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a guide to indoor air quality

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With a respiratory illness robbing most of the planet of any sense of normalcy or stability right now, it’s understandable to have a hypersensitivity to air quality. You may believe that all the “bad air” is outside. You may think that once you go into your home, away from the buses, the airplanes, the exhaust coming off of other buildings, and the spray paint on sidewalks, that you’re safe. But a lot of what’s outside gets inside. Your home is not entirely airtight. Not only are there cracks beneath windows and doorframes, but you actually open those windows and doors several times a day. Furthermore, the materials with which your home was built are not entirely impermeable. Pollutants can get in through your walls and flooring.

Luckily, since the inside of your home is your domain, you do have the power to take steps to improve the air quality within it. We may have to wear masks for years to come for a variety of reasons – between air pollution and COVID-19 – but your home should be a place where you can breathe freely. Literally. There are a combination of steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home, that involve both monitoring what you bring in, and reducing what’s already there.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Vacuum regularly

Take a good look at your vacuum and make sure that it has a HEPA filter. HEPA stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Absorbing and items with a HEPA filter can pick up 99.97 percent of particulate pollution including viruses, bacteria, mold, and pollen. Check the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values on your vacuum. You can find a rundown of the different levels here, but know that the higher the rating, the better the filter is at trapping particles. Follow guidelines to regularly clean your filters to keep them in optimal condition.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Test your home for radon

Radon is a naturally occurring gas to which humans are most commonly exposed through the soil beneath their homes. Prolonged exposure to radon can increase one’s chances of developing lung cancer. If you have not already done so or don’t have a recent radon test from the previous owner of your home, or your landlord, have a radon test performed. If your home tests high for radon, follow the American Lung Association’s guidelines on what to do next. It may involve having a professional install a radon mitigation system, which contains a series of parts aimed at minimizing how much radon enters your home.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Don’t buy this furniture

According to the Center for Environmental Health, there could be all sorts of toxins hiding in your furniture. So when you’re picking out your next couch or desk, don’t just consider the aesthetic – also make sure there aren’t things like formaldehyde, flame retardants, or phthalates in it. The CEH breaks down exactly why each of the common furniture toxins are harmful, and why we don’t need them in our furniture. They also provide a list of manufacturers making furniture that doesn’t contain these additives.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Easy on the Aerosol

For a long time, there was concern that Aerosol contained ozone-depleting chemicals that were destroying our environment. The truth is that they haven’t contained these since the 1970s, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for our planet or your health. Aerosol products today still contain volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to asthma and other respiratory issues. So if possible, turn to non-Aerosol products for things like hair spray and air freshener.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Choose the right paint

Those volatile organic compounds (VOC) that you want to avoid in your hair spray – you also want to avoid them in your paint. Especially the paint you use on the inside of your home. Not only can these chemicals be harmful in and of themselves, but they can also mix with other chemicals to form further pollutants. When buying paint, look for low VOC or zero VOC options.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Monitor humidity levels

The reason you want to monitor humidity levels in your home is that high levels can cause mold and mildew to develop. According to the CDC, it’s quite common to find mold in households, and those with allergies or asthma must be particularly careful about preventing or minimizing mold growth as it can increase symptoms. Recommended humidity levels are between 30 and 50 percent. If you live in a humid environment, you may need a dehumidifier to keep levels down to that range. If you live in a particularly dry environment, you may need a humidifier.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Use dust-mite proof products

While it’s good to use HEPA vacuums to remove dust mites from your home, there’s also value in preventing their prevalence in the first place by getting dust-mite resistant mattress covers, pillow covers, comforters, and any other large fabric items you have in your home. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, consider transitioning to more hard flooring, as carpet attracts dust mites and allergens.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Use unscented products

If you want your home to smell like spring rain or ocean spray, you may be out of luck because the American Lung Association says that even cleaning products with “natural fragrances” can react with other pollutants in your home and cause health problems. Stick with non-fragrance dish detergents, laundry detergents, furniture polish, and oven cleaners – to name a few.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Find no-smoke candles

When sniffing all of those wonderfully scented candles, take a look at the ingredients list. If you see “Paraffin,” walk away. Paraffin, an ingredient that comes from petroleum, is suspected to emit carcinogens. Instead, look for beeswax candles. Beeswax candles emit negative ions that neutralize air pollutants, and can improve indoor air quality.

a guide to indoor air quality

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Prevent mold

Mold can be more than just a nuisance: for those with auto-immune conditions, it can lead to dangerous infections. It’s important to do what you can to prevent mold in your home. The CDC recommends immediately removing any mold you spot with household cleaning products, and taking further steps to keep it from coming back. Those steps involve controlling moisture levels, using exhaust fans to keep air free-flowing, removing upholstery or fabric that may have developed mold, and other methods listed here.

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