Volatile organic compounds, dust mites, fire-retardants, and formaldehyde—your indoor air may just be more polluted than the stuff you breathe outside in the city. Winter is an especially tough time to be breathing indoor air: well sealed windows and doors, while great for your heating bills, don’t allow much fresh air to circulate.
Here are some tips for improving your indoor air quality—at least until you can get outside and breathe the fresh stuff without freezing your nostrils shut.
Channel your inner Martha Stewart
Yes, it’s a drag, but keeping your floors swept, mopped and vacuumed will go a long way towards reducing allergens and irritants in your indoor air, especially if you have pets. For best results, vacuum two or three times weekly, and keep your vacuum’s filter nice and clean. Mop after you’ve vacuumed, and you’ll pick up dust that your vacuum leaves behind. Dust surfaces after vacuuming to pick up even more dust.
Go scent- and aerosol-free
While you’re on a cleaning kick, don’t re-pollute your air with artificial scents, which can be irritating to many people. Look for cleaners with natural ingredients or, better yet, make your own for a fraction of the cost. (There are some great recipes from green guru David Suzuki here.) Go aerosol-free completely, and look for unscented products wherever possible.
Keep your indoor humidity between 30 and 50 per cent
If your cat looks like she’s got her claws permanently stuck in a light socket and you can’t hug your kids without both of you getting a shock, then the humidity in your home may be too low. Keeping your home’s humidity between 30 and 50 percent will help ease up on dry noses and skin, so invest in humidifiers that are the appropriate size for your rooms and leave the bathroom door open when you’re showering. Too humid? Get a dehumidifier, especially if your basement is damp, and make sure you’re running exhaust fans when you’re doing the dishes or cooking.
Check for mould
Mould can wreak havoc with indoor air quality, so check for water damage in both your basement and attic, and around windows. For small mould patches on non-porous surfaces like tile or countertops, bleach, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and vinegar may all help. For extensive mould, call a professional or make sure to take extensive precautions to ensure you don’t breathe in those nasty little spores. (You can find mould removal tips here.)
Several types of low-maintenance plants are able to improve indoor air quality by filtering out volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other irritants. Aloe vera (which is great for your skin, too), spider plants, snake plant (also known as mother in law’s tongue) and English ivy are all top-notch air cleaners.
Both lead paint and radon, an odourless, colourless radioactive gas, can contaminate your indoor air. If your house was built before 1960, have your paint tested for lead. If you do have lead-based paint, keep your house dust-free and have an experienced contractor sand or remove wall coverings or ceilings contaminated with lead. You can pick up a radon detection device online or at some hardware stores, or you can hire a certified radon measurement professional. Radon detection is best done over a three-month period between September and April (or when your windows aren’t open regularly).
Avoid plywood indoors
Those fabulously inexpensive bookcases and couches? Yeah, they’re cheap for a reason. Furniture manufactured with pressboard or plywood uses adhesives that can emit formaldehyde, so try to buy stuff that’s made with solid wood or low-emission materials.