A breath of fresh air may be hard to come by in the winter. Did you know the air inside your home is probably more polluted than outdoor air? When cold weather comes, we seal up, heat and humidify our homes – all of which worsens indoor air quality. With no outside air to dilute emissions from household appliances, furnishings and cleaners, you’re breathing dirty air all winter long.
How Bad Is Indoor Air Pollution?
Most people spend their winter days inside, breathing air that is dirtier than smoggy cities. Chemicals, bacteria, mold and mildew particles can contaminate indoor air and make inhaling it bad for your health.
Indoor air pollution aggravates respiratory conditions like asthma, allergies and chronic lung diseases. But dirty air has even been linked to health problems like heart disease and stroke.
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
Air is considered polluted when it contains harmful substances. Causes of indoor air pollution include:
- Chemicals released into the air by:
- New furniture, paint and carpeting
- Household cleaners or air fresheners
- Emissions from gas-powered appliances such as stovetops, ovens, and washers and dryers
- Mold and mildew particles
- Dust particles from carpeting entering the air
- Smoke from tobacco and wood-burning fires and candles
How Can You Improve Indoor Air Quality?
Try these three steps to improve indoor air quality: Reduce sources of pollution, increase airflow and rid the air of contaminants.
Eliminate pollution sources
The easiest way to improve your home’s air quality is to stop pollution in the first place. Here are some do's and don'ts:
- Burn wood or sooty candles
- Use air fresheners
- Purchase pressed-wood furniture
Increase air flow
Most homes could use more ventilation during the winter. Some common winter air problems and how to solve them include:
- Musty or stuffy air inside your home: Open up windows and doors. The fresh outdoor air will dilute the indoor air and decrease pollution.
- Mold and mildew forming or condensation on interior windows: Your house is too humid. Reduce indoor humidity to 30 to 60 percent by using a dehumidifier or lowering the humidity setting on your furnace.
- Contaminated air circulating: Use bathroom fans while bathing and kitchen fans while cooking. These fans move moist air and pollutants out of your house through a vent that opens to the outside.
Clean the air
Some sing the praises of salt lamps, beeswax candles and certain houseplants for removing toxins from the air. However, there isn’t adequate research to support those claims. And if you overwater plants, the damp soil can become a breeding ground for microorganisms that can pollute the air.
So what can you do?
- Replace air filters: The filters in your furnace or heating and cooling system trap particles, which keeps the air clean. Regularly replacing the filters ensures the air circulating in your home is free of dirt.
- Buy air purifiers: These portable air cleaning devices are another option. They're designed to reduce air pollution in an area of your home. Their effectiveness depends on their clean air delivery rate (CADR), a measurement of how much air the device can filter. The higher the CADR rating, the bigger a room it can handle.
Overall, the best thing you can do to improve indoor air quality is to avoid common pollutants. It's much easier than trying to get them out of the air. By taking preventive measures and doing your best to keep the air in your home clean, you can feel good about the extra snuggle time you spend indoors this winter.
(If you're concerned indoor air pollution is affecting your health, don't ignore it. See your doctor to discuss your symptoms and possible causes.)
Learn more about indoor air pollutants and what you can do.