Clear the Air!
We often take it for granted, but the quality of the air we breathe plays a major role in our health and wellbeing. Poor air quality has been attributed as a causative factor in a number of serious health conditions, and according to the Harvard School of Public Health, poor air quality – otherwise known as air pollution – kills more than 3 million people a year worldwide.
That is a pretty dismal statistic, and one that makes you want to run for cover in the safety and clean air of your own home. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that for many of us, the quality of the air that’s inside our homes in actually worse than what we’re breathing when we’re outside.
At first this seems impossible. Smog, pesticides and vehicle emissions alone are enough to make any reasonable person question the suggestion that the air inside their home is actually worse. Still, our homes are packed with air pollutants, many of which you might not even be aware of.
Considering that we’re heading into a season of cold weather, closed up windows and heating systems that continue to circulate the same stale air throughout your home, now is the perfect time to consider what steps you can take to clear the air before months of being stuck inside, breathing polluted air take a toll on your health.
The Damage That Comes from Breathing Polluted Air
Because we can’t always tell when the air quality in our homes is less than stellar, we’re often slow to associate it with the occurrence of many of the chronic health problems that we suffer from today.
For example, you probably know that poor air quality can lead to asthma and allergies, but did you also know it can contribute to migraines and even digestive issues? These consequences are serious for even the average person but can pose an even more dire risk for those with compromised immune systems, breathing issues and children whose small bodies are less efficient at filtering out high amounts of toxins.
Some signs of poor air quality are immediately obvious, for example how your sinuses suddenly seem to be on fire the first time you turn on the heat each winter, or how allergies tends to get a little worse if you don’t remember to change the HEPA filter in your vacuum cleaner. These sudden onset symptoms usually have immediately identifiable causes, so they’re easy to fix.
Other times, the culprits aren’t obvious, and the damage accumulates over years.
For instance, long term exposure to toxic mold can cause a slow onset of a multiple symptoms, or how prolonged exposure to potentially carcinogenic molecules floating through the air might play a contributing role in the development of lung or other types of cancer. These suggestions aren’t meant to be perceived as scare tactics, but rather to stress the importance of keeping the air in our homes as clean as possible.
What Are the Sources of Indoor Air Pollution?
The unfortunate fact is that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to eliminate every air pollutant in your home. There are simply too many potential pollutants infused in practically every aspect of our life, and even the most cautious person will inevitably carry toxins into their homes from the outdoors on the clothing, footwear and even their skin.
Sounds hopeless, right? Not at all. Thankfully, our bodies are amazingly resilient and capable of fighting off a great deal of the stress from toxic overload. The goal isn’t to become obsessive about purifying the air, but rather develop a healthy approach to reducing or eliminating as many of the common pollutants from our home as possible.
Some of the most common household air pollutants include:
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC): VOCs are incredibly common home air pollutants because they’re found in so many of the products we use every day. VOCs are found in products that come in the form of aerosol sprays, perfumes, hair sprays, fabric softeners, and craft supplies like glues and paints.
You can usually feel their initial impact with nasal, throat or eye irritation, but prolonged exposure can cause problems with the nervous system and kidneys.
- Formaldehyde: This is one of those sneaky air pollutants that can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms such as nose and throat irritation, coughing, headaches and nausea.
Formaldehyde is commonly found in pressed wood products – think along the lines of paneling, anything made with plywood or furniture crafted with any type of pressed wood pieces. You’ll also find formaldehyde in insultation, carpeting and certain adhesives.
- Carbon Monoxide: This is one of the more dangerous air pollutants, especially this time of year as those of us in colder climates begin to close up the windows for the winter. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that’s the result of the incomplete burning of fossil fuels.
Common sources of carbon monoxide includes gas heaters, gas stoves, improperly ventilated wood stoves and from leaving cars running in a closed garage. Carbon monoxide exposure is very serious, with symptoms that include headaches, nausea, disorientation, trouble breathing and in extreme cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal.
- Biological Invaders: These are all the biological contaminants that invade your air and cause havoc on your health. This category includes all the viruses and bacteria that find their way into your home, as well as mold and mildew that creeps in and grows in the darker, damp corners of your house.
The reasons why you want to keep bacteria and viruses to a minimum is obvious, but it’s also important to keep an eye out for mildew and toxic molds that can also attack your immune system.
- Tobacco Smoke: It’s suggested that cigarette smoke contains somewhere around 4,000 different compounds, with the majority of them being toxic in some way. Some of the more recognizable compounds include acetaldehyde, acetone, ammonia, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, carbon monoxide and tar. Not exactly a cocktail you would voluntarily breathe in if someone handed it to you.
When you smoke indoors, you are infusing the air with these compounds, and they’re also depositing themselves on clothing, furniture and carpeting. Kicking the habit is the best solution, but if that isn’t possible, opt to only smoke outside to keep the air in your home as clean as possible.
Purifying the Air Naturally
The above list only covers some of the biggest culprits. Air contaminants can also be found in many of the household products we use ever day, including cleaning supplies, air fresheners and other non-assuming household staples. Most of simply can’t go on a full toxin cleaning spree – especially since this might involve replacing the paint, carpet and all the furniture in one swoop.
Instead, there are smaller steps you can take to purify the air in your home. Each one adds an additional layer of protection as you work towards the goal of becoming a toxin-free home. Here are 10 easy steps to get you started.
Take a Tour and Eliminate the Source
It’s a good idea to start by taking a tour of your home and make notes about where possible sources of air pollution exists. Be on the lookout for areas of dust build up and excessive moisture. These are common breeding grounds for biological contaminants.
Next, make note of chemical products like air fresheners and detergents that are commonly used in your home and research non-toxic alternatives. Finally, research the toxin potential of your furnishing, flooring, etc. You might not be able to replace them all at once, but you can start a wish list for replacing what you’re willing to let go of with non-toxic alternatives.
Have Your Heating/Cooling Systems Checked Annually
This is especially important as we’re heading into the winter months. Improperly working heating systems can pose a threat to your health, plus most services also include a cleaning to sweep out all the dust and debris that has accumulated in your vents. Also, if you have a working fireplace or wood burning stove, it’s equally important to have them checked and schedule a chimney sweep before the cold weather has arrived in full force.
Air Out When You Buy New
Weather permitting, it’s best to give any new furniture and floorings a chance to air out in the open outdoor air before bringing it into your home. For example, anyone who has ever brought a memory foam mattress into their home can probably relate to being overwhelmed by the smell. If you can smell it, trust that it’s also releasing compounds into the air. The more that you can air these items out before they enter your home, the better.
Consider Natural Heating/Cooling Options
While a properly working heating and cooling system is a must, it’s even better if you can minimize your use of it. Consider alternate ways of maintaining a comfortable temperature in your home. For example, invest in windows and window treatments that help to insulate your home against both cold and heat. Likewise, a ceiling fan can be used to help circulate the air and keep the temperature comfortable, or in warmer weather you can fill your windows with houseplants to create a natural shade.
Speaking of Houseplants
Houseplants are one of the most effective air purifiers you can have in your home, and they as a bonus, they add a touch of natural beauty. Even if you don’t have a green thumb, there are options out there for you that are pretty durable and relatively easy to maintain.
Plants like rubber trees, butterfly palms, peace lilies and ivy are exceptionally good at cleaning the air. If in doubt, a good rule of thumb is the more surface area of the leaves, the better it’s purifying potential. This might come in the form of a plant with several large leaves, of one with many smaller leaves.
Be Mindful of Cooking
This is something we don’t always think of, but how we cook and the ingredients we use can have an impact on the quality of the air in our homes. For example, cooking with oils that have a low smoke point is going to fill your kitchen with clouds and fumes that might seem like they disappear quickly, but actually can linger for hours. Instead, choose oils and cooking methods that minimize the production of smoke and its byproducts in your home.
Purchase an Air Purifier
Today’s air purifiers are highly efficient, use minimal electricity and are quiet enough that you might not even know they’re hard at work. The best ones work to reduce a number of air contaminants. You can level up your air purifier’s power by installing filters made using activated charcoal, typically called active carbon.
Opt for Beeswax
Candles add a wonderful ambiance to your home, but those paraffin candles you’ve been burning could be infusing your air with toxic chemicals like petroleum byproducts. Beeswax candles on the other hand, produce none of these toxic chemicals in the burning process, and they can even help neutralize toxins by ionizing the air.
Make It Yourself
There are more benefits to making your own household supplies than just a cost savings. Taking the time to make things like your own cleaning supplies, detergents, air fresheners and even certain beauty products can significantly reduce the amount of toxins you’re exposed to and inhale each day. Plus, you might be surprised at just how easy and effective crafting your own homemade products can be,
Himalayan salt lamps have been trending for a couple of years now, and with good reason. The ancient salt is said to release negative ions into the air when gently heated. People who use Himalayan salt lamps report a number of benefits, including reduced allergy symptoms, less coughing and better sleep. These lamps come in a variety of sizes, so you’ll want to make sure that the one you choose is sized appropriately for the room they’re used in. For example, a smaller lamp might be perfect for your bedroom, but a larger one or even two smaller ones would be more appropriate for a larger living space.
The quality of the air that surrounds us is incredibly important to our health. Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over air quality, especially when we’re outdoors or in communal spaces – like office buildings. This means that you need to do everything that you can to clear the air and breathe freely at home. These suggestions are just a first step. The rest comes from conscious living and a commitment to nature in every aspect of your beautiful life.
-- Angela Irish, Certified Aesthetician & Co-Founder OZNaturals