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Is Indoor Air Quality Worse Than Outdoor Air Quality?

The short answer — yes. It may be surprising, but indoor air quality is worse than outdoor air quality.  

The EPA states that indoor air quality can have two to five times higher concentrations of air pollution than outdoor air quality. Air pollution is also worse in the winter when we're indoors the most. 

We’re affected by both indoor and outdoor air pollution. It can wreak havoc on our respiratory system, mental health, and our own environment and the environment at large. 

Being aware of outdoor air pollution sources, what you can do to decrease your contribution to air pollution, and how to stay safe are important parts of combatting outdoor air pollution. The good news is we have more control over our indoor air pollution. We spend most of our time indoors so it’s crucial to properly clean your indoor air so everyone stays safe and healthy. 


Sources of Outdoor Air Pollution

There are five main types of outdoor air pollution: particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. Some of the most common sources of outdoor air pollution are car emissions, factory pollution, wildfire smoke, and wood smoke. 

outdoor air pollutants

Car emissions and factory pollution are two of the largest sources of outdoor air pollution. Vehicles burn gasoline, which creates harmful byproducts that pollute our air. The burning of gasoline and diesel can create carbon monoxide, benzene, and formaldehyde. 

Factory pollution is created when factories use and burn toxic materials that turn into toxic gasses that are released into the air. The toxic gasses like methane and sulfur dioxide cause unhealthy air quality in the surrounding areas, which leads to health and environmental harm. 

Wildfire and wood smoke are similar, but they have different sources. Wildfire smoke is the large-scale smoke that is spread from forest fires. These fires engulf everything in their path, so their smoke can have a number of harmful particles. Wood smoke is created by outdoor fires like campfires and bonfires. We can’t control widespread wildfires but we can control fires we start and make sure they’re safe so they don’t turn into wildfires. 

Smoke creates both gas and particle pollution so it is very difficult to properly filter and disperse smoke pollution. Wildfires and bonfires create smoke that affects both indoor and outdoor air quality so it’s important to know what you can do to be safe and remove the smoke from your home. 


What to Do About Outdoor Air Quality

There’s not much we as individuals can do about outdoor air quality, the greater environmental responsibility falls on key polluters, but we can do things that help in little ways. The EPA provides a list of things we can do to reduce the air pollution you personally produce. 

We can conserve energy by looking for ENERGY STAR® certified products and unplugging electronics we’re not using. Cutting down on driving is another way to reduce the air pollution you cause. You could take public transportation, ride a bike, or carpool when possible. 

We can predict the level of outdoor air pollutants just like we can predict the weather. There are tools that track live pollen count and outdoor air quality. It’s best to stay indoors on high pollen count and air pollution days in your area, especially if you’re considered sensitive to these issues like if you have COPD, asthma, or are otherwise vulnerable to respiratory issues 

It’s also best not to have a campfire or bonfire on high-pollution days because you’ll contribute even more to the outdoor air pollution. 


Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

There are countless sources of indoor air pollution that we have to worry about. Dust, smoke, volatile organic compounds, and mold are some of the most common indoor air pollutants. 

indoor air pollutants

Dust is the most common indoor air pollutant. Everyone has dust in their home that needs to be cleaned on a regular basis. Cleaning surfaces, vacuuming, and washing bed sheets is the best way to fight dust and dust mites in your home. Running an air purifier will help to catch airborne dust before it can settle on these surfaces, you’ll notice less dust in your home if you have a great air purifier. 

Smoke can enter our homes either through cigarette smoke or wildfire smoke. An air purifier can help filter out smoke particles. Having activated carbon filters can help filter out the gasses present in smoke. 

Volatile organic compounds can be found in common household items like cleaning products, aerosol sprays, and paint. Formaldehyde is a common household VOC originating from furniture off-gassing, cigarette smoke, and poorly insulated homes. 

Mold spores are another common indoor air pollutant. Mold can grow in your home and the airborne spores can cause respiratory harm and grow to infect more areas in your home with mold. 

There are a few things you can try to keep everyone safe from indoor air pollutants and maintain healthy indoor air quality in your home. 


What to Do About Indoor Air Quality

The EPA suggests three easy strategies to clean indoor air: eliminating the source of pollution, increasing ventilation, and using air cleaners.

Eliminating the source of pollution is the best way to decrease indoor air pollution. Identifying as many sources of indoor pollution and figuring out how to control them will significantly help to maintain healthy indoor air quality. For example, finding and eliminating mold in your home will protect your indoor air quality. Buying GREENGUARD Gold Certified furniture will also help minimize the number of VOCs released in your home.

Ventilation is key. You can open your windows to achieve cross ventilation, update your HVAC system, and use portable air purifiers. Ventilation is the best way to clear out your home and combat indoor air pollutants. 

Although ventilation is a great option to clean the air in your home, it’s not always an accessible option. You might not be able to open your windows all day if the temperature is too hot or too cold. It can also be difficult to achieve cross-ventilation if you’re close to an outdoor air pollution source like a factory or highway or there’s an active wildfire. 

Using air purifiers in your home is an effective way to maintain healthy indoor air quality while keeping your climate control, well, controlled. It’s best to eliminate the source of pollution and ventilate your home, but these aren’t always options. An air purifier can be used in any type of weather and will filter out pollutants even if you can’t find and completely eliminate the source. 

Air pollution is a constant concern that demands our attention. Both outdoor and indoor air pollution affect our health and pollution is getting worse and worse. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to decrease the pollution you create and stay safe indoors.