During the chilly, winter months, nothing beats curling up on the living room sofa with a cup of hot tea. Being warm, dry, and comfortable indoors are what most of us strive for when it’s cold outside. Unfortunately, the downside to staying indoors in the wintertime is our exposure to polluted air. The stale air we’re breathing inside our homes could be rife with pollutants, ranging from dust mites and dander to radon and lead.
Air Pollutants Inside Your Home
When winter arrives, it only makes sense to insulate and seal up your homes by keeping windows closed, adding insulation, and stocking up on firewood to keep the wood stove roaring. While these measures can add up to a savings on your utility bill, they can also intensify indoor air pollutants and cause various health problems. If you’re burning wood, using tobacco products, dealing with a wet basement or standing water issues, or using paint or certain cleaning products in your home, chances are you’re breathing in unhealthy air.
Poor indoor air quality can increase the risk of infections, lung cancer, and asthma, according to the American Lung Association. Chemicals and allergens, such as lead, asbestos, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, pollen, and mold, may be found in carpeting, cleaning supplies, paint, dust, woodstoves, and second-hand smoke. These pollutants can lead to illnesses big and small.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “the likelihood of immediate reactions to indoor air pollutants depends on several factors including age and preexisting medical conditions. In some cases, whether a person reacts to a pollutant depends on individual sensitivity, which varies tremendously from person to person. Some people can become sensitized to biological or chemical pollutants after repeated or high level exposures.” More long-term health effects, the EPA notes, such as some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, may show up years after exposure.
When it comes to unhealthy indoor air, the EPA points out that there are several pollution sources, including:
- Residential wood burning stoves and appliances
- Tobacco products
- Building materials and furnishings, including
- Deteriorated asbestos-containing insulation
- Newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet
- Cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
- Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies
- Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
- Excess moisture
- Outdoor sources such as
- Outdoor air pollution
How to Improve the Air Quality in Your Home
With so many potential pollutants in our home, what’s the best way to improve indoor air quality? Opening your windows for fresh air isn’t the most feasible option in the winter. However, the American Lung Association and other organizations recommend healthy, easy remedies to freshen the air in your home during the coldest months of the year.
- NASA research has identified many common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution indoors. Research shows that some houseplants are better at removing formaldehyde from the air, while others do a better job on benzene. University of Minnesota Extension, for example, lists a variety of house plants on its website that help combat indoor pollution, from spider plants and golden pothos to Chinese evergreens and the bamboo palm.
- Make your home a smoke-free zone.
- Test your home for radon, an invisible gas that causes lung cancer. Every home should be tested as radon may be found in any home. If your home has high radon levels, you can fix the problem with a radon mitigation system.
- Keep humidity levels under 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner as needed, and clean equipment regularly to prevent additional pollution.
- Fix all leaks and drips in your home. Standing water and high humidity encourage the growth of mold and other pollutants.
- Avoid burning wood because it adds pollution indoors and out.
- Don't use scented candles or fragrances to cover odors.
- Use cleaning products that disclose their ingredients so you know what you are using around your home.
- Don't store hazardous chemicals in your home.
With these steps, you’ll be able to breathe a little easier this winter.
For more information about indoor air quality, visit the American Lung Association at www.lung.org.