There is a common belief that the air outside your front door is much worse to breathe than the air inside your home. But, as studies show, the air inside your home may also come with health implications. How did your indoor air get dirtier than your laundry? Think of fumes off-gassed by furniture, paint and building materials, chemicals from household cleaning products and fragrances, combustion devices, dust, bacteria and mould. These are all common culprits of poor home air quality.
When you consider that we spend most of our time indoors, this is a big problem. But it can be especially debilitating for those who suffer from allergies or asthma. Here are some simple solutions to improve your home air quality—many of which are quick, easy and affordable.
Tip#1: Air it out
Open a window to air out harmful chemicals and let cleaner, healthier air in! Even if it’s for a few minutes a day, it’s one of the simplest (and most affordable) things you can do to improve your home air quality. You can also turn on a ceiling or portable fan while windows are open to recirculate household air and push out stale air.
Tip #2: Use non-toxic household cleaning products
Traditional household cleaning products are one of the leading contributors to poor home air quality. Your home is not a science experiment. Rather than spend money on household cleaning products, look no further than your pantry for ingredients that possess natural cleaning prowess. Ingredients such as baking soda, white distilled vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, tea tree oil, hot water, coarse salt, and castile soap all do a bang-up job without spewing harmful chemicals into your home.
If you prefer something in a bottle, don’t just trust what they tell you on the label. Do some research before you buy. Look for products that tap into plant-based ingredients for cleaning power without artificial dyes and/or fragrances to better your home’s air quality. And remember, traditionally, the fewer ingredients on the label, the better.
Tip #3: Invest in healthy houseplants
Believe it or not, some plants act as renegade air filters by sucking up harmful chemicals that rest in your air and pumping out fresh oxygen. Not just any plant will do. A study conducted in part by NASA found that a handful of plants are particularly skilled at eating up some of the more harmful chemicals: formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide to name a few. Here are a few of the top plants that proved to be most effective at removing harmful chemicals:
- Bamboo Palm – Dypsis lutescens
- English Ivy – Hedera helix
- Gerbera Daisy – Gerbera jamesonii
- Janet Craig Dracaena – Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’
- Red Edged Dracaena – Dracaena marginata
- Mass cane/Corn Plant – Dracaena massangeana
- Warneckii Dracaena – Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’
- Mother-in-Law’s Tongue – Sansevieria Laurenti
- Pot Mum – Chrysantheium morifolium
- Peace Lily – Spathiphyllum species
Tip #4: Skip the scent
We are all guilty of associating fresh, aromatic scents with a clean home, but synthetic fragrance found in air fresheners, household cleaning products, detergents and candles infuses your air with harmful chemicals. Since the actual components of a fragrance are considered a “trade secret,” companies are only required to list the catch-all term “fragrance” on the label—but they are not required to disclose what they are. In this case, the devil is in the details. A study conducted by Washington University found that nearly 100 volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) were emitted from six popular air fresheners. Of the 100 VOCs emitted, none were listed on the label and five of them released at least one (or more!) cancer-causing chemicals. Many fragrances have not been tested for human safety, and a group of plasticizers known as phthalates are commonly used to make the scent last longer. Phthalates have been linked to hormone disruption, cancer, and reproductive and developmental issues.
To protect your home air quality, look for household cleaning products, detergents and aerosol sprays that are fragrance-free or scented with 100 percent natural ingredients. You can also use essential oils, lemons, or baking soda to freshen up your home.
Tip #5: Buy safer furniture
Your furniture can off-gas VOCs, which can be highly toxic to human health. Conventional woods in furniture such as plywood and particleboard are fused with toxic glues that can contain formaldehyde and harmful chemicals and are finished with paints, lacquers, and varnishes that contain even more harmful chemicals. These chemicals can be detrimental to those with allergies and asthma while contributing to serious diseases like cancer. If you can, avoid buying furniture made from woods that have been treated with formaldehyde and look for furniture that was assembled with non-toxic glues and water-based or low to no-VOC finishes. Certifications like GREENGUARD also serve as a great guide by identifying products that have lower chemical emissions for better home air quality. Since healthier furniture can be more expensive, you can always buy second-hand—a good indication that the furniture has already done most of its off-gassing. You can also open a window for better air ventilation (See Tip #1).
Tip #6: Be picky about paint
Are you familiar with that funny odour that fills the room after you have freshly painted the walls? It makes you dizzy for a reason. Conventional paints can emit toxic fumes into your home over its life cycle. Look for safer paints that are labelled “Zero VOC or “Low-VOC.” The most ideal option is “Zero VOC, no toxins and no solvents,” which states that the canister of wall colour does not contain any of the harmful chemicals found in traditional paints.
Tip #7: Invest in a HEPA filter vacuum
Carpets and floors can harbour chemicals and common allergens, which accumulate in household dust. Vacuuming a few times a week is key, but cheap vacuums can just make matters worse. The problem with cheap vacuums is that they suction chemicals in, and then spew them back out in the exhaust to exacerbate poor home air quality. Purchase a vacuum with a true HEPA filter, which is capable of suctioning up dust, dirt and even the smallest irritants.