How To Improve Air Quality Inside Your Home
You might know about the hazards of air pollution in big cities. However, air pollution inside your home can be even more damaging to your health, and it’s easier than you realize for the air in your home to get contaminated.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air pollution can be up to 100 times worse than outdoor air pollution, and may be linked to the following health conditions:
- Asthma and other respiratory conditions
- Heart disease
- Low birth weight
Indoor air quality tends to be worse during the winter because people tend to keep their windows closed when it’s cool, which keeps fresh air from entering your home and keeps pollutants trapped indoors.
Thankfully, improving the air quality in your home is not too difficult. Let’s explain how to improve the air quality in your home by doing a few simple maintenance tasks around your home or by installing a whole house air purifier.
What Defines Poor Indoor Air Quality?
Indoor air pollution refers to dirt, dust, gasses, and other contaminants inside a building that are harmful to breathe in. Many of the particles that cause indoor air pollution cannot be seen or smelled, which is why air pollution is known as “the invisible killer.”
Despite the harmfulness of indoor air pollution, there are no government standards or benchmarks that measure indoor air quality in the United States. Furthermore, indoor air quality may be worsening because modern homes tend to be more insulated and less ventilated. That’s good for your energy bill, but it also means that contaminated air stays in your home for longer periods of time.
If you want to maintain a healthy home, it’s helpful to understand what exactly impacts your indoor air quality.
Common Air Pollutants
Here are the most common sources of indoor air pollution:
- Secondhand Smoke: Secondhand smoke is the smoke that’s exhaled from cigarettes, marijuana, vapes, incense, and candles. Thirdhand smoke, which lingers on surfaces like furniture and clothing, is also harmful. The best way to avoid secondhand and thirdhand smoke is to avoid smoking indoors and to open windows when you light incense or blow out a candle.
- Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that’s naturally found inside the earth. Radon can slip through cracks in the earth and your home’s foundation and seep into your home. This can result in a variety of health problems that include lung cancer. There are home test kits available that can determine whether or not your home is exposed to radon. If so, you can seal the foundation of your home to prevent radon from slipping inside.
- Formaldehyde: Common household items can sometimes release a harmful gas called formaldehyde. Too much exposure to formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems, like bronchitis. Most often, the compound is found in glues that are used in composite wood and furniture. You can limit your exposure by opting for solid wood furniture over composite wood, and by opting for used furniture instead of new furniture (over time, furniture releases less formaldehyde).
- Cleaning Products: Household cleaning products may contain chemicals that pollute your air. These cleaning products include bleach, glass cleaners, cleaning sprays, and some types of air fresheners. You can limit your exposure to these chemicals by opening your windows after using cleaning supplies, and by purchasing nontoxic or natural cleaning materials.
- Mold: Mold can reduce your indoor air quality and cause serious health issues if not treated. You should have mold removed as soon as you notice it inside your home. You can prevent mold from occurring by having a well-functioning HVAC system, and by adding dehumidifiers to areas in your home that are dark and moist.
- Fumes: Your indoor air quality can be impacted by fumes. Fumes can be released by oil, gas, wood, coal, and even paint.
- Gasses: Gasses such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ammonia can cause poor indoor air quality. Carbon monoxide (which is usually released due to a gas leak in your HVAC system) can be especially dangerous. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm in your home and have an HVAC technician inspect your AC system for any gas leaks.
- Deterioration: Materials in and around your home could release harmful chemicals when they begin to deteriorate, which is especially a problem in older homes. Degraded insulation, asbestos, and furniture can cause poor indoor air quality and pose health risks.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality
There are 3 ways to improve indoor air quality in your home:
- Source Control
- Improved Ventilation
- Air Cleaners
The best way to improve your indoor air quality is to remove each individual source of pollution.
As mentioned in the previous section, you can avoid certain air pollutants by opting for used furniture, safe cleaning products, and smoking outdoors. Other air pollutants, like asbestos, radon, and leaking gasses, can be covered or sealed by professionals.
Ventilate your home to replace old, polluted air with fresh air from outdoors.
Contrary to popular belief, most HVAC systems do not bring fresh air into your home. Residential and commercial HVAC systems typically recycle the air that’s already inside the building.
The best way to ventilate your home is to open windows and doors, when the weather permits.
You can also:
- Turn on bathroom or kitchen fans that exhaust vapor or smoke
- Run a window-mounted air conditioner that cycles air from outside
- Change the air filters in your HVAC system
- Make sure your air ducts are clean and have no gaps
You should ventilate your home while you’re doing an activity that generates air contaminants, such as painting, cooking, welding, or any home improvement tasks.
It’s increasingly common for newly built homes to have technology that automatically brings fresh, outdoor air indoors via the HVAC system. However, this technology still isn’t common, so for most homeowners the best way to ventilate is to open doors and windows.
Air cleaners (also known as air purifiers) remove pollutants from your indoor air, making it healthier and more pleasant to breathe. There are a wide variety of air cleaners, from table-top models to whole-house purifiers that are installed in your home’s HVAC system.
The best air filters have HEPA (high efficiency particulate absorbing) filters, which are the most effective at removing particles from the air.
Table-top models are the least effective air purifiers because they’ll only clean the air in the immediate space in which you place them. Whole house purifiers are the most effective because they’ll clean all the air that passes through your HVAC system. However, even whole house purifiers cannot always remove certain particles like radon or carbon monoxide. There will always be situations in which it’s best to control pollutants from the source.
Other Ways to Improve Air Quality Indoors
Here are some other effective ways to improve your indoor air quality:
Opening windows is the easiest and most effective way to improve your indoor air quality. Let fresh air flow into your home and blow out the stale, polluted air that’s been trapped inside. You should even open your windows for brief periods in the wintertime to kill dust mites and reduce the humidity in your home.
It’s also advisable to open your windows whenever you’re doing work in your home that could pollute the air, such as painting, using cleaning supplies, or doing any kind of home improvement work.
Change Your AC Filter
Your AC filter removes particles and pollutants from the air being cycled through your AC system. Over time, the filter will get clogged with debris and need to be cleaned or replaced. A clogged AC filter then it won’t clean your air as efficiently, and it’ll also strain your entire HVAC system.
You should change your AC filter once per month during the cooling season, and at least once during the off-season for easy air quality improvement.
Change Out Other Filters
Your AC filter isn’t the only filter in your home. You should also inspect and clean air filters in your:
- Kitchen vents
- Bathroom vents
- Air duct vents
- Clothes dryer
- Vacuum cleaner
These household appliances can all develop dirt clogs that reduce their ability to collect particles and keep your air clean. Inspect and clean them every few months to keep them working efficiently (you should remove debris from your dryer filter after every use).
Use Exhaust Vents
You can easily improve your indoor air quality by using exhaust vents, especially your kitchen vent. Gas stoves may emit pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, but these can be absorbed by your kitchen exhaust. Use the exhaust when you’re cooking, and also keep the windows open.
Run the exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom for about 20 minutes after cooking or taking a shower. The noise can be annoying, but it’s an effective way to freshen the air in your home.
Keep Rugs and Carpets Vacuumed & Cleaned
Your rugs and carpets accumulate dirt and particles over time. This is a good thing because they basically act as air filters, but if you don’t clean them then the particles they’ve collected will get kicked up into the air. Clean and vacuum your rugs and carpets once per week to improve your indoor air quality.
Keep the Rest of the House Cleaned
Improve your indoor air quality by doing simple cleaning chores around your home. You can:
- Dust the furniture, shelves, and counters
- Dust the blades on ceiling fans
- Mop the floors
- Wipe down surfaces
- Change beddings, drapes, pillowcases, and pet bedding (the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology recommends that you wash these items at 130 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Cleaning up clutter (because cluttered items hold more dust)
Control Humidity Inside Your Home
Humid conditions in your home may produce mildew and mold spores that can cause respiratory issues. Humidity may be caused by:
- Warm weather
- Humid climates
- Pools, ponds, or nearby bodies of water
- Poor ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens
An efficient and well-maintained HVAC system is the best way to reduce humidity levels in your home. “Well-maintained” is the key word here; AC units that do not receive proper maintenance may produce humid air, especially if there’s a water leak, clogged line, or dirty air filters. Schedule an AC tune-up to make sure your AC is producing cool, dry air.
You can also install dehumidifiers in areas of your home that are exceptionally moist and humid, like the attic or basement.
Check Fueled Heat Sources
The following heat sources can reduce your air quality:
- Wood-Burning Fireplaces: Traditional fireplaces can release harmful pathogens that can lead to long-term health problems such as lung-cancer. Consider replacing these fireplaces with an electric or gas fireplace.
- Gas-Powered Furnaces: Gas-powered furnaces pose the risk of carbon monoxide leaks, which are extremely dangerous and even lethal. Have your HVAC system inspected frequently, install carbon monoxide alarms, and consider only using gas appliances that are direct-vent (in other words, they won’t mix with your indoor air).
- Old Furnaces: Modern, electric heating systems provide the cleanest air. If your HVAC system is older than 15 years, consider replacing your HVAC system with a newer system that’s powered by electricity.
Only Buy Used Furniture
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful gasses found in the glues, paints, and fabrics of new furniture. These chemicals can damage your lungs and cause respiratory issues.
Objects stop emitting VOCs after a few years, so buying used furniture is the best way to avoid them. Head down to a used furniture shop, charity store, or garage sale to pick some items for your home that are VOC-free.
Use Non-Toxic Paint
Make sure you use non-toxic paint when you’re painting your home.
Avoid paints that:
- Contain Plastic: Don’t use paints that use plastic because the plastic can create a barrier between the paint and wall that traps air. Mold can develop in these spaces.
- Are Oil-Based: Avoid paints that are made from oil, ammonia, acrylics, formaldehyde, and synthetic dyes. Opt for water-based paints that use vegetable oils with very little solvents. Water-based paints are also better at reducing humidity and mildew.
Eliminate Air Fresheners
Air fresheners only smother bad odors and don’t actually clean the air in your home. In fact, they can actually reduce your air quality by releasing synthetic chemicals. It’s better to use an essential oil burner to give your indoor spaces a nice scent. You can also create your own air freshener by mixing baking soda, lemon juice, and hot water in a spray bottle.
Buy Indoor Plants to Freshen Air
Indoor plants can act as natural air filters that improve your indoor air quality while also looking great as home decor. The best types of indoor plants are:
- Dracaena (one of the most popular types of houseplants)
- Hedera helix (common ivy)
- Spathiphyllum (peace lily)
However, studies suggest that indoor plants are not nearly as effective at removing pollutants from your air supply than having good ventilation. In some cases, indoor plants can worsen your allergies when they bloom or by spurring the growth of mold (this can happen when you overwater the plants).
Why is it Important to Keep Air Healthy?
Poor indoor air quality can cause a range of health problems that range from mild to severe.
In the short-term, poor indoor air quality can cause:
- Allergy and asthma symptoms (eye, nose, and sinus irritation)
- Increased circulation of viruses
In the long-term, poor air quality can cause more severe health problems such as cancer, heart disease, or pneumonia. They can also significantly worsen symptoms of an existing health condition,
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
Indoor air pollution is caused by:
- High temperatures / humid climate
- Poor air flow and ventilation
- Large quantities of pollutants
Strong ventilation may be effective in getting rid of many types of pollutants, but there are some pollutants that need to be controlled from the source, like radon, cleaning chemicals, and formaldehyde.
How Pets Contribute to Indoor Air Pollution
Your pets scatter hair, dander, and saliva around your home (and also traces of poop and urine). All these things can get kicked up into the air, so if you own a pet then it’s doubly important you take measures to improve your air quality.
Your air quality may also be affected by other types of animals, like dust mites, rats and mice, and cockroaches. Cleaning your home regularly is the best way to keep dust mites at bay, while you should enlist a pest control service to deal with rodents and cockroaches.
Why is Indoor Air Pollution Worse Than Outdoor Air Pollution?
Outdoor spaces are always being circulated by wind. Indoor spaces can suffer from a buildup of pollutants if there is little or no ventilation. Furthermore, most people tend to spend large amounts of time inside, which lengthens our exposure to these harmful pollutants.
How to Test Air Quality
Not sure whether your indoor air quality is good or bad? You can easily run an air quality test to find out. You can either use a test kit or hire a professional.
- DIY Air Quality Test: There are a variety of test kits you can order online. Some of these kits test for only one pollutant, while other kits test for multiple pollutants. Unfortunately, there’s no test kit that can detect every type of pollutant that may be affecting your air quality.
- Professional Air Quality Test: A professional examination may cost more than a test kit, but professionals will be able to detect all types of pollutants that may be putting your health at risk. They can also offer solutions on how to prevent and remove these pollutants.
Importance for Controlling Allergens
You can keep allergens under control by maintaining high air quality in your home. Improving your indoor quality can relieve allergy symptoms like:
- Watery eyes
- Sneezing and runny nose
- Sore throat
- Skin rashes
Prevent allergens by:
- Washing your bedding at least once per month
- Opting for hypoallergenic pillows
- Choosing an impermeable mattress (which dust mites can’t get in)
- Washing and brushing your pet regularly
Remove allergens from your home by:
- Cleaning and vacuuming your rugs and carpets (especially if you have a pet)
- Using bleach to remove mold from surfaces
- Replacing wood, drywall, or carpet where there’s mold growing
Call Hurricane to Install a Whole House Air Purifier
The best way to clean the air in your home is to install a whole house air purifier. This is an ultra-efficient air cleaner that’s connected to your HVAC system to reach the largest possible amount of air in your home.
Live in Southwest Florida? Hurricane AC can install a whole house air purifier in your home. The tropical climate combined with higher levels of AC usage make homes in this region at greater risk of indoor air pollution. You’ll keep your home breathable and healthy when you have one of our licensed HVAC technicians install an air cleaner. We can also give your AC system a tune-up, in which we’ll change the air filters and make sure the system is producing cool, dry air that’s comfortable, healthy, and energy efficient.