12 Weird Ways Pollutants Get Into Your Home
Keeping indoor air clean is not easy with the constant influx of harmful and irritating pollutants from outside the home. Allergens, mold spores, smoke particles, other harmful VOCs, all find their way into our home in some rather sneaky ways. Some of these entry methods you may have never heard of or considered as a potential source of indoor air pollutants in your home.
Let’s take a look at 12 weird ways pollutants get into your home:
#1 – Blown in under doors and around worn-out weather stripping.
Stand back and look at your exterior door really good. Do you see any light getting through around the edges from the outside?
Look close at the bottom of your door. You may have to get down to floor level to get a good look, but chances are there some peeks of light coming through. Also check the weather stripping around the door. Often these are never inspected and they do wear out over time.
Both a worn out bottom door seal and bad weather stripping can allow air to flow into your home. With that outside air comes all the unwanted particles with it.
Check your weather stripping and get a good door seal for the bottom of your door. They can be installed rather easily and adjusted to close that gap between the bottom of your door and the threshold.
#2 – Carried in on clothing.
Your clothing acts like a particle magnet as you move throughout the day. By the time you get home, your clothes are loaded down with all types of particulate matter. Harmful contaminates like car exhaust gases, soot and smoke, even bacteria and viruses can coat your clothing in a microscopic layer of unwanted substances.
Why are particulates attracted to your clothing? It all starts in the clothes dryer. The drying process imparts a negative charge to the fabric. Ever heard of static cling?
Particles in the air usually have a positive charge. When you walk around all day with negatively charged clothing, particles are naturally attracted to you.
Toss in a couple of wool dryer balls or use unscented dryer sheets into the clothes dryer. This will eliminate that negative charge on your clothes and you will attract fewer unwanted contaminates to your clothing.
#3 – Carried in on shoes.
Just think for a moment about everywhere you have been today. Walked down a dirty sidewalk or through an oily parking lot? How about the restroom at work? Spend any time walking through the park or even in your own backyard? Now think about all those substances that your shoes have come in contact with today.
Your shoes are probably covered in animal feces, urine, pesticides, oils, and other assorted chemicals. They have picked up a ton of bacteria along the way and now it’s all in your home as soon as you walked through the front door.
Kind of scary to think about isn’t it? Well, there are a couple of small things that you can do to help keep this crud out of your house.
First, make it a practice to take off your shoes at the front door, or side door, or garage, or wherever you first make entry into your home.
A handy way to remember to do this is to place stackable storage bins, one for each person, by the entrance normally used by all family members. Place shoes in the bin before entering the living space of the home.
The second idea is to place door mats at all the external doors. Place a heavy-duty mat for outdoors and a lighter weight floor mat for inside the door. For guests and others that may enter your home with shoes on, a double mat system offers two chances to get the gunk off before it is tracked into your home.
#4 – Carried in on pets.
Cats and dogs who spend time both indoors and out are the main issue here. Yes, pet dander makes up a big portion of the dust in your home, but pet fur can attract and hold pollutants while your pet is outside. When Fido comes back in, all he has to do is shake once and particles fly into your home’s air.
The best solution here would be to either leave your pets outside or keep them inside, not both. With cats this is pretty easy to do, with dogs, not so much. If your dog lives with you inside your home, limit his outside excursions to just a few minutes when nature calls.
Of course, most dogs need some outside play time, but particles on his fur can be greatly reduced by giving him a quick brush off before bringing him back inside the home.
One more thing with pets, don’t allow them in your bedrooms. You spend a considerable amount of time in that room and you want the air quality to be as good as possible.
Pets supply a large amount of dander on which dust mites just love to feed, not to mention, all the other unwanted particulate matter they bring along.
#5 – Comes from attached garages.
If your home has an attached garage, some care should be exercised here. Garages tend to be pretty dirty environments, particularly if you park your car in it.
People tend to store chemicals in their garages as well. This can be a source of dangerous VOCs that could find their way into your home. Lastly, garage doors do not offer very good seal to the outside, so dirt and debris tends to be blown into a closed garage fairly easily.
With vehicles, you have to worry about all the hazardous materials that it has collected on the road as well as the unhealthy substances that come from its tailpipe. Never start your car’s engine with the garage door closed.
Even if you have started the door opening, it will take several seconds for it to fully open. This is more than enough time to completely fill up your garage with VOCs from the combustion of fossil fuels, the most hazardous kind of compounds to human health. A good portion of these VOCs will, more than likely, find their way into your home.
When coming home, immediately turn off your car’s engine but do not immediately close the garage door. Ideally, wait five to ten minutes for the exhaust odors to clear out before closing the door.
If you have a portable power generator remember to NEVER use it anywhere near your home. Keep it at least 25 feet away from any part of your home! Many people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning when they thought it would be ok to run their generator inside the garage if they leave the door open.
Portable gas power generators can put out several times more dangerous carbon monoxide gases than your automobile. Great care should be taken when using them.
One more thing with attached garages. Do not store dangerous, flammable substances such as gasoline, in your attached garage. This is very dangerous. I know this seems pretty obvious but I’m trying to cover all the bases here! As a matter of fact, storing chemicals of any kind in your garage should be avoided. Keep these materials is a separate storage shed, away from the main portion of your home.
#6 – Smoke from outdoor fire pits and Bar-B-Ques.
You probably have never considered that these traditional outside activities could be adding pollutants to the air in your home. Consider this, everyone is sitting around a nice fire, enjoying the evening. Smoke from the burning wood fills the backyard. You and your family members move in and out of the home as needed.
Gradually, everyone is coated in a generous layer of soot, flavored with a nice helping of VOCs.
When the night is over, where does everyone go? That’s right, into the house. You and all others, who have been enjoying the fire, have been continuously bringing into your home large amounts of these substances all night long.
Now, dirty, soot covered clothes begin to pile up around the house, sometimes for days before getting washed. All the time, VOCs are outgassing into the air, decreasing air quality for everyone who lives there.
What can you do to reduce the effects of outdoor fires on your home’s indoor air quality? Well, I’m not going to suggest that you never use your fire pit again or have a bar-be-que. That would just be wrong.
Some things you can do is to limit the number of trips back into the home while the fires are burning. Don’t burn in the fire pit or BBQ if the wind direction will push the smoke back towards your home. Smoke will get into your home quite easily if this is the case.
At the end of the evening, give everyone a damp towel to wipe off with. This is not a perfect solution, but it does work pretty well. Wipe yourself from head to toe, clothes and all. This will get rid of a great deal of the soot that is on your skin, hair, and clothes.
Wash clothing immediately if possible. Don’t let sooty clothes lay around for days. VOCs that have collected on them will outgas into your air. Put dirty clothes out on the back porch if you can’t get to them right away.
#7 – Downdrafts in fireplace vent pipes.
If you have a wood burning fireplace you are probably aware of how much smoke can escape into the home while it’s burning. For best air quality, keep fireplace use to a minimum.
When not in use, downdrafts can occur if the damper is not shut. These downdrafts can carry with them soot and VOC substances back into your home from the vent pipe itself.
Keep ashes cleaned up and if so equipped, keep glass doors closed. Do not store wood inside your home. Bring it in from outside as you need it. Wood can harbor mold which could end up in your air.
At the end of the season, thoroughly clean your fireplace and all tools and screens.
#8 – Opening windows during windy or smoggy situations.
Opening windows in your home is a good way to increase indoor air quality in your home. Most days, the air inside your home is dirtier that the air outside. Some days, quite a bit dirtier as a matter of fact.
These times are great for opening up windows and ventilating your home.
During certain times of the year, however, the outside air can be very dirty. It’s during these times that it is a good idea to just keep your windows closed. Windy days in dry climates tend to be very dusty.
The wind not only kicks up dusk but everything else you can find in unhealthy air like pollen, mold spores, and dust mites. Smoggy days occur near large metropolitan areas on mostly hot, muggy days with little wind to whisk these nasty pollutants out of the area.
#9 – Stuck or missing bathroom vent fan damper.
Running your bathroom vent fan is a good idea for a number of reasons. One reason is to help keep the humidity down. High humidity levels promote mold growth.
Mold is a major player when it comes to indoor air quality. It can have a wide range of effects on the human body ranging from minor allergy symptoms like sniffling and sneezing to more major issues like breathing problems.
Bathroom fans are required to be vented to the outside of the home by most building codes these days. What most people don’t realize as this vent, just like your fireplace needs to be shut when the fan is not running. This prevents outside air from back streaming into your home.
Normally a bathroom vent fan will have a damper built onto the unit. Some installers will also place a second damper on the end of the vent where it terminates outside the building.
If these dampers have been damaged of blocked open by other means such as animals or insects, outside air can enter back into your home through these openings in your homes envelope.
Another issue is the fact that almost nobody pays these fans any attention so they never get cleaned. Air back flowing into your home will bring all the dust and other particles that have been build up around and on the vent screen and fan blades, as well as the walls of the vent pipe itself.
How do you know if you have this issue? Well, one way is to simply check for air drafting back out of the vent opening with the fan off. Do this on a windy and cool day. If you feel anything blowing out, your damper is missing or stuck.
In either case, hire someone to come and check it out, or if you handy around the house, check it out yourself. There is nothing about it that is too difficult that most DIYers can’t handle it themselves.
#10 – VOCs from water inside home.
Now this may be a new one for you but did you know that researchers at the University of Texas have been able to document in a study that water sources inside your home such as showers and dishwashers can contribute to indoor air pollution.
They have determined that when your water contains trace amounts of harmful substances, these chemicals can be transferred from the water to your home’s air. Trace amounts of things like radon, chlorine, even chemicals related to petroleum products such as gasoline can be found in most drinking water supplies around the country.
In the study, it was found that these substances can move from the water to the air via a process called volatilization, also known as chemical stripping.
Some other interesting facts about these dangerous substances is that higher exposure rates seem to occur from breathing these into your body than from ingestion them. Something to think about for sure.
The group found that the dishwasher, found in almost all homes these days, was particularly effective in causing this chemical stripping process. The bulk of the chemicals were found to be released when the dishwasher door is first opened after the washing cycle was completed.
We’ve all experience that rush of steam as we’ve opened the dishwasher prematurely to grab something out of it that we really needed right away.
This study suggests to me that one should wait for quite some time before opening up a dishwasher that has completed its wash cycle. And to go along with this idea, we should never open one up mid-cycle as well.
Some things that you, as a homeowner can do to try and minimize these chemicals from getting into your air via the water are fairly simple and straightforward. Mainly, you want the area well-ventilated when using water in your home.
Hot water seems to be more conducive to the effect of volatilization than cold.
First, always use a vent fan in bathrooms when the showering or bathing or open a window for ventilation of possible.
Always use the overhead vent on your stove when boiling water.
Installation and use of activated carbon filters can be placed on faucets and showerheads to eliminate these trace chemicals before they are discharged into our home in the water supply.
And finally, use an air purifier equipped with HEPA filtration and activated carbon to remove both particles and VOCs from your air.
If you want to read more about this study conducted by the University of Texas, here is the link to it on the Science Daily website that I used as a source for this information:
#11 – VOCs from new carpet or furniture.
Most everyone has had the opportunity to enjoy the smell of new carpet that was just installed in their home. Did you know that this new carpet smell is actually the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) known as 4-phenylcyclohexene?
4-phenylcyclohexene has been known to cause eye and respiratory tract irritation and can even affect the human nervous system.
Other chemical compounds that can outgas from your new carpets include toluene, benzene, and even formaldehyde. In addition to the prior mentioned health issues, these VOCs can be responsible for headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and can instigate asthmatic reactions.
Read “Are my carpets making me sick?” here.
VOCs are naturally emitted from new carpet, furniture, draperies, and just about any other type of home furnishing you could imagine. The chemicals used in the manufacture of these various products are released from these materials by a process known as outgassing.
Outgassing usually occurs at higher levels when the item is new, but can continue for years afterwards, albeit at much lower levels.
Some things that you can do to help reduce the levels of VOCs in your home is to look for products that are certified as low-VOC or no-VOC.
Manufacturers are getting the message and are producing their products with ever-increasing healthier products and manufacturing methods. Also, check out alternatives to indoor carpeting in this article.
For VOCs that are already in your home, ventilation is a must to help lower levels of these pollutants in your home’s air. Open windows for up to 72 hours after new carpeting is laid can go a long way to lowering VOCs and improving your home’s indoor air quality.
If opening windows is not an option, the use of a high quality air purifier with HEPA filtration and activated carbon should be used to help remove these dangerous substances from your air.
The same recommendations apply to new furniture and other furnishings that you may bring into your home. These items outgas VOCs as well.
A good strategy is to put the furniture in a garage or shed for a couple of days to give it time to outgas chemicals away from your living quarters in the home.
Mattresses are another culprit of high VOC levels when they are brand new. Want to speed up the outgassing of these VOCs? If you are lucky enough to live in a temperate climate with lots of sunshine, you can use this to your advantage when it comes to airing out new items before bringing them into your home.
Lay your new mattress out in the sun for about 4 hours on each side. You can also move that recliner out into the sun for a little while. VOCs will boil off the surfaces of these products when heated by the sun’s rays.
Your indoor air quality will be much better as a result.
#12 – Seeping into our home through foundation cracks and holes.
Gases from decaying material in the soil under our home, or from chemicals spilled that have migrated through the soil via groundwater, can end up inside our come quite easily.
The most well-known and notorious of these gases is Radon gas. Radon is a naturally occurring substance that is created when uranium in the soils beneath our homes decays.
This lighter-than-air then makes its way up through the soils and gets trapped under foundations. It eventually finds a way into our homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation.
Radon has been determined to be the number two cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. according to the EPA. This dangerous gas can be found in about 6% of all homes in the U.S.
Other unhealthy gases that can seep up through our foundations include trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene. Both are chlorinated solvents used in many manufacturing processes.
Once these chemicals are leaked or spilled, they find their way to our groundwater and can then be carried out away from the source in what is known as a plume. Underground plumes of hazardous substances are being battled in many locations throughout the U.S.
If your home sits over one of these blooms, gases from these chemicals could be getting into your home.
If you are concerned that you may have an issue with Radon or one of these other chemicals, it may be time to contact a professional to assess your air quality.
Home test kits are available for Radon and are fairly inexpensive. These will give you a good idea if your home has high levels of radon or not.
Testing of TCE and related chemicals can be done by an air quality professional in your area.
There are mediation techniques to collect and vent these harmful substances from your home. They range from sealing up cracks in your foundation and openings around piping to under-foundation venting to help remove the gases before they have a chance to find their way into your home.
Again, find an expert in your area that can test your home and give you options to take care of the problems that will work for your situation.
Well, there you go. 12 weird ways pollutants get in our homes. I hope this article has given you some things to look for if you are concerned that you may have an indoor air quality problem.
Most folks don’t even realize that the air in their home is probably 2 to 5 times dirtier than the air outside and could be making them sick. Poor indoor air quality is a major contributor to both acute and chronic health issues affecting millions of people each year.
We are happy that you are thinking about you indoor air quality and hope this article has helped you. We have many more articles on the site that address these and even more issues affecting indoor air quality that we think you might find useful.