Ahh, winter! The season when short days and frigid air chase us inside to our cozy couch-filled dens and Netflix-lined nests where life finally slows and leads us at last to quiet hours spent savoring fireside comforts and inhaling unfortunate amounts of hideous toxic air pollution.
Yes, ‘tis true, dear readers. Winter brings more than just starry hibernating nights. It also serves up higher than usual levels of indoor air pollution, and the reason is pretty simple: We’ve closed the windows and buttoned up our homes to hold their heat inside.
That’s good—the tighter our dwellings, the less energy we need to keep them warm. But keeping out the cold means keeping out fresh air, and in its absence the small amounts of air pollutants released indoors by modern furnishings and other things—everything from fumes and particles produced by building materials and combustion devices to vapors and aerosols released by consumer products—can accumulate to unhealthy levels. When that happens, we’re left unknowingly inhaling invisible clouds of hazards with every breath.
In toxicological circles, this is referred to as a massive bummer, one with all kinds of potential ramifications for our families’ well being. Yet while the problem is hard to avoid in a world filled with chemical products, it’s also fairly simple to address:
- Be mindful of any spray products you use, like cleaners and personal care products, which can leave pollutants suspended in the air for hours or even days after use.
- Don’t use air fresheners or room deodorizers intentionally designed to fill the air with artificial scents that linger to mask odors.
- Use chlorine-free dishwasher detergent. Studies show that hot dishwasher water can turn a detergent’s chlorine into a gas that’s released during operation.
- When you dust, use a HEPA vacuum or a damp cloth to collect and trap dust and the pollution it contains. Avoid dusters and techniques that simply stir dust back into your home’s atmosphere.
- If you have a gas range or oven, use your hood fan whenever it’s operating to draw off the combustion by-products being created.
- Don’t use pesticides. If pests appear during winter, explore non-toxic solutions like traps, barriers, and essential oil-based repellents.
- Eliminate the use of perfumes, colognes, and other scented products. These often contain unhealthy volatile organic compounds and toxic additives like phthalates.
- Get houseplants. We’ve talked about their impressive air-purification powers before. Hard-working choices include Boston fern, areca palm, lady palm, bamboo palm, rubber plant, English ivy, ficus, and peace lily.
- Regularly check your furnace filters and replace them when they start to get dirty.
- Skip the dry cleaning. If it’s unavoidable, remove all traces of dry cleaning chemicals like perchloroethylene by airing garments out before bringing them inside.
- Last but hardly least, open a door for a minute or two once every few days. Yes, you’ll cool the house temporarily down and pay a bit more to heat it back up, but the “rinsing effect” such fresh air exchanges supply are more than worth it.
Steps like these will both prevent additional pollution and help clean-up any already present. That’s always a good thing and the best way to make sure that when spring’s warm breezes finally return, we’ll still have the lungs we need to enjoy them.
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!