How Can I Clean My Home’s Air?

Couple enjoying fresh air in their home

Why is clean indoor air important?

It is a well-known fact that clean air plays a big part in one’s overall health. Countless studies have been conducted that prove this so we have to take air quality seriously, both outdoors and indoors. We all need to ask ourselves how can I clean my home’s air.

Irritating symptoms like coughing, wheezing, sniffling, and sneezing can all be caused by poor air quality. Asthma and allergies can all be caused by or aggravated by bad air.

Serious diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease have been tied to air quality as well which makes improving our air quality that much more important.

While each of us individually have little control over our outside air quality, there are many things we can to improve the quality of the air we breathe inside our home. 

By eliminating the things that cause air contamination in our home and implementing some common sense ideas that will remove what’s left behind, we can make a huge impact on our overall home air quality and live a healthier life.

 

What are some things that affect our home’s air quality?

You will be amazed at some of the everyday activities that are major polluters of your home’s air. 

Did you know that huge flat screen TV hanging on your wall emits a constant flow of dangerous chemical gases called VOCs into your home as you watch it? Pets contribute pet dander to your air.

Cooking can outgas numerous dangerous chemical compounds, and even cleaning your home with everyday household cleaners can add to your bad air quality.

As a matter of fact, you and your family add to your home’s poor air by bringing in contaminates on your clothing and shoes and even in your hair.

Do you or a family member smoke? If so, know that cigarette smoke is chock full of carcinogens that can linger in your air for long periods of time. Even pollutants in outside air such as engine exhaust and factory emissions can find their way into your home.

What are VOC’s and why are they dangerous?

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs for short, are dangerous gas substances such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, benzene, and xylene. These compounds are emitted from common household products continuously.

Electronics such as your big screen TV, microwaves, computers, and other appliances heat up and as they do, cause this outgassing to occur.

What about those new drapes you put up in your child’s bedroom? VOC emission occurs with almost any type of new fabric item you put in your home. Things like new carpets, bedsheets, mattresses, and furniture can all be huge sources of these volatile organic compounds.

Cleaning products, including floor polishes, and even air fresheners can contain VOC pollutants as well. Just about any type of chlorine or ammonia based products can be a source of these dangerous gas substances.

These volatile organic compounds can cause all types of issues with your health. Depending on the concentration level in the air, you could experience anything from minor eye irritation to heart attacks and everything in between.

Long term exposure is the most worrisome because we spend a lot of time at home, breathing these chemicals every day. Symptoms may be minor or there may be none at all for many years.

Meanwhile, these chemicals can build up in the body over time until they eventually cause these life threatening illnesses like kidney, lung, and heart disease.

How do I lower VOC levels in my home?

The most effective method of reducing VOCs from your home’s air is through ventilation. Open a window! Nothing is going to do more good than to cycle these airborne irritants out of your home.

By simply opening up a window for just five minutes a day, you will drastically cut down on VOCs and it didn’t cost you anything.

However, opening up the window can allow outside pollutants to get into the house as well. If you live next to a heavily traveled roadway or next to an industrial complex, opening your window may not be a good option.

There are several types of filtered ventilation systems available that you can incorporate into your homes overall HVAC system.

Do home air conditioning system filters remove VOCs?

Most home air conditioning system filters do not remove volatile organic compounds from your home’s air. Only air filters that incorporate activated carbon will remove VOC compounds from the air.

However, certain chemical compounds that are dissolvable in water are removed from the air by your home’s AC system because it naturally removes water molecules from the air as it operates.

What is an activated carbon filter?

Activated carbon filters are the only type of filters that are capable of effectively removing VOCs from the air. Small pieces of carbon that have been formed into a sheet or block and have been treated to become very porous make up an activated carbon filter.

The filter works on the process of absorption. As impurities enter the activated carbon, the VOC molecules react with the carbon, causing them to stick to the surface. Because activated carbon is very porous, there is an extremely large surface area in relation to the amount of carbon involved.

This allows for the carbon filter to trap a large amount of these harmful compounds before becoming saturated.

How can I clean my home's air.

Do plants remove VOCs from my home?

Indoor plants do absorb VOCs from your home’s air but the effectiveness of this method is up for debate. The general consensus is that they do remove VOCs but the amount they can remove is miniscule in comparison to the amount of these dangerous compounds that are generated in a typical family home.

Tests have been done to prove that plants are effective in purifying the air but these tests were done in a very controlled environment.

Most agree that the parameters set in these experiments are not found in a typical home and thus the generalization that home house plants will clean your air is not entirely accurate.

Is the smell of new carpet or new furniture dangerous?

For anyone who has had new carpet installed in your home, you are familiar with the new carpet smell. Generally it is not intrusive and to some it even smells pleasant.

Although we are talking about home air quality, that new car smell is exactly the same thing. It may smell great but if you knew what kinds of chemicals were entering your body, you might opt for a used car next time!

It is of all those toxic chemicals that were used in its manufacture that are starting to outgas that you smell.

What is the best way to deal with all the VOCs bubbling off of these products? Well, in the case of new carpet, opening the window in the rooms where it was installed will help. A period of a couple of days is best, longer if possible.

For furniture, it is recommended to not bring it into the house for a couple of days. Let it sit in the garage or a shed. Anywhere is better than in your home, at least for a little while.

Use the sun to decrease VOCs emissions from furniture and other items.

A good method to speed up outgassing is to let it sit out in the sun for a few hours if you are lucky enough to live in a temperate climate. The sun’s rays will heat up the surfaces of the furniture and speed up the outgassing effect.

By the way, this is also a good way to clean blankets and other items that cannot be run through a washing machine. It does sound weird, and your delivery men may look at you funny, but lay out a new mattress in the sun and let it bake off all those VOCs before bringing it into your home.

 

Don’t store chemicals in your home.

This one may be obvious but we chose to mention it just in case. As we have mentioned already, almost all household cleaning chemicals emit VOCs into your home’s air.

Only store what you absolutely need and only if they are in a sealed tight container. Never leave open containers of chemicals in your home.

What are some alternatives to chemical cleaning products?

Cleaning your home regularly with household chemicals also adds to overall poor air quality. Most store-bought cleaning products contain toxic substances that can be irritants to your eyes, nose, and lungs.

Many of these products contain scents that are left behind that continuously spew more irritants in the air for long periods of time after they are applied.

Use of air fresheners and cleaners do little to actually clean your air. As a matter of fact, they do the opposite.

By spraying these products into the air you are putting more chemicals into the air instead of removing anything.

Consider using green, or non-toxic solutions to clean your home. Some of the most common household items that are non-toxic and have good cleaning properties include baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and even essential oils.

Using a combination of these and other products to create cleaning solutions for almost any household cleaning problem.

Baking soda and vinegar all natural cleaning products to help clean your home's air

Baking soda can be found in just about everyone’s kitchen pantry. It is a great anti-viral that can cut through grease as it cleans and deodorizes. Use this product on just about anything that needs to be cleaned without worry as it is PH neutral.

With vinegar, you get a great natural degreaser and soap scum remover. It cuts through grime and is a staple of most homemade green cleaning solutions.

Who is not familiar with the great smell of lemon juice. It cuts through mold and mildew and a degreaser. It will shine your hard surfaces as well. Lemon juice is a popular ingredient in most home cleaner recipes.

Olive oil can be used as an effective cleaner and can also be used to polish wood furniture and floors.

Some other ingredients that are considered non-toxic would be castile soap and even borax.

Still other ingredients that you may have on hand include dish soap, rubbing alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide. These are not naturally occurring and may even cause some sensitivity issues with some people but are mild enough and considered non-toxic used in concentrations found in home use products.

If you still find yourself wanting to purchase home cleaning products instead of going natural, look for cleaners that specify Low VOC or No VOC on their labels. Also, always opt for those products that are unscented as well.

A quick search down the cleaning supplies isle at the local supermarket reveals that there is an ever-increasing supply of these so called “green” products being developed. Questions about their effectiveness verses the traditional brands has hampered their growth somewhat but give them a try and you might be pleasantly surprised.

How does cooking in my home affect the air quality?

Regularly cooking in your home can be one of the largest contributors to poor home air quality. Malfunctioning or poorly functioning appliances, gas cooktops, and cooking with oils with low smoke points all can be adding to your air’s contamination levels.

Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is generally a bad idea. It has one of the lowest smoke points and will start to break down at relatively low temperatures. When oil starts to break down during cooking, it will start to smoke.

Burned oil will pour chemicals into your home environment, filling the air with all sorts of unwanted particles and gases. While extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, some of the cooking oils that have a higher smoke point include corn oil and peanut oil.

Vegetable oil is right in the middle and canola oil is somewhere between vegetable oil and extra virgin olive oil.

Meat frying in pan on gas stove top

Cooking with natural gas, as a rule, is a major contributor to bad home air quality. To minimize the effect that these appliances have on your home’s air, get the gas jets cleaned and checked periodically.

This will ensure that the flame is burning as cleanly and efficiently as possible. These stoves emit nitrogen dioxide. This chemical along with sunlight will create ozone.

Ozone can be a substantial irritant to your respiratory system. It can induce coughing and severe wheezing. It can greatly aggravate asthma as well.

How Smoking Affects Indoor Air Quality

Ever had a guest over to your home that is a smoker? Even if they do not smoke while they are there, you can still detect cigarette smoke for a long period after they have gone.

This is because they were covered with smoke particles and chemicals before they entered your home. As they entered, they brought all their unwanted visitors with them. The particles fall from them as they interact in your home and refuse to leave when your guest does.

Cigarette burning in dirty ashtray with smoke

The same thing happens if you are a smoker but never smoke inside your home. It doesn’t matter. You are collecting these particulates every time you light up and they follow you right inside when you are dine, contributing to a poor air quality for you and your family.

Just walking through an area where someone has recently smoked layers you and your clothing in smoke particulates and residual chemicals that were just hanging around in the air before you walked by.

Ever had someone ask you if you had been smoking when you’ve never lit up in your life? Now you know why.

How pets affect our home air quality.

What about your pets? Did you know that Fido can carry all sorts of contaminates from outside back into your home? Car exhaust, mold, dust, all can piggy-back on your pet by clinging to their fur.

The dead skin from your pet, commonly known as pet dander, is also a large contributor to bad air quality. Pet dander, like dust mites, can cause breathing issues. If you have asthma, it can make your symptom worse.

These days, it is not uncommon to have two, three, or more dogs or cats living in our homes. Living in closed quarters with this many animals makes for a large amount of pet dander floating around in the air you breathe.

Some things you can do to minimize pet dander in your home is to first, keep your pets clean and groomed. Bath them regularly. Brushing them outdoors will also help.

It is a wise idea to keep pets out of the bedroom where you spend so much time. Finally, vacuum your floors and furniture often. Use a good vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. A good vacuum is a valuable tool to help clean your home’s air.

What is a HEPA filter?

HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air. It is an air filter certification standard that has a filtering ability to remove 99.9% of particles from the air that are of a size of 0.3 microns.

Now you might be wondering why 0.3 microns and what the heck is a micron anyway. First, a micron is actually an abbreviation of micrometer. A micrometer is a very tiny measurement that is defined as one millionth of a meter.

Just how tiny is a micron, well consider that a human hair can range from 60 to 75 microns and about 40 microns is the smallest object that we can see as humans.

Now consider that a HEPA filter is designed to trap particles 0.3 microns in size. A particle that is 0.3 microns, as it turns out, is the known as the most penetrating particle size when it comes to filtering them out of the air. In simple terms, they are the hardest to catch in an air filter.

There are scientific principles as to why 0.3 micron particles are hard to filter out of the air. For this discussion, it is important to understand that just because a filter says it can filter out very tiniest of particles, unless it is specified as HEPA, it is not the highest quality air filter available.

HEPA filters can be quite a bit more expensive than the normal pleated air filter that is so common. When it comes to the air your family breathes, I’m sure you will agree, it is worth the extra money to make sure they stay healthy.

Dust mites on skin

What is a dust mite and how do I control them?

Almost every home has an infestation of dust mites. These tiny creatures feast on our dead skin cells and the dead skin cells of our pets.

They are not parasitic and don’t bite us or burrow into our skin. These insect-like pests are very small, microscopic actually and the substances they leave behind can wreak havoc on our respiratory systems. It is the fecal matter and other body parts of this little creature that make up the allergen that causes all the problems. 

Long term exposure to dust mite allergens is responsible for a large array of respiratory symptoms including allergic reactions, itchy watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, etc. They can also cause those with asthma to suffer flare-ups.

For these reasons, dust mite control is a major step in reducing air contaminates and improving the overall quality of our home’s air.

Where do Dust Mites live?

Dust mites are everywhere in our homes. They live in mattresses, our furniture, in carpets, bedding, and curtains. Dust mite debris can be thrown into the air when you walk over carpets.

Vacuuming can spew these allergens up into your air unless you are using a HEPA style vacuum. Simple acts such as ruffling your bedding as you sleep at night can also launch this debris into the air, increasing the likelihood of it being inhaled and irritating our respiratory systems.

Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments such as bedding and furniture. They absorb moisture from the air so highly humid areas of your home will have the most dust mites living there.

This is why bedding has such a high likelihood of having dust mites. Sweat from our body and moisture from our breath are exactly what these little creatures need to survive.

8 methods to control dust mites.

1. Lower the humidity in your home. A humidity level of 35% to no more than 50% is best for the control of dust mites. If your home humidity levels are high, try using a de-humidifier or running your home’s AC unit which naturally reduces humidity levels as it operates.

2. Vacuum floors, furniture, drapes, mattresses, basically all the likely places these critters call home and use a HEPA equipped vacuum cleaner to do so.

3. Think about going carpet-less in your home. Removing carpets and transitioning to hardwood floors will do wonders for your home’s overall air quality. Not only will it drastically reduce your dust mite population, but it will also remove a major collector of all sorts of air pollutants that accumulate in your home.

4. Consider removing some furniture or switching to furniture with smooth surfaces. This will take away those dark, moist crevices that dust mites love to live in.

5. Switch to blinds instead of drapes. Again, this is one of those areas of the home that tend to trap and store all sort of airborne hazards. Like the furniture and carpets, drapes provide good homes for dust mites, particularly in our bedrooms and baths.

6. Use impermeable coves on your mattresses and pillows to keep dust mites from setting up home in them.

7. Dust often and use a damp cloth to prevent stirring up loose dust as you work.

8. Wash your bedding once a week in hot water. Be sure to dry them thoroughly.

Air Purifier

Should I get an air purifier?

Air purifiers can be another weapon in your arsenal to combat poor air quality in your home. There are a plethora of choices here when it comes to deciding on what type to buy.

A major misconception about air purifiers is that they are an end-all solution to bad air quality in your home. This is simply not true. There are some air contaminates that air purifiers simply do not remove and there are other limitations to their effectiveness overall.

Air purifiers should only be used in conjunction with an overall home air cleaning strategy that takes into consideration all the factors making your air unhealthy.

Removing sources of these contaminates will allow your air purifier to work more efficiently and aid in bringing your home’s overall air quality up to a healthy level.

How do air purifiers work?

Air purifiers are usually stand-alone units that bring in air from your home, filter it, and then return it back into your home. They can be placed anywhere in your home as long as there is an electrical plug available to power the unit.

Almost all models have a rotating fan that is used to move the air into and back out of the air purifier. This cycle of bringing in air, forcing through a filter, then blowing it back into the room repeats continuously and, over time, helps to reduce particulate contamination in the air you and your family are breathing.

Some air purifiers are incorporated into your home’s central AC/Heating as an add-on unit. This is a great choice for whole-home purification and can be a cost effective way to maintain a good air quality in your home.

What are some problems with air purifiers?

First, they tend to be noisy depending on several variables including the model, fan speed, where it is placed, etc.

Most units will be on par with your refrigerator running as far as how loud they tend to be. For most people this is not excessive but if you are one that is highly bothered by noise, this could be an issue. This is particularly true if the unit is being placed in the bedroom.

Second, air purifiers require routine maintenance. This is usually in the form of cleaning the intake grill areas of the unit and changing air filters.

air purifier hepa filter

Depending on the particulate level in your home and the model you are using, you could be doing this type of maintenance fairly often. Filters can sometimes become saturated in as little as a month or less. Check with the manufacturer on their estimates on how often the filter will need to be changed.

Another issue with air purifiers is that they need to be running all the time to do the best job. Air purifiers tend to be smaller and lightweight so that they are easily moved around the house. This means that they are not capable of moving massive amounts of air very quickly.

For this reason, they need to run continuously to give the unit time to cycle enough air through it to actually make a significant dent in the particulate level of your home’s air.

What are the types of air purifiers?

There are several types of air purifiers on the market today. The type of unit you select will determine what exactly you can expect it to remove from your air.

Some air purifiers only remove larger particles from your air like dust and dirt, pet dander, and hair. Others are capable of removing more dangerous contaminates like volatile organic compounds or VOCs as they are known.

Still other air purification systems are designed to remover the tiniest of pollutants such as bacteria, viruses, and mold. 

HEPA Air Purifier – These units use HEPA filtration to remove particulate matter down to the .03 micron size. This is a good choice for dust, dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold. Keep in mind that the filter itself will need to be replaced on a regular basis.

Ultraviolet Air Purifier – This type of air purifier uses an ultraviolet light (UV) to remove harmful bacteria, viruses and other pathogens from the air. UV Air purifiers are very effective at killing mold spores that pass through them.

They can be stand-alone units or incorporated into a whole-home unit as an add-on. The UV light bulb will have to be replaced on this unit, normally the recommended frequency is yearly.

Activated Carbon Air Purifier – The activated carbon in this air purifier is effective in removing VOCs, smoke odors, and other chemicals and gasses from your air.

Most of these units include a HEPA filter as part of the filter stream adding to the overall effectiveness of this unit to improve your air quality.

Of all the air purifiers on the market today, this one overall removes the largest number of contaminates with a reasonable effectiveness.

Ionic Air Purifiers – Ionic air purifiers operate on the principle that most particles floating around in your air are positively charged.

These units emit a stream of negative ions out into your room. The negatively charged ions are attracted to and bond with the positively charged particles creating a mass that is heavier than air. These particulates then fall out of the air and collect on various surfaces in our home.

Most Ionic air purifiers do not utilize a fan and therefore practically silent when running. The downside is that they don’t actually remove anything. The unhealthy particles simply collect on your home’s surfaces and can eventually find their way back into the air.

Another thing to consider with ionic purifiers is that these units emit ozone. Ozone can be highly irritable to some people.

Electrostatic Air Purifiers – Electrostatic Air purifiers use the principle of static electricity to remove impurities from the air.

These types of purifiers use a fan to pull in air from the room and, instead of passing through a filter, the air passes over charged plates in the unit. These charged plates attract and hold particles as they pass by in the airstream.

Over time, the efficiency of this type of air purifier degrades because of the particle build-up on the plates. These plates have to be cleaned on a regular basis to maintain the electronic air purifier’s air cleaning ability.

This type of unit can remove most types of contamination from your home’s air.

Conclusion

Poor indoor air quality is a major contributing factor to chronic health issues that people suffer with today. As homes have become more energy efficient, ventilation has decreased and air quality has gone down.

Many things contribute to bad air in your home and there are a plethora of actions you can take to combat this menace to you and your family’s health.

Let’s rundown some things you can do to improve your home air quality.

 – Try to reduce VOCs in your home.

 – Be careful about what products you use to clean your home.

 – Ventilate you home.

 – Cook with oils that have a high smoke point.

 – Have gas appliances routinely serviced.

 – Control humidity levels in your home.

 – Switch to hardwood or laminate flooring instead of carpets.

 – Switch to blinds instead of drapes.

 – Vacuum routinely with a HEPA equipped vacuum cleaner.

 – Wash bedding weekly in hot water, dry thoroughly.

 – Take shoes off before entering home.

 – Don’t allow smoking in your home.

 – Refrain from using air fresheners.

 – Get a HEPA equipped activated carbon air purifier.

 – Wash and groom pets frequently.

This is not a complete list but it is a good start if you are serious about improving your home’s air quality. Remember a clean home can still have unhealthy air.

Be aware of what could be lurking in the air you breathe and take actions to eliminate these dangerous substances. Your health could depend on it.

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