How to limit exposure to indoor air pollution

here’s what you need to know

After finally escaping your stuffy office, you brave your commute and rush past that dusty construction site. But, as you enter your home and take a deep, cleansing breath, you may have walked into yet another major source of pollution.

The indoor air quality in our homes can be worse than we think – and it could be leading to a wide variety of health problems. Indoor air pollution (IAP) is a combination of outdoor polluted air that has seeped inside and internal pollutants - as our homes become more sealed, to keep noise out and heat it, they can also trap in more pollutants and allergens too.

While outdoor air pollution is regularly discussed, indoor air pollution gets little attention, despite the fact that it can be up to five times worse than outside air pollution. 

Professor Ian Colbeck, an indoor air quality expert from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, who has carried carried out extensive research into indoor air quality and its impact on health, has provided some of his top tips on ways to improve air quality in the home.

1. Need to smoke? Do it outside.

If you need to smoke, do it as far away from your home and any open windows as possible to prevent the smoke from seeping back indoors.

2. Love your rugs? Think again.

Choose hard-surface floors for every room to help prevent allergenic or harmful particles from building up. Then just use a microfibre mop to clean the floors every week.

3. Don’t be a doormat – beware your shoes

Help prevent dirt and debris from entering your home by placing a doormat outside your front door, and introducing a no-shoes-inside policy.

4. Cook without leaving a trace

Use an extractor fan whenever you cook to protect yourself from harmful levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) caused by gas cooking.

5. Banish condensation

Prevent condensation from creating harmful mould and damp by increasing ventilation in your home. Cover boiling pots and pans, open windows, keep the kitchen door closed when cooking, and use a humidity monitor to ensure the humidity level in your home is kept between 30 per cent and 50 per cent.

6. Go all-natural

Limit your exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be hazardous to your health by using products based on natural ingredients. If you do need to buy products that contain VOCs, buy just enough to use immediately so you don’t build up a stockpile.

7. Embrace the green stuff

Houseplants can help improve indoor air quality naturally and effectively. NASA recommends the following plants for removing air pollutants: English ivy, philodendron, bamboo palm, peace lily and mother-in-law’s tongue.

8. Purify the air

Houseplants work particularly well when paired with an air purification system that uses activated carbon filters and a fan. An air purifier can work wonders for improving the air quality in your home by capturing even the smallest allergens and pollutants from the air.

9. Eliminate odours, don’t just mask them

Although you may associate that pine-fresh scent with a clean house, it’s safer to find the cause of strange odours in your house and eliminate them completely, rather than masking them. Going back to tip 6, use bicarbonate soda as an all-natural odour eliminator instead. 

10. Ventilate

Perhaps the most obvious sounding tip, but keeping a fresh circulation of air in the house whenever possible can be very effective. Even five to 10 minutes can make a difference to the quality of air within the home.

What are the health impacts of indoor air pollution? 

Poor indoor air quality can lead to a whole host of health issues, while indoor air pollution was attributed to 99,000 deaths across Europe in 2012. Professor Colbeck explains that the “potential health impacts of IAP can include asthma, respiratory irritation, heart disease, cancer, and sick building syndrome.” Sick building syndrome includes headaches, tiredness and loss of concentration, and can particularly affect office workers.

How can air purifiers help reduce indoor air pollution? 

Investing in an air purifier can be an invaluable step when it comes to keeping your home free from air pollutants. Air purifiers work by drawing air into the machine, where filters trap dust and other minute particles including pollen, bacteria, ultrafine particulates, VOCs and even odours. The machine then releases the smooth, purified, clean air back into the home.

 

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