cluttered living room

Although people usually think of air pollution as coming from outside the home — from power plants, factories, and trucks — home interiors may also give off considerable pollution.

In fact, indoor air is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Many of the products and building materials in our homes contain harmful chemicals that deteriorate indoor air quality.

Thankfully, there are many actions you can take to safeguard your family and breath easily.

1. Air Out Your Home After Remodeling

A new coat of paint can freshen up a room, but it can also contain harmful chemicals. Glue, pressed wood products, and varnish can all contain carcinogens. Complete projects when you can ventilate your home. Keep the windows open as much as possible and use fans to circulate air. If possible, go on vacation or spend a few nights away from home to allow your home to air out.

2. Chose Low-Emission Products

Not all paints, glues, and finishes are created equal from an air quality standpoint. Choose green products such as those Certified by Green Seal, or at least read product labels before making a purchase. Hazardous products often contain warning labels stating to use the product in a well-ventilated area, which means you may want a safer alternative. Select environmentally friendly paint with a volatile organic compound (VOC) level of less than 100 gm/L for an undercoat or 50 gm/L for a top coat.

3. Use Safer Dry Cleaning Services

Unfortunately, many drycleaners use a solvent called perchloroethylene (perc), which can damage the brain and central nervous system and is a likely human carcinogen. Clothes that have been cleaned with perc release this chemical in the air, especially when they are recently laundered. To avoid exposure to perc, seek out cleaning businesses that use CO2 or wet-cleaning methods, alternatives that are safe for most clothes, or air out recently dry-cleaned clothes outside of the plastic garment bag before bringing them into your home.

4. Use Natural Fragrances

Ironically, many of the products we use to clean and freshen up our homes actually deteriorate  air quality. Synthetic fragrances are typically listed as “fragrance” on the ingredient list, can actually contain a couple hundred chemicals and may be toxic. Laundry products, air fresheners, household cleaners, and personal care products can all contain such fragrances, even when advertised as unscented. Read the list of ingredients, avoid products with “fragrance” in the list of ingredients, and refer to the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database for healthier personal care products. Use essential oil, baking soda, and ventilation to remove undesirable odors.

5. Avoid Mold and Moisture Issues

Molds are common allergens, aggravate asthma symptoms, and, in some cases, produce toxic chemicals. They may irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, regardless of whether the person is allergic or not. Wet surfaces can start growing mold in a mere 24 to 48 hours.  Moisture is the most important factor impacting mold growth. Look for mold around leaky plumbing fixtures, around the foundation of your home, and near windows. Common sources of water include leaks from the roof, floods, plumbing fixtures, humidification systems, and sprinklers. Stop the source of moisture entering your home, clean mold up where possible, or replace items that cannot be properly cleaned, such as carpeting, ceiling tiles, or furniture. Avoid breathing in mold when making repairs and consult an expert for severe water damage.

In the market for environmentally friendly air fresheners?

Feature image courtesy of Dolan Halbrook 

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.