If you’re like most homeowners, you find yourself wondering how to improve indoor air quality in your home for you and your family. After all, your home is a safe haven, and your protection against the outside world. But you may be living among invisible threats; namely, indoor air pollution which can cause poor health in our homes.
Some pollutants include carbon monoxide, radon, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, pet dander, tobacco smoke, among others. Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) has a multiplier effect on health issues so it can amplify problems like heart disease or respiratory issues.
The good news is that there are a few simple steps you can take to dramatically improve the overall indoor air quality in your home. This article has been updated to include two additional steps you can take.
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality In Your Home
To ensure you live in a clean and comfortable environment, here are a few ways to improve indoor air quality at home.
Use Natural Air Fresheners
Chemical air fresheners may smell nice, but they can also contain harmful pollutants that can compromise indoor air quality. According to an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a survey of “scented consumer goods” contained over 100 different Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).
Many of the VOCs that were present in the survey are considered toxic by federal law. It might shock you to learn that many of the products tested were marketed as “green,” “organic” or “natural.” The researchers didn't study the effects of these chemicals, but the article notes they received input from people who reported “a variety of respiratory, dermatological, and neurological problems.”
The safest bet is to go with naturally scented items (not aerosol spray “fresheners”) or simmer a pot of cinnamon or cloves on the stove. You can also implement air-purifying plants, such as a peace lily or bamboo plant, or diffusers, which use essential oils. Some of the fragrant herbal extracts may even have medicinal value, making your home smell nice and possibly improving your overall health as well. Additionally, beeswax candles are known to work as an air purifier by emitting negative ions into the air.
Get an Air Purifier
Investing in an air purifier is one of the best ways to improve indoor air quality at home. In most cases, a HEPA air purifier can provide the cleaning you need for healthy, fresh air by removing up to 99.7% of airborne particles larger than 0.3 microns. Purifiers that use activated charcoal or UV lights can enhance the effectiveness of air purifiers. However, purifiers that create ozone, especially ozone generators and ionizers, aren't recommended for indoor use.
There are many different sizes that you can choose for your home. If you want purifiers for individual bedrooms, you can purchase smaller items like the Finn HEPA UV Air Purifier. However, if you want something to clean a larger area, products like the Erik650A Air Cleaner, which is effective in rooms up to 1,700 square feet, can meet your needs.
When reading air purifier reviews, pay attention to key metrics such as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR), the types of filters used and the length of the warranty. For example, the Oransi Max has CADR ratings of 230 and comes with a prefilter that you can vacuum, a HEPA filter and activated carbon filter. It also has a 10-year warranty, which is well above industry standards.
There are also air purifiers that connect to your central air system, but Oransi has items that can be simply placed in a corner, giving you convenience alongside outstanding performance. In addition, Oransi’s higher-end products are made right here in the USA and are well-known as some of the best-rated air purifiers on the market today.
Reduce Moisture in Your Home
The presence of moisture promotes the growth of mold, mildew and dust mites, and can even increase the chances of cockroaches. You need to keep your home not only clean but also dry, in order to prevent all these contaminants and pests and improve indoor air quality. If moisture has caused mold in your home, an air purifier for mold can help reduce the problem.
If you’re not sure about the humidity level in your home, you can purchase instruments that scan the air and provide moisture information. According to Jeff Howell of The Telegraph, the ideal humidity level is around 50% to 55%.
A commonly used tool for preventing wet conditions in the air is a dehumidifier. Dehumidifiers reduce moisture in the air by trapping it in a small container that needs to be emptied on a regular basis. Damp areas, such as basements, bathrooms or houses in high-humidity areas can benefit from a dehumidifier, but these appliances don't purify the air, they simply remove moisture.
Ventilation and air movement can also help with home humidity, especially if the humidity is coming from an inside source, like a steamy shower or ineffective dryer vent. (As opposed to outdoor sources like humid weather.) If the moisture is from an indoor source, open windows and use fans to dry the air.
Using pot lids and exhaust fans when boiling water can also reduce the moisture in your air. Other tactics include using a clothesline instead of a dryer and taking steps to prevent basement seepage.
Limit Indoor Smoke
In the kitchen, you may generate smoke from overheated oil or burned food, so keep a well-maintained overhead ventilation system above the stove. One of the most important tasks is to clean the overhead filter on a regular basis. Cambria Bold of The Kitchn offers some good advice for cleaning the filter that involves soaking, scrubbing, baking soda, dish soap and hot water. Just be prepared for a dirty job.
Throughout the home, use unscented, natural non-toxic candles, and if you use a fireplace, use cured or dried wood and make sure the chimney is ventilating properly. It goes without saying that smoking indoors is a strict “no-no.” According to the CDC, cigarette smoking causes a wide range of health issues and affects organs from the brain to the bladder. Secondhand smoke can be just as deadly, so take your cigarettes outside, or better yet, drop the habit completely.
Shoes Outside, Please!
Shoes can be a major source of dirt, germs and odors. Every time someone steps into the house with their shoes on, millions of germs enter, as well, through the mud and dust that sticks to our shoes. Keep a separate set of shoes or slippers to wear while inside the house. It's surprising how much this can reduce dust accumulation.
Keep a space in the garage, in a separate entry way or outside (weather permitting, of course) to keep shoes out of your main living spaces. This not only reduces the amount of germs in the home, but it also reduces dust and other particulate matter.
The Doggies’ Contribution
Another important factor to consider about indoor air quality is the presence of allergens. Having pets, especially if you have cats or dogs, enables innumerable allergens present in their fur to spread throughout the house. This is especially prevalent in the winter months, when the house is closed up to keep the cold out. The best solution is to bathe and groom your dog regularly in warm water, and try keeping him out of the bedrooms, if possible.
The Fabric Factor
Fabrics are collectors of dust mites and a host of other allergens. The presence of these contaminants can seriously hamper the indoor air quality. In order to keep them at bay, you need to clean all fabrics regularly, including curtains, sofa and chair covers, carpets and rugs.
While laundering curtains or furniture covers, ensure that you use hot water, as hot as possible, at temperatures above 130 degrees. Also wash new fabrics before use to remove traces of chemicals used to manufacture them. Washing away these chemicals may also extend the life of the fabric.
Consider having your carpets and rugs professionally cleaned on an annual basis at minimum, or rent a powerful steam cleaner and tackle the job yourself. This level of deep cleaning can help to remove dirt, dust and other debris that has settled deep within the fibers of your carpets and rugs. Taking this step can improve indoor air quality by removing both allergens and odors from your home.
Keep Your Air Ducts Clean
Air ducts are a vital part of your HVAC system, as they help to distribute hot and cold air throughout your home. Unfortunately, it can be nearly impossible to keep regular household contaminants, such as dust and dander, from entering the ducts. These allergens can build up in the air ducts over time and spread throughout the house as the hot and cold air is dispersed. If the ducts aren't properly sealed and maintained, airborne contaminants can get drawn into your air supply from unconditioned spaces, as well.
Your first step is to request an air duct inspection from a trusted local HVAC contractor. In many cases, this type of assessment is part of the annual maintenance service for an HVAC system. This inspection can ensure that your air ducts are working properly, and your contractor should also be able to determine if they need cleaning. Air duct cleaning is particularly important for households that include anyone suffering from asthma, severe allergies or respiratory disorders, or if your contractor finds mold growth or a rodent infestation in the ducts.
Conduct a Radon Test
Radon is one of the most dangerous toxins found in some households. According to the EPA, radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer across the country. Radon is a naturally occurring gas that can enter your home through cracks in the foundation. Once trapped inside your home, the radon can build up to toxic levels.
The reality is that you could have radon in your home and not even know it. Since this radioactive gas is both colorless and odorless, it can be impossible to detect without testing. The best way to determine if radon has entered your home is to purchase a radon detector. These devices continuously track the radon levels in your home and alert you if it reaches a certain point.
You can also opt for a professional radon test to find out exactly what the level, if any, of radon gas is in your home. You can purchase these tests at your local hardware store, or contact your state representative to find out how to order a discounted radon test. If high levels of radon are found in your home, it’s important to contact a radon mitigation contractor to handle the removal process for you.
Now that you've read these handy tips on how to improve indoor air quality, you can try them out. Even if you're only able to follow half these points, you should be well on your way to improving indoor air quality in your home.