9 Sources of Indoor Air Pollution - How to Detox your Home
Houses are becoming more and more energy efficient every year. By sealing up leaks and creating superior insulation technologies, maintaining comfortable temperatures in a home has never been easier.
While a sealed-up home is usually regarded as a good thing, it does have a downside: indoor air pollution. When we take steps to improve our home’s efficiency, we often reduce ventilation, which means household particles like pet dander, mold spores, airborne chemicals, and natural toxins stay in the home; eventually they land on our skin and in our bodies, often causing multiple health issues.
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to significantly reduce the amount of indoor air pollution in your home.
In this article, we’ll discuss many aspects of air pollution, including:
- What is air pollution
- Why it’s harmful
- The most common sources of air pollution
- What you can do to prevent it
By understanding these details, you’ll be armed with the right information to make your home cleaner and help your family stay healthy for years!
Indoor Air and Your Family’s Health
What Do We Mean By Indoor Air Pollution?
When you hear about "air pollution", we often think of smog, car exhaust, and factory smoke. We usually think of outdoor pollution in crowded cities. But indoor air pollution can be a serious problem as well, especially when you consider the fact that most of us spend 90% of our time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Indoor air pollution is made up of harmful airborne contaminants that reside inside the home. They can be pollutants from gases, animals, appliances, and materials, and while many of them have no smell and can’t be seen, they can create numerous short and long-term health problems.
What Are the Effects of Air Pollution in the Home?
The effects of air pollution in the home creates a wide range of different issues ranging from minor skin problems to serious lung concerns. Of course, if you don’t go home and thoroughly purify your house today, you’re not going to end up hospitalized tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean air pollution should go ignored.
One of the most likely effects of long-term exposure to air pollution is lung problems. Respiratory issues can include wheezing and aggravation of asthma, especially if the air pollutants are pet dander and pollen. Nasal congestion and nose bleeds have also been associated with air pollution, as have sore throats and coughing.
There are also severe, long-term consequences for prolonged exposure to indoor air pollution. These include conditions like tachycardia, which is rapid heartbeat that can lead to shortness of breath, as well as muscle pain, hearing loss, and the potential increased risk of cancer.
Air Pollution and Cancer
The "C"-word is not something that should be tossed around lightly. People who have had cancer affect their family or themselves know it is this is not a subject to take lightly, so we’d like to take a brief look at the potential connection between indoor air pollution and cancer.
According to Cancer Research UK, there are two types of indoor air pollution that are most likely to cause cancer: cigarette smoke and radon gas. The organization found that radon, a naturally-occurring gas, contributes to roughly 3% of lung cancer cases, while second-hand smoke has been well-documented as a contributor to cancer and other diseases.
Air Pollution and Kids
Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution, largely because of the size of their lungs compared to the size of their bodies. Children have a larger surface area inside of their lungs in relation to the overall size of their bodies; they also take in more air for every pound of body mass than adults, meaning exposure to air pollution will have a more significant impact on their breathing and overall health.
Children also have narrower airways than adults, which means a swelling in the windpipes can block a higher portion of their breathing. If an adult has one millimeter of swelling in her airway, the diameter of the windpipe is reduced by roughly 19%. However, if a child’s airway is swollen by a millimeter, the diameter will be reduced by about 56%.
The elderly are also at risk. While seniors don't have the issue with smaller lungs, they can be more sensitive to air pollution. As a result getting clean air in a nursing home is important.
Indoor air pollution (and outdoor, for that matter) can be particularly upsetting to a child’s health. When an adult is exposed to air pollution, it may cause a slight irritation, but the same exposure could cause significant health risks to smaller children. Exposure to air pollution has been known to affect both the structure of the lungs and the overall function in children. Indoor air pollution can also cause greater aggravation to a child’s lung problems such as asthma and allergies.
The 9 Major Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
1. Biological Sources
By “biological,” we essentially mean animals, so one of the largest contributors to indoor air pollution is pets, especially cats and dogs. While pet dander, which is skin cells shed from animals, isn’t generally considered “pollution,” it can be a significant problem for the quality of air in a home, especially if someone in the home suffers from pet allergies or asthma.
However, pets are not the only biological source of indoor air pollution. It might make your skin crawl, but pests, such as mice, cockroaches, and spiders can leave trace amounts of contaminants in the home from droppings and dander. So, even if your home has no pets, you can still have biological sources of air pollution.
2. Mold and Mildew
Although mold and mildew are technically a biological source of air pollution, they obviously are much different than animals, so we’ll include it as a separate source of indoor air pollution. Moisture in the home, besides being uncomfortable, can lead to mold and mildew, which contributes to indoor air pollution. Allergic reactions to mold are common, but it can also increase asthma attacks and cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.
3. Gas-Burning Appliances
Furnaces keep your home nice and warm during the winter, but gas-burning furnaces, especially older models, can release harmful toxins into the air. If you have a furnace that uses gas, propane, or oil, it could be releasing dangerous carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that is a byproduct of combustion.
Gas stoves can have similar effects on your home. These are used in roughly half of homes across America, so they are an important, but often over-looked, contributor to poor indoor air quality.
Essentially, anything that burns a gas or solid substance can lead to indoor air pollutants. This includes wood fireplaces, candles, and kerosene space heaters.
4. Paints and Finishing Liquids
The paints and finishes we use for decorating our homes can often contribute to indoor air quality, because they contain Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. Paints and varnishes are known to contain VOCs, releasing the harmful chemicals as gases in the air. Even after paints have dried on the walls, they can continue to release VOCs.
Other liquids used on wood furniture and cabinetry, such as stains, lacquers, and varnishes, release chemicals into the air, making proper ventilation a must.
5. Home and Building Materials
Many of the raw materials we use to build and enhance our home contribute to indoor air pollution, largely by releasing harmful toxins from paints and sealers, but also by the very nature of the product itself. For example, plywood, which is made from pieces of wood bonded together by a strong adhesive, can contain formaldehyde, which is slowly released from the material over time. Fiberboard and particleboard are also known to release toxins.
Although regulations and technological advancements have made improvements, insulation can still be a contributor to indoor air pollution, especially some foam insulations. Even fiberglass insulation can release particles if not sealed in the wall.
6. Air Fresheners and Scented Candles
We all want our homes to be full of fresh, clean scents, but many of the products we use are also sources of indoor air pollution. Air fresheners are an obvious culprit, releasing harmful chemicals, such as camphor, phenol, ethanol, and formaldehyde. Ironically, air fresheners don’t actually freshen the air, they merely release scented gases and mist. Candles are another source of indoor air pollution. Certain types of candles contain toxic chemicals such as toluene and benzene, which are released into the air when burned.
If you use candles and air fresheners, stick to moderation and ventilation, and choose products that are less-likely to release harmful chemicals, such as soy and beeswax candles and eco-friendly air sprays.
Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that seeps from the ground. It comes from uranium, which is found in the soil, and seeps upward. While outdoor air contains trace amounts of radon, homes can trap the gas and cause dangerous concentrations. Radon is able to leak into homes through cracks, drains, unsealed pipes, and crawl spaces, and while every area of the country is susceptible to radon, it appears that northern states generally have higher radon levels.
8. Household Cleaning Chemicals
Many of the cleaning agents we use in our homes also release harmful chemicals into the air. By “cleaning agents,” we’re referring to many different chemicals, including floor sprays, polish for wood tables, oven cleaners, and detergents.
These products also contain VOCs, making them sources of indoor air pollution. Of course, never mix ammonia with bleach, as this creates a particularly toxic gas.
9. Tobacco Smoke
In case you haven’t heard, cigarette smoke is bad for you! (Are you shocked?) Even in modern times, it’s important to remember that tobacco products should be smoked outside, because even well-ventilated indoor areas will collect the toxics and smells of cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. You may have completely quit or stopped smoking in your home, but the toxic chemicals from tobacco will linger, creating indoor air pollution that can last for years.
Detox Your Home: Reducing Indoor Air Pollution for Good
How to Detox Your Home
The first steps you can take should involve removing as many of the existing air pollutants in your home as possible. This will involve extensive, but certainly not difficult, cleaning measures to remove the dander, chemicals, and toxins that have found a resting place in the home.
Start by simply letting in some fresh air. Ventilation is one of the most-effective, simplest, and quickest steps you can take. While it may be extremely hot or frigidly cold outside, allowing some fresh air to blow into the home, even if it’s just for a minute, can add much-needed oxygen and dilute some of the harmful pollutants.
To keep the air moving and suck up many of the pollutants, be sure to turn on your bathroom fans. These handy devices not only remove offensive odors, they can be helpful for removing moisture, which can lead to mold and mildew.
The next step involves cleaning the home, which is especially important if you have pets that are causing asthma or allergic reactions to you or a family member. Begin by vacuuming the floors, giving extra attention to the carpets that can trap a lot of the dander and toxins in the home. Keep the HEPA vacuum going over hard surfaces (assuming it won’t damage the floors) to pick up any particles in the kitchen or bathroom. You should also take out the vacuum’s hose extension and vacuum over cracks on the hard floors.
While you have the vacuum out, go over furniture with the hose extension, targeting couches, chairs, and footstools to make sure as much of the pollutants as possible are removed from the home.
How to Prevent Future Indoor Air Pollution
Now that you have taken steps to remove much of the existing pollutants from your home, you need to take measures to keep pollutants from entering the house once more. Like cleaning, you can’t remove all of the pollutants, but you can make simple, easy measures for cleaner, healthier air.
As we discussed above, many of the airborne pollutants in your home come from furnaces, so replacing the filters on a regular basis is a good idea. Not only will this help reduce pollutants in the air, it will make your furnace more efficient, giving a bonus to both your wallet and the environment.
While you’re replacing the filter, consider purchasing an air purifier that will capture airborne particles such as mold spores, pollen, and pet dander and hair. This can be an effective way to have active filtration throughout the year.
If you have mold growth or mold spores, see the best air purifiers for mold for advice and solutions.
Remember that other appliances have filters, not just the furnace. The stove range, dryer, and bathroom exhaust all have filters that need replacement, which will further add to cleaner air in your home.
Another step that you can take, and one that rarely gets considered, is to simply take off your shoes before you enter the home. The bottom of shoes can become a transportation vehicle for many different contaminants, including lead, pesticides, floor cleaning chemicals, and pollen. If you leave your shoes in the garage or outside entry, you’re less likely to bring pollutants into the home.
If you haven’t yet, throw out all your air fresheners, as they use VOCs that are harmful to people’s health. It is a wise idea to stop using these items and choose natural, healthier alternatives. (One clever trick is to dip cotton balls in extract or essential oils and place them around the house.)
If you have a pet in the home, you need to take specific, intentional steps to reduce the amount of pet dander in the air. Many people let their dogs and cats sleep in the bedroom, or even on the bed, but this can lead to increased exposure to airborne dander, which can be significantly disruptive if you are bothered by pet allergies.
Note: For more information on reducing pet allergies, check out our article: How to Eliminate Dog Allergies and Pet Dander.
Make sure you are also taking steps to reduce radon levels in the home. Have radon detectors installed, and if needed, make changes to the home that will vent seeping radon away from the basement.
Although it’s become a socially-accepted practice, it should still be said: smoke outside. We all know that smoke and residue from tobacco can lead to serious lung problems, so don’t take chances with your health and only smoke outside.
Finally, make sure you are using a combination of room air purifiers and household plants that remove indoor contaminants. This will provide a one-two punch for eliminating the vast majority of indoor air pollution.
Maintain Clean, Healthy Indoor Air with Oransi Air Purifiers
One of the best steps you can take to maintain high-quality air in your home is to use air purifiers from Oransi.
We have a large selection of Oransi air purifiers ranging from small, convenient units for bedrooms and home offices to large air cleaners for health care and industrial facilities. No matter what your specific needs, we have the right products to enhance the air quality in your life!
Want to learn more about cleaning your air? Check out the Air Purifier Complete Guide. We also recently wrote this guide on how to choose an air purifier.