How to maintain healthy air quality in the home

Fouzi Afshari
Fouzi Afshari
Published on June 29, 2020

For the past few months, we’ve been admonished to “stay home” or “shelter in place” to keep ourselves and families safe from COVID-19.

In the process of doing so, however, we’re exposing ourselves to common indoor pollutants that may be of a concentration that is comparable to a “polluted major city,” according to University of Colorado Boulder researchers.

“Even the simple act of making toast raised particle levels far higher than expected,” claims Marina Vance, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who led the study.

Indoor pollutants are sneaky; many we can’t smell or see but may cause allergy-like symptoms, nausea, headaches and even cancer.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate the level of pollutants in the air in your home.

First, let’s take a look at that elephant in the room

Decades ago, NASA and The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (now known as The National Association of Landscape Professionals) collaborated on a study of how plants may clean indoor air.

The results, that plants were “a promising, economical solution to indoor air pollution,” was gleefully picked up by the media and distorted into the myth that we live with today.

Yes, plants may clean the air of volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as those emitted by paint, carpeting, drywall and more.

But, only in a hermetically sealed environment, such as a space station or laboratory.

Since our homes are not hermetically sealed, houseplants offer aesthetics, not clean air.

Regardless of what they tell you on your favorite online plant store’s blog, rubber plants do not “filter formaldehyde” from indoor air and pothos won’t get rid of the benzene from the air in your home.

You can read more about this debunked study at NationalGeographic.com, Newsweek.com and ScienceDaily.com.

How does this stuff get into our homes?

Indoor pollutants have a number of ways of entering our homes. “Some are carried in on the breeze; some are carried in, unwittingly, by you,” according to Mary H.J. Farrell at ConsumerReports.org.

Carpet, furniture and other upholstered items emit pollutants. Even the paint on the walls may be a contributor. The list also includes:

  • Cleaning and personal care products
  • Central heating and cooling systems
  • Smoking in the home
  • Cabinetry or furniture made of “certain pressed wood products” (EPA)
  • Carbon monoxide fumes from an attached garage

For a more complete list, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency online at EPA.gov.

Improve your indoor air

Knowing that the air inside your home is polluted is frightening, but, as mentioned earlier, there are steps you can take to improve your air quality. These include:

  • Keeping dust to a minimum.
  • Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  • Mopping floors with non-toxic cleaners.
  • Have everyone remove their shoes before entering the home.
  • Routinely replace the HVAC filters in the home.
  • Maintain the air conditioning unit to help lower the amount of pollen that enters the home.
  • Ensure the home is well ventilated while cooking, cleaning with chemicals and using hobby or personal products.

The EPA’s website offers additional, in-depth information on how to lessen the negative health impacts of polluted air in the home (información disponible en español).

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