21 APPLIANCES THAT AFFECT INDOOR AIR QUALITY
When discussing indoor air quality, we seldom consider the contributions to bad air by the appliances we use every day. There are many different appliance types that are used in most homes these days. Almost any appliance you can think of, from your curling iron to the dishwasher and everything in between, can contribute to the bad air in our homes and potentially affect our health.
We are going to take a look at each one and see how their use can create indoor pollutants that end up in the air we eventually breathe. You might just be surprised at just what contaminates these appliances are capable of putting into your home’s air.
Appliances used in the bedroom:
Televisions – Televisions, and most other consumer electronics, emit dangerous chemical compounds into the air known as VOCs. Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs as they are known, are chemicals that are released from the materials that make up the television. The process is known as outgassing and it happens when trapped chemicals left over from the manufacturing process escape into the air.
Everything manufactured these days outgasses to some extent. Anything from your electronics to the carpets covering your floors emit these hazardous compounds to some degree. Televisions generate a lot of heat as they operate, and this heat helps to speed up the outgassing process.
Normally, the outgassing is highest when the product is new, but the process can continue for years and indefinitely in some cases.
VOCs can cause any number of health-related issues from simple allergy related symptoms to major diseases such as heart disease and kidney disease. They can affect the central nervous system and, certain VOCs such as Benzene, are known to cause leukemia.
Humidifiers – Humidifiers work to increase humidity levels in your home by introducing water vapor into the air. They do this by several means but usually it is through producing a mist or through evaporation.
Ultrasonic Humidifiers – These units produce a fine mist via ultrasonic vibrations
Whole House Humidifiers – These are large units that are incorporated into the design of the home’s central HVAC system. These put water vapor into the air that is distributed throughout the home via the home’s duct system.
Impeller Humidifiers – Impeller humidifiers create mist from a rotating disk.
Evaporators – These blow air through a wet medium such as a filter, wick, or belt to evaporate water vapor into the air.
The problem with these units is that they have to be maintained thoroughly. Also, distilled water must be used, or they can end up spewing anything from mineral dust to bacteria and even mold into the air.
The water in these types of humidifiers must be changed often to prevent bacterial growth. 3 days is the recommended interval for this. Also, the reservoir must be cleaned out before re-use. Rinse out with 3% hydrogen peroxide to kill any bacteria still lurking in the unit prior to re-filling.
Lastly, one must be careful in raising the humidity level too high in the home. A humidity level of 35% to 50% is recommended. Anything over 50% encourages mold growth and contributes to high dust mite populations.
Vaporizer – Very similar to humidifiers in that they also put water vapor into the air. The difference is that vaporizers use steam to accomplish this task. The risks are the same with the steam vaporizer if proper maintenance is not done.
There is another risk with the steam vaporizer, particularly if you choose to use tap water instead of distilled water. Trace chemicals such as chlorine, chemicals related to petroleum products, even radon are some of the VOCs that can be found in some tap water. These Volatile Organic Compounds can be emitted into your home during the heating process to produce steam.
Appliances used in the bathroom:
Hair Dryer – These devices emit a large amount of Ultra Fine Particles (UFP) during operation. UFPs are the most dangerous to breathe in because they can enter the lungs and then the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, UFPs can cause many health issues. VOCs are also emitted from the device itself as well as any product remaining in your hair.
Curling Iron – Curling irons also emit UFPs along with VOCs from products in your hair and even outside air pollution that has collected in your hair. This effect is exacerbated by the relatively high heat of the iron itself.
Appliances used in the kitchen:
Ovens and Stovetops – Ovens and stovetops are well documented VOC and particulate producers. This is especially true of gas fired appliances. During the cooking process, VOCs are emitted from the burning flame and the food being cooked as well. UFPs are also produced in massive quantities during cooking.
Use of these appliances is very high on the list of the most prolific pollution producers in your home. A range hood vented to the outside air should always be used when doing any type of cooking.
Toaster Oven – Studies have found that the toaster oven emits more UFPs than any other device in the home. Use this device sparingly and when you must use it, make sure the area is well ventilated.
Dishwasher – A study done at the University of Texas has found that opening the door just after the cycle completes releases a large number of VOCs that were brought into the home in the tap water supply. As was discussed in the vaporizer section previously, trace chemicals such as chlorine, chemicals related to petroleum products, even radon are some of the VOCs that can be found in tap water.
It was proven that these chemical compounds can outgas from the water during use in your home. The process is helped along greatly by the heating of the water in the dishwasher. To help avoid that big out rush of steam, wait a few minutes before opening a dishwasher that has completed its cycle.
Refrigerator – Home refrigerators can emit VOCs just like any other manufactured device. Because of the amount of plastics and insulations used in the construction of these appliances, they can outgas for years.
Mold growth can be an issue with refrigerators because of water condensation. Mold can grow both inside and outside the unit and can be in places that are hard to see. Finally, make sure the drip pan is emptied on a regular basis to prevent bacteria which can also end up in the air.
Coffee Maker – Coffee makers present some special hazards of their own, particularly when they are not maintained and kept clean. Mold can grow inside your machine and end up in your coffee or in your air. Bacteria growth in machines is well documented and a real hazard, particularly single cup varieties that are used by many people.
Some things you can do to help prevent these issues with your coffee maker include,
– Make sure your machine is dry after use. Wipe residual moisture away from the reservoir lid. Don’t let old pots of coffee just sit around. Pour it out and clean the pot.
– Clean your coffee maker with soap and water according to your manufacturer’s suggestions about once or week.
– Run vinegar through the machine once a month to clean all the inside surfaces thoroughly.
Popcorn Popper – I bet you never considered what this nifty machine was capable of putting into your air but get ready to be shocked. We’ll talk about actual stand-alone popcorn makers first and then move on to microwaved popcorn.
Most popcorn makers require the use of some amount of oil to facilitate the popping of the popcorn kernels. This oil is heated to a relatively high temp, so much so, that most oils start to reach their smoke point. This is when they release their maximum amounts of VOCs into your home’s air.
There are hot air popcorn poppers available that do not use oil but it is generally agreed that the taste is not as good as oil popped. These machines will still emit VOCs on their own regardless of what is inside because of the high heat required but not nearly as much as the oil based popcorn poppers.
Microwave Popcorn – Microwave oven popcorn is uniquely hazardous because of a couple of chemical compounds that are emitted during the cooking process.
First, perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA is found in the packaging and can become airborne during the cooking process. This chemical is classified as a likely carcinogen by the EPA.
The other chemical is actually found in the product itself in the flavoring of the popcorn. Diacetyl is the chemical compound that gives the popcorn its butter flavor and is harmful if inhaled. It is known to cause issues with the lungs including lung cancer.
Do not breathe in the steam vapors of a freshly made batch of microwave popcorn. Use the vent hoot and exhaust as much as possible out of the house.
In the living room:
Television – The hazards of VOC emissions from televisions have already been discussed earlier in this article.
Space Heaters – Using a non-electric space heater that is not vented is never recommended for use indoors. Use only electric space heaters if you must but keep in mind that, they too, can emit harmful VOCs from the very materials that make up your particular unit. A good thing to remember is that any device that heats up during use is going to produce VOCs simply because outgassing is almost always helped by the higher heats involved.
Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers – We’ve already discussed humidifiers by have yet to talk about dehumidifiers in this article. Dehumidifiers are designed to remove moisture from the air. This is highly desirable for a number of reasons.
First, higher humidity in your home encourages mold growth along with supporting the dust mite population in your home. We know both of these can cause health issues, primarily respiratory in nature, but not always.
If your climate is one that includes high humidity, then using one of these devices is highly recommended. Try to maintain a 35% to 50% humidity level for ideal comfort without mold growth.
Another reason your home may be experiencing high humidity levels is a water leak of some sort in your home. Make sure you check everywhere when a leak is suspected.
A poorly functioning central AC unit may be contributing to your problem as well. Normally, these systems pull moisture from the air but if your unit is not operating efficiently, it may not be pulling all the moisture out of the air that it normally would.
Dehumidifiers require some routine maintenance to keep them operating correctly. The water collection container must be emptied daily to prevent the unit from shutting down prematurely. Also, most units have an air filter of some sort integrated into the unit and it must be cleaned as well.
In the home office:
Computer – Your personal computer is a major collector of dust. Most people never turn off this device and therefore it sits there continuously pulling air into the case for cooling and expelling patrticulate laden air back out into the room.
Giving your PC a thorough cleaning occasionally will help to cut down on the number of particles emitted but it will not eliminate them.
Printer – Tests have been done to confirm that home office printers of all types can give off high levels of ultra-fine particles. Not all printers give off large numbers but, in general, laser printers were found to be more likely to be a big producer of these hazardous particles.
It is recommended that if you use a laser printer in your home office, that you make sure the area is well-ventilated.
Paper Shredder – Another major contributor of ultra-fine particulate matter into our air is the paper shredder. These devices have been found to emit large quantities of sub-micron particles. Emptying the collector of shred caused the biggest concentrations of particles in the air.
Use care when emptying a paper shredder. It is highly recommended to perform this task outside if possible.
In the laundry room:
Washing Machine – Washing machines, particularly front loading machines, pose a serious mold hazard to you and your family. Mold grows around and behind the door sealing gasket. Every time the door is opened, mold spores can be released into the air.
Here are some things that you can do to help deter this mold growth:
– Leave the door open when not in use. This will allow the area to dry out, thus cutting down on mold growing there.
– Always remove clothes as soon as they are done washing.
– Wipe down seals and any other areas with obvious mold often with vinegar.
– Use a dehumidifier in the laundry room to keep humidity levels down.
– Run through a wash cycle with no clothes. Use hot water and add vinegar instead of detergents.
Clothes Dryer – The main issue with the clothes dryer is the vent and keeping it open and vented to the outside. Do not vent the clothes dryer inside the home. This will spew large quantities of particles of all sizes into your home.
Make sure this vent remains open and not clogged. A clogged vent, aside from being terrible for your home’s air, is a major fire hazard.
Vacuum Cleaner – Vacuum cleaners should be equipped with a HEPA filter to help cut down on the number of small particles that are spewed out during operation. A good vacuum cleaner is an essential tool in the fight to maintain good indoor air quality in your home.
However, if you are using an older model without this filter, you are just sucking up particles from the carpets, drapes, furniture, etc. and throwing them back up into the air. Yes, you are collecting some in the container or bag, but ultra-fine particles are being spewed out in enormous quantities and you aren’t doing anything for indoor air quality other than making it worse than it was before you started.
Air Purifier – We highly recommend that you always use a good HEPA equipped air purifier in your home. Make sure it is equipped with a HEPA filter and has an activated carbon filter element as well.
The HEPA filter will remove particulates down to 0.3 microns and the activated carbon will remove VOCs from the air by absorption.
Air purifiers are sized by how much air they can clean and the square footage of the area you want to cover in your home. We recommend a larger unit for the main living areas and kitchen and placing a smaller, quieter unit in the bedroom.
Check out this article on choosing the right size air purifier.
Almost everything in your home, including yourself, contributes to your home’s poor air quality. Now that you are aware of how the appliances you use every day can pollute your air, you can start to make some small changes that could possibly lead to big changes in your home’s air quality.
At the very least, just being aware of these hidden dangers may change some behaviors in the way you use these appliances in the future. Small changes can have some large effects so get started today and breathe easier tomorrow.