How Healthy Is Your Indoor Air?

How Healthy Is Your Indoor Air?

Most of us have a pretty good understanding of pollution and how it affects our health. We typically think of pollution as being outside – the quality of the air we breathe when we’re out in the world.  Some examples of outdoor pollution include fumes from vehicles, fumes and smoke from factories and manufacturing facilities, pesticides and herbicides, particulates and smoke from wildfires, bacteria and viruses, secondhand smoke inhalation and chemical exposures.

Did you know that the air inside our homes is actually more critical to our health, and can actually be worse than the pollution outside?

Let’s take a look at some of the statistics concerning air quality.

91% of the world’s population lives in places where the air quality exceeds the guideline limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). 50 % of Americans live in areas with failing air quality scores.  4.2 million deaths (worldwide) each year occur as a result of exposure to outdoor air pollution.  3.8 million deaths (worldwide) each year occur as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels used to cook.  More people die each year from indoor air pollution than from Malaria, AIDS, and Tuberculosis combined.  Indoor air is 100 times more polluted than outside air.  

Now, the purpose of listing these statistics isn’t a scare tactic (though it is scary).   This is information that is readily available on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website and should be something that we all know and understand.  When we understand threats to our health, we are then able to make better choices and slow or prevent health-related issues in the future.

Indoor pollutants combine with outdoor pollutants through HVAC systems, open doors and windows, and on our shoes and clothing every time we enter our homes. 

Some of the common sources of indoor air pollution are:

  • Scented Air Fresheners and Candles. Most of these products contain endocrine disruptors, such as phthalates, that cause a variety of health issues including hormone imbalances.
  • Cleaning Products. Again, these are products loaded with chemicals that are generally used in poorly ventilated areas, and we end up breathing in those chemicals.
  • Bug Spray and Pesticides. Many of us don’t consider the impact that bug sprays can have on our health, but we’re also breathing in the fumes that bug sprays can release – even days after they’ve been sprayed.
  • Personal Care Products. This includes body/hand soap, lotions, shampoo and conditioner, hair products, skincare products, cosmetics, toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish and so on.  These items are also loaded with endocrine-disrupting chemicals, but can also have fumes and will off-gas chemicals.
  • Dry Cleaning. When you remove the plastic bag that covers your dry cleaned clothes, they off-gas harmful chemicals.
  • Wood-burning Fireplaces. The smoke from fires can be quite dangerous and contains fine particles and chemicals that we can inhale into our lungs.
  • Non-Stick Cookware. When heated, non-stick pans off-gas chemicals so harsh that it has killed birds exposed to the chemicals.
  • Tobacco or Anything else Smoked Indoors. We all know that secondhand smoke (or firsthand smoke, if you’re a smoker) kills.
  • Building Materials and Home Furnishings. Conventional pressure-treated lumber, insulation, paint, carpeting, upholstery, mattresses, and furniture all contain chemicals like asbestos, formaldehyde, and lead.
  • Mold Spores, Dust Mites, Pet Dander, Pollen, Bacteria and Viruses.

When exposed to indoor pollutants, you may notice symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Some common short-term symptoms are sneezing/wheezing, itchy throat, nose and eyes, watery eyes, itchy skin or rashes, nasal congestion, coughing, fatigue, irritability, runny nose, stomach aches, and headaches.  Long term health effects can include an increase in stress hormones, hormone imbalances, heart disease, stroke, cancer, autoimmune conditions, and shorter life spans.

On average, humans inhale 11,000 liters of air every single day.  That means there are a lot of opportunities for us to inhale fine particulates, chemicals, smoke, bacteria and more.  However, there are many things we can do to help mitigate those exposures and ensure the air we’re breathing at home is as clean as it can be.

When it comes to air fresheners, choose to diffuse essential oils or fine sprays that use essential oils to help freshen the air. Candles are best when unscented, but even some chemicals used in certain waxes can cause issues. 

For household cleaners and personal care products, you can use the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Living App to find products that are safe to use on your body and in your home. When choosing building materials or furniture, it’s important to research those products and buy safe alternatives from reputable brands.

A few tips to have cleaner air at home are:

  1. NEVER allow smoking in your home.
  2. Choose safer products, furnishing and building materials. Buy non-toxic products whenever possible.
  3. Clean and change your filters regularly.
  4. Make sure venting systems for stoves/ovens, dryers, etc. work properly and vent air to the outside.
  5. Never store chemicals or cleaning products inside your home, attached garage or basement.
  6. Purchase a high-quality air purifier for each room of your home – especially bedrooms and living spaces. Choose an air purifier with a HEPA or Ultra HEPA filter and a high Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR).

Another great way to purify the air in your home is to bring in some plants! Now, if you’re like me and have a brown thumb, you’re probably hoping there are some plants that are easy to care for that will help to purify the air. You’re in luck! Garden Mums, Spider Plants, Dracaena, Ficus/Weeping Fig, Peace Lily, Boston Fern, Snake Plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Bamboo Palm, and Aloe Vera are all great options and are simple to care for.

It’s important to remember that while pollution is all around us and mostly unavoidable, there are simple steps you can take to make sure your home is safe and the air you breathe is as clean as possible. 

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