Whenever the topic of air pollution is raised, it almost always refers to outdoor air. However, the quality of indoor air is often as polluted as outdoor air, prompting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rank indoor air pollution as one of the top environmental dangers. As we spend more time at home during the winter and through the pandemic, it is imperative that we monitor indoor air quality to prevent respiratory illnesses. Here are a few tips to make your household air safer.
Enable Proper Ventilation. Ventilation is crucial in maintaining a safe indoor air environment as it helps remove the levels of indoor airborne pollutants. A proper air conditioning (HVAC) system is key in aerating your home. It is also recommended to enable natural ventilation by opening windows periodically, even during the winter. Aside from a central air conditioning system, you need to make sure that your stove range hood and fireplace vent to the outdoors. Good ventilation will ensure that toxic pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants do not accumulate in your house.
Maintain air filters. Indoor air pollutants range from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, excess moisture, to radon. To avoid the accumulation of these pollutants in the air, your house needs a ventilation system with adequate filters. HEPA (or high efficiency particulate air) filters are highly recommended by the EPA; they can remove 99.97% of dust, bacteria, and particles as small as 0.3 microns (US EPA). Be sure to regularly replace your air conditioning filters, as well as filters for your dryer, vacuum cleaner, and other appliances.
Use Natural Household Products. Household products and cleaning supplies are a major contributor of dangerous chemicals and VOCs in your house. For instance, air fresheners increase levels of terpenes, xylenes, and aldehydes, which are all toxic in high concentrations. These chemicals from household products contribute to allergic reactions, headaches and respiratory illnesses (American Lung Association). To improve your air quality and reduce these problems, choose products that have low levels of harsh chemicals, fragrances, and irritants. Such products which are safer for human health are listed on the EPA’s Safer Choice directory of household products.
Cultivate A Tiny Forest. Despite what you may have heard, plants are not super effective at purifying the air. While houseplants do remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air, it’s done “at such a slow rate that they can’t compete with air exchange mechanisms”(National Geographic). Therefore, you would quite a lot of plants to effectively purify the air of an entire room. While cultivating a tiny forest as air filtration system is unrealistic for most, having a couple of houseplants will bring other benefits, mental and therapeutic.
Written by Kelly Jean, Class of 2022