As the weather gets colder, we tend to spend more time indoors with the windows shut. It’s nice to keep warm and cozy this time of year but be aware that too much time inside without enough air flow can increase the amount of pollution that we breathe in. We tend to think of air pollution as something outside – we may imagine smoke stacks, diesel trucks, and jet fuel but indoor air can be even more polluted than the air outside.
Common sources of indoor air pollution include: toxic chemicals from cleaners, air fresheners, and scented candles, as well as smoke from fireplaces, wood stoves, and cigarettes.
Indoor air pollution can lead to short term and long term health effects. Small children, elders, and those with medical conditions that keep them inside for days or weeks at a time are the most vulnerable.
People react differently to the exposure of indoor air pollution and the experts don’t agree about what concentrations of exposure lead to specific medical conditions. The good news is that your own daily practices can decrease the amount of indoor air pollution that you, your family, and pets are exposed to.
How can I improve the indoor air quality in my home?
1. Daily “fresh air blasts” will quickly exchange all of the air inside the home for the fresh air outside. When it is too cold to keep windows open during the day, open them all at once for just a few minutes. Go through your home and open each window one by one and then go back through and shut each one. The indoor air temperature won’t go down much if you move quickly and the fresh air will make an immediate difference.
2. Use bathroom and kitchen fans, regularly. Bathroom fans should run for 30 minutes after you finish bathing and kitchen fans should continue for 30 minutes after cooking is complete. Make sure that the fans are vented to the outside, not attics or cupboards!
3. Dust exposed surfaces (including hard floors) with a water-dampened cloth. Dust is made up of many tiny particles, including chemicals. Keep dust from building up in your home to improve the air quality.
4. Take shoes off at the door or wipe them thoroughly before entering. If you prefer to wear shoes inside, designate a pair of “house shoes.” This will help reduce the amount of dust in your home.
5. Choose products with little or no scents. The chemicals in scented products can be irritating to children, people with respiratory illnesses, and people with sensitive skin.
6. Keep smoke out of the home.
- If there are smokers in the household or visiting, ask them to go outside and have a “smoking jacket” designated only to wear while smoking. This can help keep the chemicals in smoke from spreading around the home.
- Make sure wood stoves and fire places are operated correctly and that they are in good shape. Be sure to only burn dried out wood.
- Make sure your home has a working carbon monoxide detector. They are inexpensive and available at most hardware stores. And check the batteries in your smoke detectors monthly.
7. Avoid aerosol sprays indoors. Whether it is a can of hairspray, deodorant, oven cleaner, or spray paint – aerosol sprays produce tiny particles that can be inhaled deeply into lungs and are known to cause asthma attacks.
8. Avoid using harsh household hazardous products. Products with the signal words Danger, Poison, Warning, and Caution on the label contribute to indoor air pollution. Many beauty products such as hair dye and nail polish can also contribute. There are many products on the market that do not use hazardous chemicals – look for household products that do not have one of the signal words on the label. Take any unwanted, unused household hazardous products to HazoHouse. You can also make your own green cleaners!
9. Mold prevention and clean up.
- Keep your indoor temperature 60 degrees or higher.
- Allow air flow between large furniture items. For example pull dressers and sofas a few inches out from the wall so air can flow.
- Run the bathroom fan for 30 minutes after bathing and the kitchen fan 30 minutes after cooking. Not only does this help circulate air, but it helps prevent mold by drying out the area.
- To clean existing mold, scrub with soap and water and then dry out the area. Wear a mask and gloves. Remember that it can grow right back unless you change the conditions where the mold is growing. Find the source of moisture, such as a leak, and fix it.
10. Check out this Breath Easier Do-it-Yourself guide to a home environmental assessment.
Stay warm and cozy this cold season but make sure to breathe in some air from outside everyday too!