How To Measure and Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

Most of the time that we spend indoors we’re busy going about our daily business. Cooking, eating, relaxing, working, sleeping and spending time chilling out with friends, kids and family.

However, do we ever stop to consider how the indoor air quality of our environment is affecting us?

We may get the odd sniffle or cold, perhaps feel a bit tired from time to time, or get headaches and other seemingly minor health issues. But how much of this could be down to the air quality and overall environment in our homes?

Some estimates reckon that the air inside our homes and workplaces can be between 2 and 5 times more contaminated than it is outdoors.

Poor indoor air quality is an issue which has been recognised by the World Health Organization, and long-term exposure to it may have significant effects on our health. It’s vital, therefore, that you understand what the quality of air is inside your home and then do something about it!

Some of these airborne contaminants can lead to increased short-term allergic type reactions and symptoms like irritated eyes, noses and throats, as well as dizziness and fatigue.

These short-term reactions are typically not serious health concerns, but some indoor air contaminants have been linked to long-term and serious conditions such as respiratory disease, heart disease and even cancer. That said, it’s difficult to pinpoint what level of exposure to these contaminants is potentially dangerous, and it also seems to vary from person to person.

Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

Air can be polluted by a number of sources such as dust mites in mattresses, furniture, and carpets. Other sources can be fumes from fresh coats of paint on your walls, mold, chemicals from perfume, household cleaning products, cooking oils as well as fumes that creep into your home from living in a high traffic environment or near an airport. These can all contribute to poor indoor air quality.

Cleaning Products
Domestic cleaning products, especially types that have been artificially fragranced, can be a danger in the average household. For example, some air fresheners can be very harmful as they can emit VOC’s or volatile organic compounds, and it is very difficult to tell which ones are safe and the labels are also of little help. Most of these fragrances are not natural substances at all but made from petroleum compounds which can cause adverse effects on us.

Dust Mites
Dust mites are enemy number one of all households and you will never get rid of them all completely, but there are a few methods to help keep their numbers down. Damp conditions equate to ever-multiplying numbers of them, so if you can control your home’s humidity then you can keep dust mite levels very low.

Pets
Pets are great friends and fun to have around but it can get a little messy sometimes at home and they have to be looked after, leaving behind pet hairs and other debris on carpets and upholstery. Air purifiers offer a great solution for helping remove pet dander and reduce allergies.

Cooking
Cooking food, especially frying at high temperature with some oils and fats, can release harmful toxins into the air. Some recent research is starting to reveal just how dangerous these toxins can be. Some are even being linked to cancer.

Benefits of a Better Indoor Environment

Improving your indoor air can bring about a number of health benefits such as:

  • Less sickness and colds
  • More energy
  • Increased focus and productivity
  • Reduction in respiratory issues (particularly in kids)
  • Better sleep

The first step in addressing poor air quality is to measure the air quality in your home to understand if you have an issue, and if so, what the extent of that issue is.

We’ll look at how you can go about this first, then I’ll cover some simple steps you can take to improve the quality.

Measuring Indoor Air Quality

There are various appliances on the market these days to help with the job of understanding what the current air quality and overall environment is like in our homes.

Generally speaking these devices such the Cubesensor or Foobot will give you a great overall picture of what the current condition is like in your home and if this is within healthy guidelines. This is a fast-moving area of technology and companies are developing new products and adding extra features almost every week.

They normally measure not only air quality but also other environmental factors such as light, noise and air pressure to give you an even better overall picture of your indoor environment.

A good device will normally offer the following features as a minimum:

  • Temperature & Humidity
  • Volatile Organic Compound testing and profiling
  • The amount of small potentially harmful airborne particles
  • CO2 – Carbon Dioxide Levels
  • CO – Carbon Monoxide Levels
  • Lighting conditions
  • Air pressure
  • Noise levels

Most models also have apps that allow you to monitor and control them directly from your phone or table. They set safe limits and targets and keep a history of the conditions during the day so you can see what sort of activities are taking place as the environment changes. This is really valuable when it comes to making changes and improvements.

How To Improve Your Indoor Air Quality – Practical Steps For Improving Air Quality

1. Use Nature To Help – Indoor Plants

Indoor Plant flickr ShadowVash

Photo from flickr ShadowVash

Indoor plants are great for the home environment and if you choose the right type, easy to maintain.

Some plants are believed to absorb some of the unhealthy toxic pollutants that can take over our homes, helping to remove some potentially harmful chemicals that can cause illness from your airspace.

A few plants in every room is a good starting point to building better indoor air quality for your house.

The best plants for this are thought to be English Ivy, Gerbera Daisies, Rubber Plant, Weeping Fig and the Peace Lily.

A smart way to start adding some greenery to your home is by taking a visit to a garden center and simply asking for some advice from the experts there. Most of them will be only too keen to help you get started and select a range of plants to suit the size of your home and share their experience in caring for these potted beauties. Some are hardy and will grow virtually anywhere but others need a bit more care and consideration. You’ll need to know where they should be placed and how much light and water they need to flourish.

Indoor plants not only add natural beauty to your home but also contribute to the environment by cleaning the air, controlling humidity and absorbing toxins and off-gassed chemicals and providing oxygen.

They can also help to improve the quality of your life. In many cultures plants symbolize wellbeing, health, joy, virtue, innocence, sense, peace, love, money, long life, and good fortune.

In addition, planting and then caring for plants and trees as they mature is obviously a very rewarding activity and relaxing. The natural beauty and color that the right selection of indoor plants brings to inside the house can soothe the mind and soul and even ward off depression.

2. Use Natural Cleaning Products

Try to use natural products, like lemon, baking soda and vinegar because as you know there are no harmful chemicals in them.

Check out our other article for suggestions for lots of different all-natural cleaners to tackle everything from smelly drains to grubby grout.

If you still prefer to use chemical-based cleaning products, then it’s wise to ensure your home is very well ventilated when you’re cleaning.

3. Open Window and Doors

The easiest action is to open up your windows and doors and let some air circulate around your house.

Try opening one window at the front and one at the back. This will create a bit of a draft and will circulate the air a lot quicker. Even in cold weather getting I’d advise opening the doors or windows a couple of times each day to get rid of the stale air. It’s worth the short shiver it might cause you and should also give you a nice boost of energy to breathe in that fresh air.

4. Switch on Your Air Conditioner

If you have an air conditioning unit then switch it on. This will naturally result in the circulation of air from inside to outside your house.

Two-hose design portable air conditioners are better from this point of view, but a single hose unit will also do the job. Window and central air systems are ideal. The filter systems on air conditioners will also make sure that the air pulled into your home is filtered.

Use a HEPA, carbon or electrostatic filter if possible as these remove more of  the air particles. Remember of course to clear or replace these filters as per the manufacturer’s guidelines as they become far less effective and efficient if they get clogged up.

If you’re looking for a new portable air conditioner then Delonghi has a great range of units. I’ve written a review of the top models so you can find out which one is best for you.

5. Invest in an Air Purifier

If you want to invest some money in maintaining your air quality then consider investing in a good quality air purifier.

These units are designed specifically to filter out the nasty stuff that lurks in our air. Choose one which has a HEPA and charcoal filter. This double filter combination will trap 99.97% of particles through the HEPA filter, while the charcoal filter deals with odors from pets, smoking, cooking etc. They are a powerful combination.

Also, always be sure to make sure the unit is suitable for your size of the room you want to use in it.

Check out my reviews of the Alen T500 or the Honeywell 50250-s  – both come highly recommended by many customers online.

6. Do Your Chores

Get the Vacuum Out

CleaningA great way to get rid of smells and airborne debris is to invest in a good vacuum cleaner. If possible use one that uses a HEPA filter. The filter collects contaminated air particles before they have a chance to be blown back through the vacuum and into the air again.

Washing Sheets

Regular washing of large areas of fabric such as sheets, curtains, bedding, throws and sofa cover are a must. These large areas of warm (and often moist) fabric are excellent harbors of mites and other allergens. High-temperature washes and steam cleaning can sort this issue out.

Something else you might not have thought about is giving new sheets, bedding and clothing a wash before you use them for the first time. These items can often still have chemicals in them left over from the manufacturing process and washing them in a high-temperature wash will make sure these don’t find their way onto your skin or into the air in your home.

Dehumidify

It comes as no surprise that dampness in your home is not a good thing. The goal should always be to keep humidity below 50% and you can do this by using extraction fans in your bathroom and while cooking. Or if you have a particular issue with damp in some areas of your home consider using a dehumidifier.

You can buy dehumidifier units for a few hundred dollars, or if you want to splash out then invest in a portable air conditioner. Most PAC units will come with a dehumidifier function. They will also cool the air during hot summer spells, therefore their initial higher price might actually be better value in the long run.

Reducing the dampness and humidity will stop nasties like mold and mites from flourishing and potentially causing health issues for you and your family.

7. Think Ahead When Remodelling or Renovating

We all love to decorate or even remodel our homes from time to time. This is a great time to think about how you can design in some features that will help you create and maintain a high-quality environment in your home.

Wood, laminate and other hard surface coverings tend to be easier to clean. This is especially true if you have pets as they cast hair and can harbor other forms of dirt and mites.

It’s easier to clean hairs off hard surface floors, and they don’t offer safe refuge to these mites and other bugs that otherwise are quite at home in thick pile carpets.

During the remodelling project you should also be mindful of the paint and materials you are using. Look for low or even zero VOC paint and go for formaldehyde-free materials when building cabinets and carrying out other joinery work.

8. Smoke Signals

If you use a real indoor fire or wood burner then you will need to take a few extra precautions. The process of burning wood, pellets or coal produces toxic chemicals. This is why unfortunately so many people die each year due to smoke-related complications during uncontrolled house fires.

Keep all fireplaces and wood-burning stove chimneys clear of blockages and carry out inspections regularly. Blockages can cause toxic smoke to remain in your home, but also a build up of soot and other deposits in your chimney can increase the risk of a chimney fire. The CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) recommends inspection and cleaning of your chimney at least every year.

Be Careful With Candles
Candles are relaxing and sometimes almost hypnotic to look at. However, these can also produce toxins that are known carcinogens.

The main culprits are benzene and toluene that are created as a product of the burning process. The wicks can also contain lead which again can release this toxin into the atmosphere.

Thankfully there are plenty of manufacturers that now offer non-toxic candles so make sure you look for these if you want to enjoy a bit of romantic candlelight. You might pay a little extra for these but it is likely to be worth it for avoiding chemicals where possible.

It kind of goes without saying that smoking inside is something to avoid if you can. Cigarette smoke has been widely publicized for producing toxic and carcinogenic components and smells foul too. You have the right to your free choice of course, but be mindful that second-hand smoke is a danger to the people around you.

If you must smoke inside then consider investing in one of the many great air purifiers designed specifically to remove cigarette and cigar smoke from the air. This will help cut down on the dangers of passive smoking by removing some of the harmful particles that can linger in the air.

9. Switch Air Fresheners

HAALoNevadaCity on Flickr

The global market for air fresheners is projected to reach $10.4 billion by 2020. This proves that a lot of us love the smell of ‘freshness’ in our homes. However, you need to be mindful of what type of product you use.

Try replacing these with something more natural. There are plenty of diffusers and vaporizers that use natural essential oils to fill your home with a mind-boggling range of aromas. You can blend essential oils and some of them also offer specific health, relaxation, and energizing benefits. Talk to your local health store to get some advice. There are also plenty of resources online.

Conclusion

So there we have it.

We’ve looked at some ways in which your indoor air quality can become polluted. We then talked about some useful tools you can use to measure your indoor air quality to understand if you have an issue.

Finally, we’ve looked at some simple steps you can take to clean up and ultimately prevent your indoor environment from becoming contaminated with particles and toxins that could affect your short and long term health and wellbeing.

Hopefully you’ve found this article helpful. If you have any comments or feedback please leave a message below. In the meantime, why not take action right now! Open a few windows, just for a few minutes and let some fresh air into your home.

You might be surprised at the difference it can make!

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