Our homes are essentially big boxes when it comes to airflow — not exactly airtight, but designed nonetheless to keep the air inside in, and the air outside out. It’s a simple enough concept, but when you think about it, that means that everything that enters your home’s air stays there, unless you actively cycle it out.
Indoor air pollution is a very real and very serious issue for this reason – you’re literally stuck with what’s in that air most of the time, breathing it in with your kids and your pets.
Between the chemicals in your furniture and the natural dust that accumulates, there are plenty of reasons to sneeze in most modern homes.
Symptoms of Indoor Air Pollution
The reality is, everyone has indoor air pollution to a certain extent. Everyone has dust, dander, germs, and most of us also surround ourselves with synthetic materials and chemicals that off-gas regularly.
That being said, depending on the level of concentration in your home and your own sensitivity to it, you could be experiencing chronic symptoms you don’t even realize are related to your air quality. If you experience any of these frequently with no discernible pattern, indoor air pollution could be the culprit:
- Eye irritation
- Chronic respiratory distress
And that’s probably the worst part — depending on your own immune system and the pollutants you’re being exposed to, chronic exposure could just mean a lot of runny noses, or it could go so far as to cause chronic disease.
Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
Going through the list of potential indoor air pollutants is… staggering. There is so much we use in modern living that can present challenges to our health, and ultimately, avoiding them all becomes an exercise in minimalism.
Paint and Wood Finishes
Far beyond the risks of old lead paint, fresh coats can release air pollutants known as Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are proven to be hazardous to health. Luckily, brands like Behr make a line of zero-VOC products. Many natural mineral based alternatives even exist for non-toxic and biodegradable options, like Unearthed Paints (pictured above!)
The artificial fragrances in many laundry detergents are cause for concern since many of them contain phthalates. Additionally, if you get anything professionally dry cleaned, a chemical smell could indicate some lingering perchloroethylene, a nasty chemical that’s extremely hazardous to both people and the planet.
Thankfully, the EPA has banned many of the nastier chemicals that used to be present in nonstick cookware, but Teflon off-gassing is still a very real concern. When nonstick pans are heated above 500 degrees, they release this potent pollutant that’s so toxic it can actually kill pet birds.
To be safe, always use nonstick pans on low heat, and use something nonreactive like cast iron for high-heat cooking.
If you’ve ever wielded a can of oven cleaner, you know the power these products have to literally take your breath away. Chronic exposure to these chemicals is arguably more harmful than the dirt and germs they’re designed to get rid of, so switch to clean cleaners wherever you can.
I talk a lot about phthalates around here, and for a good reason. This petroleum-based nasty is found in a lot of household products, from cosmetics to air fresheners, and can interfere with hormone production, and has even been linked to birth defects.
Try a natural fragrance spray instead, or get a simmer pot going — no need for aerosol cans.
Pesticides are another common culprit of indoor air pollution, in addition to posing threats to children and pets if touched or ingested. Diatomaceous earth is a great natural insecticide, and it’s so safe to use, you can even eat it!
Believe it or not, some air purifiers are actually to blame for indoor air pollution! Many produce ozone as a side effect of the air filtration process, which can trigger asthma and other respiratory issues.
Pet Dandruff, Mold, and Bacteria
Another common indoor air pollutant? Good old fashioned dirt. Normal buildup from pets and mold created by damp conditions can create serious long-term health problems if not addressed on a regular basis. The solution is simple enough though — stay on top of the dusting, and clean damp spaces regularly with mold-killing natural cleaners like vinegar.
Wood Fireplaces and Furnaces
Wood heat has great potential as a renewable heat source, but there’s no doubt that it causes some issues with air quality. In fact, wood stoves and furnaces have been attributed to causing over half of the pneumonia deaths in children under five.
If you can’t switch out your wood stove for a clean burning rocket mass heater or alternative, make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector installed, and clean your chimney frequently.
Unfortunately, the massive amount of synthetic fibers used in our bedding and furniture requires a heavy saturation of chemicals to keep it looking nice and fire-safe, and that spells a lot of problems for indoor air quality.
Any of these things could be off-gassing harmful VOCs and flame retardants into your home:
- Upholstered furniture
- Window treatments
- Sheets and bedding
Four Ways to Detox Your Air
#1 — Open Some Windows
One of the best (and simplest) ways to clean up your home’s air is to just open your windows regularly. Upstairs and down, and on both sides of the house, let air circulate throughout your home regularly to carry indoor air pollutants out and freshen things up.
#2 — Get Into a Cleaning Routine
It’s easy to let the dust pile up sometimes, but it’s also important to realize it can be detrimental to your health. Get on a schedule with cleaning so nothing falls by the wayside — the Fly Lady Cleaning System is a great way to get organized.
#3 — Say No to Synthetics
One of the simplest ways to clean up your home’s air is to start at the source. Stop buying synthetic materials and harsh cleaners, and opt instead for natural fragrances, green mattresses, green beauty products, and organic fibers. Your lungs will thank you. Consider switching to a fragrance-free detergent like eCover’s ZERO 2x liquid detergent, and make sure your dry cleaner is thorough.
#4 — Get the Right Air Purifier
An air purifier is just the icing on the cake and isn’t necessary for improving indoor air quality, but it can definitely help.
Opt for an ozone-free purifier that will work actively to reduce and eliminate pollutants, without just trading one for another. Molekule makes some fantastic, really beautiful air purifiers that remove everything from allergens to VOCs.
Are you ready to make any of these switches? Tell us on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us in the post so we can all learn together — @AvocadoMattress or #AvocadoGreenMagazine
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