to stop altogether, you can at least do yourself a partial favor by no longer smoking inside. You’ll miss the convenience, but you’ll drastically improve your indoor air quality. Even if you’ve failed quitting before, this five-star class can help you stop smoking and make it last forever.
By now you should understand the basics of indoor air pollution; why it’s important, what the risks are and what you can do to minimize its effects. If you want to get more advice with more detailed instructions, check out this great course on how to improve indoor air quality in your home or office.