The air in our homes is very important to the health of our family. That air isn’t always as clean as you’d like but there are things you can do to improve the indoor air quality.
I am a lover of seasons. And with winter in full swing where I am in the Midwest, I am embracing the snow-covered trees and the frosty windows. There’s just nothing like having a cozy, warm home in the midst of chilly temperatures outside. But one thing I’ve learned as a building biologist and home inspector is that the winter can be a particularly unhealthy time for the inside of our homes.
In the chilly winter months, we rarely open our windows and oftentimes our homes are SO energy efficient that there’s very little fresh air being brought inside. Once every hour or so, our homes completely exchange air. This means that the air inside our home is completely replaced with fresh air from the exterior. This could happen through open doors, windows, small leaks and cracks in our exterior as well as through mechanical systems like an air to air exchanger.
The problem is, one air exchange per hour is a really low exchange rate. The toxins that we have in our air inside (from cleaning products, building materials, synthetic fragrances, etc.), get trapped in our homes and begin reducing our indoor air quality. In turn, poor indoor air quality ultimately affects our health and wellness.
The effects of poor indoor air quality range from mild respiratory irritation to reduced immune function in some. Many of the toxins we have within our homes also affect healthy hormone production and nervous systems. Our bodies eventually become burdened by the toxins we are constantly around and our overall wellness takes a hit.
THE THREE STEP PROCESS TO IMPROVING INDOOR AIR
The good news is there are many ways you can improve the indoor air quality within your home. I believe it’s a three-part process to clean up the air indoors.
The first part of the process is to remove the toxins that are reducing indoor air quality.
The second part of the equation is to introduce larger amounts of fresh air to dilute the indoor air.
And the third step we tack on to this is cleaning and remove dust, which is another really great way to improve indoor air quality.
TOXINS TO REMOVE
Removing toxins may sound simple, but for some, it can be overwhelming. Taking small, manageable steps and making changes slowly over time will help make these improvements permanent.
- Cleaning Supplies: Check out the Think Dirty App and enter in the cleaners you use. Depending on the grade, you might want to ditch your cleaners. (This includes laundry products, too!). Replacing your toxic cleaners with either homemade, natural options or healthier store-bought solutions is going to improve your air inside.
- Craft & Art Supplies: If you’re a crafter or you have a hobby that uses solvents, glues, or paints, consider storing them in an airtight container, or somewhere in your garage if possible. Even when sealed, there is off-gassing going on affecting the indoor air quality at home.
- Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is unfortunately in many of our furniture, building and textile products. While it can be difficult to know exactly what products contain formaldehyde, know that any sort of manufactured wood (plywood, medium-density fiberboard or particleboard) likely contains high levels of formaldehyde due to the adhesives used in the product. While you might not be able to remove these materials from your home, you can seal in the formaldehyde with a product by SafeCoat called Safe Seal.
- Plastics: Moldable plastics, like shower curtains and kitchen storage containers, can contain petroleum-based products that affect our endocrine systems as well as reduce our indoor air quality. Switching them out for natural materials like glass, stainless steel wood or cotton (in the case of shower curtains) will get the toxic phthalates in plastics out of your home.
- Synthetic Fragrances: Think candles, air fresheners, room sprays, plugins, etc. There are many places that synthetic fragrances end up in our homes, and unfortunately, they are one of the worst offenders when it comes to indoor air quality. Swapping out anything that has a scent with something more natural like essential oils or scent absorbing charcoal bags is a much healthier option.
HOW TO INTRODUCE NEW AIR TO YOUR HOME
Now that we’ve removed products from your home it’s time to figure out just HOW to introduce healthier air to your space.
- Open Windows: Yes, even in the winter. I rotate through my house once a week or so and open the windows for just 10-15 minutes. If it’s really cold outside, I close the door to whatever room I’m airing out so my furnace doesn’t have to work harder.
- Use Vented Fans: Fans in the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room often are vented to the exterior. These fans pull humid air outside to keep the indoor air dryer. But with pulling the air outside, it leaves room for fresh air to enter that space.
- Use an Air to Air Exchanger: This is a component that many people have chosen to install inside their homes to improve the indoor air. It brings outside air inside as well as pushed indoor air to the exterior. All air goes through filters, so you reduce any additional dust entering your home.
- Get Air Circulating: While running your HVAC or Whole House Fan doesn’t necessarily bring in the fresh air, it DOES get the air circulating so it ends up being exchanged at a more frequent rate. You can also turn on your ceiling fans, which will circulate air as well.
CLEAN UP TO IMPROVE INDOOR AIR
The final step to the improvement process is cleaning and removing as much dust as possible. Dust often contains chemicals, toxins and even pesticides that affect our indoor air quality.
- Dust with Water or a Spray: Wet dusting helps to remove additional dust instead of pushing it back into the air. You can make your own dusting spray that actually repels dust from a surface or simply use a damp cloth
- Wet Mop: A wet mop is a GREAT way to remove dirt and dust from floors without pushing it around to other corners. You can even fill your wet mop with a homemade cleaner to avoid introducing more toxins.
- Vacuum with a HEPA filter: A vacuum that contains a high-quality filter system that won’t let dust escape is key to vacuuming your home. Remember to occasionally hit the corners, furniture, and forgotten spots to really get the dust, dander and dust mites out.
- Clean Your Vent Grates: Cleaning the vent grates that bring air throughout your house is a great way to stop dust before it gets spread around. You can either vacuum the grates or simply wipe them down with a wet cloth. And for an additional bonus, have your vents cleaned by a professional every few years to remove the dust from your venting systems.
- Change Your Air Filter: If you have a forced-air system in your home, changing your filters frequently will help reduce the amount of dust that gets spread around. Make sure you’re replacing the filter with a high-quality carbon filter with a MERV rating of 12 or more. This will help minimize spreading dust through the air.
- No Shoe Policy: The best way to keep dust out from the get-go is to implement a no-shoe policy. Keeping shoes in a designated spot will reduce any chemicals, bacteria or pesticides from entering your home. Also, remember to wipe off paws as they can also track in debris.
With these simple steps, you can improve your indoor air quality this winter, even while your home is closed up. Making sure that cozy air is clean and healthy will help support your health and wellness all season long.
- Preparing a House for Winter: Non-Toxic House Detox Plan
- Indoor Air Quality Monitors and Tools
- 4 Sneaky Sources of Indoor Air Pollution
- What are the Benefits of Houseplants?