Household Air Pollution

Tips For Clearer Inside Air
  • Don't smoke indoors.
  • Install a Carbon Monoxide detector.
  • Don't idle your car inside the garage.
  • Test for Radon.
  • Use Low-VOC paints.
  • Fix leaks in your roof or basement.
  • Clean your air conditioner and dehumidifier.
  • Ventilate to control humidity.
  • Avoid toxic products.
  • Ventilate your kitchen and bathroom.
Some Potentially Deadly Problems
  • Carbon monoxide kills 400 people nationwide each year and makes thousands more sick.
  • Between 7,500 and 15,000 children are hospitalized with respiratory illnesses that can often be traced back to second-hand smoke.
  • Radon gas is silent and odorless. It's also the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
Read more for tips about purifying the air in your home.

Indoor Air Pollution
Between summer's swelter and winter's chill, people will often "hole up" inside their homes. You might think, "Well, at least I'm not inhaling any pollution that hangs in the air outdoors." While that might be true, what about the air indoors? Just how healthy is the air inside your home?

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that indoor air can be 2- to 5-times more polluted than the air outdoors. While the EPA is responsible for cracking down on outdoor pollution - the smog, ozone and other chemicals that spew from tailpipes and smokestacks - protecting the air inside your home is largely yours.

Many sources of foul indoor air are fairly obvious and well-known: second-hand smoke, carbon monoxide and radon, to name the most prominent - and deadly. There are more insidious, secret sources of pollution that any concerned homeowner or parent should consider. Below are some of the most surprising.

Air Purifiers
You are so concerned about the quality of the air in your home that you’ve spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars on an air purifier, believing that it will, as one company claims, deliver a “shock treatment designed to kill mold and bacteria.” But an air purifier comes in the form of a highly touted mega-dose of ozone. Companies selling these air purifiers claim that’s a good thing.

Health officials know better.

Ozone is the chief component of smog. It can scar lung tissue, trigger asthma attacks, cause coughing fits and lead to permanent damage that could shorten your life. That’s why the EPA has been cracking down on the sources of ozone outdoors. In other words, ozone is nothing that you want indoors. The American Lung Association advises people against buying any air "purifier" that produces ozone.

What’s so bad about a rug? First, the obvious: Carpets harbor dirt, dust mites, pet dander, dirt, fungus and other unhealthy particles that can irritate the lungs, trigger asthma attacks or send some people into allergic fits.

Less obvious is the presence of suspect chemicals used to manufacture carpets that 'off gas" and can fill the room. The most common is formaldehyde, which will not only irritate the nose and throat, trigger asthma attacks and cause other lung damage, but could, based on laboratory studies on animals, cause cancer. The American Lung Association (ALA) recommends avoiding carpets completely.

If you already have 1, the ALA recommends using a HEPA (high efficiency particle air vacuum.).

Looks good on the walls, but what does paint do to your lungs - or your brain, for that matter?

Lead paint is a fairly well known danger, 30-odd years after the U.S. banned it. But old lead paint isn’t the only or most surprising way paint can damage indoor air quality. New paints release volatile organic compounds that may have a range of subtle health effects if breathed even in low doses over a long period of time. Ventilation is 1 key to reduce the harm from off-gassing paints. The better choice, though, is selecting a low-VOC paint in the first place.

Hobby paints and glues can be just as bad, or often worse, so avoid using solvents, glues or paints indoors. If there’s no other option, go overboard ventilating.

Cleaning Products
Spray bottles, sponges and the cleansers that break up dirt are supposed to leave your home cleaner, but many can also introduce unhealthy compounds into the air. The first thing that must be said is: Never mix a chlorine-based cleanser with an acid-based cleanser, like vinegar or ammonia. Don’t even clean the same surface with 1 and then the other. The result of mixing these 2 cleansers is potent - often deadly - chlorine gas. That’s the same chlorine gas that ties counter-terrorism experts up in knots. You don’t want it in your house.

The larger point is that many off-the-shelf cleansers contain powerful and often toxic solvents, antibiotic pesticides and other nasty chemicals. Chlorine is poisonous. Many household cleansers are unnecessarily hazardous, given that simple recipes with vinegar, baking soda and the like will do just as good a job without any of the risks.

Cabinets & Furniture
A lot of Cabinets, furniture, shelving, counter-tops and other household items were made with pressed wood that was likely stuck together with glue containing formaldehyde. As with rugs, the formaldehyde in the glue will "off-gas" over time, releasing small amounts into the air in your home. Avoid pressed wood products unless you know they are free from formaldehyde.

The Stove
We all know that ventilating a bathroom is important to maintaining good indoor air quality. Fail to turn on the fan after a few hot showers. Mildew and mold will inevitably sprout. Ventilating the kitchen is also important, according to the American Lung Association. Just the simple act of cooking on the stove, particularly a gas stove, can actually introduce unsafe levels of nitrogen dioxide into the air, increasing the risk of asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses. Also a concern is simple steam, which can do the same work as moisture in the bathroom at promoting unwanted mold growth.