5 hidden sources of indoor air pollution and how to fight them

Did you ever wonder why you are concerned about the purity of the water you drink, but not the air you breathe every second? You inhale approximately 15,000 or more quarts of air per day without thinking exactly about what you are actually letting in into your body.
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identify hidden sources of indoor air

Clean air in living spaces is essential for life, and indoor air pollution is up to 5 times higher than outdoor air (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). There are many sources in your household where indoor air pollutants are released and can therefore  be dangerous for you. Find out what these sources are and what you can do about them in the following article.

Indoor air pollution: Cleaning Products (VOCs)

Many common household cleaning products contain harmful chemicals such as alcohol, chlorine, ammonia, or petroleum-based solvents that can negatively affect your health, irritate your eyes or throat, or cause headaches. Some cleaning products release dangerous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause chronic respiratory problems and aggravate allergies, asthma and other respiratory conditions. Products containing VOCs include most aerosol sprays, chlorine bleach, carpet and upholstery cleaners, furniture and floor polishes, and oven cleaners.

The best way to reduce indoor air pollution is to limit the sources of VOCs. Some items can produce such high levels of VOCs that it is safer to remove them altogether.

Since potential sources of indoor air pollution can be identified mainly with certain detection devices, and not everyone has these in their homes, there are some other ways to minimize airborne exposure to VOC particles.

When dealing with weak VOCs, ventilation can significantly reduce VOC exposure, especially if rooms have been painted or new carpet or vinyl flooring has been installed. You can increase ventilation not only by opening windows and doors but also by using fans to let in outside air. It’s also helpful to keep the temperature and humidity low, as chemicals like formaldehyde become more volatile when it’s warm or humid. When buying new items, be sure to use products (e.g., paints, carpets) with low or no VOC content and wood items with low-emitting finishes. Allow products to “outgas.” If you buy a new sofa, let it sit in the garage for a few days before bringing it into the house. Seal particle boards or pressed wood furniture with varnish before bringing it into the house. If you buy a new carpet, ask the installer to air out the carpet a few days before installing it.

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Indoor air pollution: Furniture

Chemical flame retardents are common in a variety of household items including furniture since they have been mandated to protect against fires. However, they are proven to be associated with numerous health and enviornmental problems. Additionally, they can make fires toxic by being responsible for the formation of soot and deadly gases, which are considered the real killers in most fires. Fire retardants are most commonly found in furniture that contains polyurethane foam, including sofas and upholstered chairs, futons, and carpet padding. They are also found in children’s car seats, changing table cushions, portable crib mattresses, sleeping mats, and nursing pillows. They migrate out of products and contaminate household dust, which accumulates on floors where children play and can also become airborne.

Fire retardants are nearly impossible to avoid completely. However, if you take these precautions, you can minimize your exposure:

  • Vacuum carpets with a vacuum containing a HEPA filter.
  • Inspect the foam padding for damage. Make sure cushion covers are intact, as exposed foam allows fire retardant chemicals to escape more quickly. Items such as car seats and mattress pads should always be fully encased in protective fabric.
  • Educate yourself before buying baby products such as crib mattresses and car seats, and choose products that do not contain fire retardants.
  • When buying a new couch, choose one without fire retardants. Look for the TB 117-2013 label and verify with the dealer that the product does not contain flame retardants

Indoor air pollution: Kitchen stove

A poorly ventilated kitchen can also cause a large amount of indoor air pollution in your home.

Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide, which is created when fuel is burned at high temperatures. Nitrogen dioxide mixes with the air to create nitric acid and toxic organic nitrates. These can irritate the lungs and reduce resistance to respiratory infections such as influenza. According to the EPA, frequent exposure to high levels of nitrates can cause acute respiratory illness in children.

Always make sure your kitchen is well ventilated during and after any type of cooking – not just when you’re burning something. Installing a high-quality fan or range hood can greatly improve air quality. If, as in some apartments, you don’t have a fan or range hood, be sure to cook with the windows open nearby.

Indoor air pollution: Painting

When new paint is drying, indoor air pollution (VOC) levels can be 1000 times higher than outdoor levels. Paint is known to release VOCs into the air. Since paints are often applied in occupied spaces, and VOC emissions can continue even 6 months after application, people are more likely to be exposed to vapors from freshly painted surfaces. Some of these indoor air pollutions are known carcinogens – meaning they have been linked with cancer. These chemicals include methylene chloride and benzene. Even if you haven’t painted in years and live in an older home, the walls may be coated with lead paint, which was banned in the late 1970s. Lead can be a potent neurotoxin even decades after a room has been painted, as the paint chips, flakes and peels off the surface. Many of these chips are pulverized into microscopic particles that become part of the indoor air pollution you breathe. New paints typically contain VOCs and can off-gas weeks or even months after a room is painted. Paint fumes can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, asthma exacerbation, fatigue, skin allergies, confusion and memory impairment.

When buying paint, choose brands that are VOC-free. These paints are just as good as regular interior and exterior paints, and as an added benefit, they also tend to dry much faster.

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Indoor air pollution: Candles

As beautiful as they may be, most candles cause indoor air pollution in your home with harmful gases and sediments. Regardless of what the candle is made of, all candles release sooty carbon particles as they burn, which can become airborne and cause respiratory problems. Kerosene candles are the worst. Kerosene is a byproduct of petroleum, coal or shale that has been bleached with bleach that infuses it with dioxins – one of the most toxic substances ever produced. Another chemical, acrolein , is linked to the risk of lung cancer from cigarette smoke and is added to the wax as a solidifying agent. Other toxins in candles include artificial dyes and synthetic fragrances, especially those used for aromatherapy. These ingredients often contain toxic plasticizers and solvents that are released when the candle burns.

A safer choice is to buy candles made from beeswax or vegetable oils and with natural dyes and fragrances. For more interesting information to keep in mind when making your next candle purchase in order to ensureyou’re not taking a health risk with your candle, feel free to check out another one of our Blogposts “How to NOT kill your crush at a candlelight dinner”.

All in all, it should be clear to everyone that our homes, the place where we humans should feel safest, provide many sources for the creation of indoor air pollution. By exposing ourselves for a long time, we can cause long-term damage to our body, which will limit us in our everyday life. In addition to the above measures, air purifiers in particular make a huge difference when it comes to air quality at home. The OneLife X air purifier protects your health and that of your loved ones from indoor air pollution. In addition to that, it is sustainable and therefore also good for the planet. Just visit our homepage to find out more.