Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality

Breathe Easy: How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Woman in Black Tank Top Meditating

Breathing clean air is crucial for maintaining optimal health and well-being, and this extends beyond the air we encounter outdoors. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that we spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, highlighting the significant impact the air inside our homes can have on our overall quality of life. With the steady increase in pollution levels and the proliferation of airborne contaminants, the importance of ensuring high-quality air within our homes has never been more pronounced. Thankfully, there are practical steps we can take to minimize indoor air pollution and create a healthier living environment.

In this article, we will delve into valuable tips and effective strategies that will empower you to improve the quality of air in your home, enabling you and your loved ones to breathe easier and enjoy the benefits of a clean and revitalizing atmosphere within your living space.

What is indoor air quality (IAQ)?

Indoor air quality refers to the condition of the air within buildings, including homes, offices, schools, and other indoor spaces. It encompasses various factors such as the presence of pollutants, air contaminants, temperature, humidity, and ventilation that can affect the overall quality and cleanliness of the air we breathe indoors.

Poor levels of indoor air quality can result from a range of sources, including outdoor pollution that enters buildings, as well as indoor sources such as chemicals, dust, mold, pet dander, and volatile organic compounds emitted by cleaning products, furniture, and building materials. Inadequate ventilation, high humidity levels, and improper maintenance of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems can also contribute to indoor air quality problems.

Exposure to indoor air pollutants and poor air quality can have detrimental effects on human health, leading to respiratory issues, allergies, asthma, fatigue, headaches, and other health problems. It is essential to monitor and improve indoor air quality to create a healthier and more comfortable environment for occupants, promoting overall well-being and productivity.

What contributes to poor indoor air quality?

A woman lying on bed while smoking
A woman lying on bed while smoking

As mentioned above, there are several factors that negatively impact your indoor air quality. Below is a detailed breakdown of these factors:

  1. Indoor Pollutants: Various indoor environmental pollutants can significantly degrade air quality. These include tobacco smoke, cooking emissions, pet dander, dust mites, pollen, mold spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from cleaning products, pesticides, and building materials, as well as asbestos and lead particles from older buildings.
  2. Inadequate Ventilation: Insufficient fresh air exchange and ventilation within indoor spaces can lead to a buildup of indoor pollutants. Without proper airflow, contaminants remain trapped indoors, increasing their concentration and negatively impacting air quality. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) emphasizes the importance of proper ventilation to maintain good indoor air quality. It recommends ensuring an adequate supply of fresh outdoor air and appropriate airflow rates to dilute and remove pollutants. Ventilation systems should be properly designed, operated, and maintained.
  3. Chemicals and VOCs: VOCs are emitted as gases from various household products and materials, such as paints, solvents, adhesives, cleaning supplies, and furniture. Prolonged indoor exposures to VOCs can cause respiratory issues and other health problems.
  4. Dampness and Mold: Moisture-related issues like leaks, excess humidity, and water damage can promote the growth of mold and mildew. Mold spores can spread through the air, causing respiratory allergies and other health complications.
  5. Inadequate Cleaning and Maintenance: Poor cleaning practices, infrequent dusting, and inadequate maintenance of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems can contribute to poor air quality. Dust, dirt, and debris accumulate over time, circulating within the indoor environment and affecting the quality of the air.
  6. Outdoor Air Pollution: A significant amount of outdoor air pollutants, such as vehicle emissions, industrial pollutants, and allergens, can infiltrate indoor spaces through open windows, doors, and ventilation systems, compromising indoor air quality.
  7. Occupant Activities: Certain indoor activities like cooking without proper ventilation, smoking indoors, and using certain household products or appliances can release pollutants into the air, deteriorating indoor air quality.

What air pollutants affect air quality indoors?

There are several air pollutants that can affect indoor air quality. In addition to the previously mentioned VOCs, here are other common indoor air pollutants:

  1. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): These are emitted as gases from various sources like cleaning products, paints, adhesives, and building materials. High indoor levels of VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as headaches and allergic reactions.
  2. Formaldehyde: This is a VOC commonly found in building materials, furniture, and household products. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can lead to respiratory problems, eye irritation, and allergic reactions.
  3. Particulate Matter (PM): PM is one of the biggest contributors to air pollution in your home. These are tiny airborne particles, such as dust, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander, that can be inhaled and cause respiratory problems.
  4. Carbon Monoxide (CO): CO is one of the many indoor environmental contaminants that worsen the air quality in your home. This colorless and odorless gas is produced by incomplete combustion of fuels like gas, oil, coal, and wood. High indoor concentrations of CO can cause symptoms like headache, dizziness, nausea, and even death.
  5. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): This gas is released from burning fossil fuels, particularly from vehicle emissions and gas stoves. High levels of NO2 can irritate the respiratory system and worsen respiratory conditions like asthma.
  6. Ozone (O3): While beneficial in the upper atmosphere, ozone at ground level is a harmful pollutant. It is formed by chemical reactions between sunlight and pollutants emitted by vehicles and industrial activities. High ozone levels found in indoor air can cause respiratory issues and lung irritation.
  7. Radon: Radon is a radioactive gas that can seep into homes from the ground. Radon is a cancer-causing agent, and is actually the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. EPA estimates that the acceptable average indoor radon level is below 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. This means that if a radon test in a home or building reveals levels at or above 4 pCi/L, the EPA recommends taking steps to reduce radon exposure.

Can a wildfire affect indoor air quality?

Wildfire on mountain
Wildfire on mountain

Yes, wildfires can significantly affect indoor air quality, even if the fire itself is not directly inside a building. Wildfires release a large amount of smoke, particulate matter, and pollutants into the air, which can travel long distances and infiltrate indoor spaces. The smoke from wildfires contains harmful gases and fine particles, such as carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and small soot particles. When these pollutants enter a building, they can degrade indoor air quality and pose health risks, especially for individuals with respiratory conditions, the elderly, and children. It is essential to take precautions during wildfire events, such as keeping windows and doors closed, using air purifiers, and following guidance from local authorities to minimize exposure to wildfire smoke and maintain better indoor air quality.

How does poor indoor air quality affect one’s health?

Poor indoor air quality can have significant effects on one’s health. Prolonged exposure to indoor pollutants and breathing in contaminated air can lead to a range of health issues, including:
  1. Respiratory Problems: Indoor air pollutants can irritate the respiratory system, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and exacerbating existing respiratory conditions like asthma and allergies. Prolonged exposure may contribute to the development of respiratory diseases.
  2. Allergies and Sensitivities: Indoor allergens like dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, and pollen can trigger allergies and sensitivities, leading to symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin rashes.
  3. Asthma: Poor indoor air quality can worsen asthma symptoms or trigger asthma attacks, resulting in coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Asthma sufferers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of indoor air pollutants.
  4. Respiratory Infections: Contaminated indoor air can increase the risk of respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia. Bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens can thrive in environments with poor air quality, making occupants more susceptible to infections.
  5. Fatigue and Reduced Cognitive Function: Breathing in pollutants can contribute to feelings of fatigue, decreased concentration, and impaired cognitive function. This can impact productivity, learning abilities, and overall well-being.
  6. Headaches and Dizziness: Certain indoor pollutants, such as VOCs, can cause headaches, dizziness, and general discomfort, affecting daily activities and quality of life.
  7. Long-Term Health Effects: Prolonged exposure to poor indoor air quality may have more severe long-term health consequences, including an increased risk of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular issues, and even certain cancers.

When is air quality unhealthy?

Air quality is considered unhealthy when the concentration of pollutants in the air reaches levels that can negatively impact human health. The measurement and categorization of air quality are typically based on the Air Quality Index (AQI), which provides information about the level of pollution and its associated health effects.

The AQI scale ranges from 0 to 500, with higher values indicating poorer air quality. The specific thresholds for defining unhealthy air quality can vary slightly between countries or regions, but generally, the following categories are used:

  1. Good (0-50): Air quality is satisfactory, and the level of pollutants poses little to no risk to health.
  2. Moderate (51-100): Air quality is acceptable, but there may be a slight increase in respiratory symptoms among individuals who are sensitive to pollution.
  3. Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101-150): People with respiratory conditions, children, older adults, and individuals with heart or lung diseases may experience adverse health effects. The general population may also experience minor discomfort.
  4. Unhealthy (151-200): Everyone may start experiencing health effects, especially those with existing respiratory or heart conditions. It is recommended to limit prolonged outdoor activities.
  5. Very Unhealthy (201-300): The entire population is likely to be affected, and individuals may experience more significant respiratory and cardiovascular problems. Outdoor activities should be minimized.
  6. Hazardous (301-500): The air quality is extremely poor and poses a serious health risk. It is advised to stay indoors and avoid any outdoor activities.

It’s important to note that the AQI is based on specific pollutants such as particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. Different pollutants may have varying impacts on health, and local authorities often provide guidelines and recommendations specific to the region to inform the public about air quality conditions.

What air quality level cancels school?

The decision to cancel school due to air quality concerns depends on various factors, including local regulations, guidelines from health authorities, and the specific circumstances of the air quality situation. The threshold for canceling school may vary from one region to another and can be influenced by the Air Quality Index (AQI) levels and pollutant concentrations.

In general, when air quality reaches unhealthy or hazardous levels, schools may consider canceling classes to protect the health and safety of students and staff. The specific AQI threshold that triggers school closures can vary, but it commonly falls within the “Unhealthy” or “Very Unhealthy” range, which is typically defined as an AQI value of 151 or above.

It’s important to note that local education authorities and health departments are responsible for making decisions regarding school closures based on their specific policies and guidelines. They monitor air quality conditions, consult with relevant experts, and prioritize the well-being of students and staff when determining whether to cancel school due to poor air quality. Therefore, it is advisable to refer to local authorities and official announcements for accurate and up-to-date information regarding school closures related to air quality.

What air quality is like smoking?

Man smoking tobacco inside room
Man smoking tobacco inside room

The Air Quality Index (AQI) does not directly correlate to the act of smoking. However, it can provide an indication of the severity of air pollution and its potential health impacts. When comparing air quality to smoking, it is important to note that the effects of smoking involve the direct inhalation of harmful substances, while air pollution affects individuals through ambient air.

To provide a general understanding, some studies have estimated the equivalence between exposure to certain levels of air pollution and smoking a certain number of cigarettes. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these comparisons are approximations and can vary based on individual susceptibility, the duration and intensity of exposure, and the specific pollutants present in the air.

As a rough comparison, some studies have suggested that exposure to air pollution levels with an AQI of around 150 or higher can be equivalent to smoking several cigarettes a day in terms of its impact on health. Again, this is an approximate comparison and should be understood as a way to convey the severity of air pollution rather than an exact measurement.

How do you know if air quality is affecting you?

Determining if air quality is affecting you can involve observing both short-term and long-term symptoms. Here are some signs that air quality might be impacting your health:

  1. Respiratory Symptoms: Pay attention to any unusual respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or throat irritation. These symptoms may indicate that you are sensitive to the air quality in your environment.
  2. Allergic Reactions: If you experience increased allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, irritation of the eyes, or skin rashes when indoors or in certain locations, it could be an indication of poor air quality and the presence of allergens or irritants.
  3. Fatigue and Discomfort: Poor air quality can contribute to feelings of fatigue, lethargy, and general discomfort. If you notice a persistent lack of energy or increased discomfort when spending time indoors or in specific environments, it may be worth considering the air quality as a potential factor.
  4. Headaches or Dizziness: Exposure to indoor air containing certain pollutants, particularly volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause headaches or dizziness. If you frequently experience these symptoms in certain indoor spaces or areas with poor ventilation, it may be related to the air quality.
  5. Respiratory Infections: If you find yourself frequently falling ill with respiratory infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, or pneumonia, it could be an indication of compromised air quality in your surroundings.

How to improve air quality in home

Improving the air quality in your home is crucial for creating a healthy and comfortable living environment. From reducing allergens and pollutants to promoting proper ventilation and utilizing air purifiers, there are several effective strategies you can employ. The following section provides a comprehensive guide on how to enhance indoor air quality, including tips on cleaning habits, humidity control, minimizing pollutant sources, incorporating indoor plants, and maintaining your HVAC system. By implementing these practices, you can create a cleaner and fresher atmosphere in your home, benefiting the health and well-being of you and your loved ones.

What are 5 tips for better indoor air quality?

Woman opening a window
Woman opening a window

Below are five essential tips to reduce your exposure to indoor air pollution:

  1. Source Control:
    • Smoking is a source of indoor air pollution, so keep your indoor areas smoke-free to prevent tobacco smoke from contaminating the air.
    • Use natural cleaning products and avoid harsh chemicals that can release volatile organic compounds into the air.
    • Regularly clean and vacuum to reduce the amount of dust and allergens.
    • Control moisture to prevent mold growth by fixing leaks, using dehumidifiers, and ensuring proper ventilation in bathrooms and kitchens.
  2. Ventilation:
    • Open windows and doors when the outside air quality is good to allow fresh air to circulate inside.
    • Use exhaust fans or range hoods to remove pollutants generated during cooking and reduce moisture levels.
    • Install and regularly maintain air filters in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to trap airborne particles and improve indoor air quality.
  3. Humidity Control:
    • Keeping humidity levels inside your home between 30% and 50% is important in preventing mold growth. Use dehumidifiers or humidifiers as needed.
    • Fix plumbing leaks promptly to avoid moisture accumulation.
  4. Allergen Reduction:
    • Regularly clean and wash bedding, curtains, and upholstery to reduce dust mites and allergens.
    • Vacuum carpets and rugs with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum cleaner.
    • Minimize the presence of pets in bedrooms and regularly groom them to control pet dander.
  5. Air Purification:
    • Use standalone air purifiers with HEPA filters to capture fine particles and improve air quality in specific rooms.
    • In addition to the use of an air cleaner, consider incorporating indoor plants, such as snake plants and peace lilies, which can help filter certain pollutants and improve air quality naturally.

What indoor plants improve indoor air quality?

Indoor plants
Indoor plants

There are several indoor plants that are known for their ability to improve indoor air quality by naturally filtering and purifying the air. Some of these plants include:

  1. Snake Plant (Sansevieria): Known for its ability to remove toxins like formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
  2. Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum): Effective in removing formaldehyde, xylene, and carbon monoxide from indoor air.
  3. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum): Helps to remove common indoor air pollutants, including benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
  4. Aloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis): Known for its air-purifying properties, it helps to clear formaldehyde and benzene from the air.
  5. English Ivy (Hedera helix): Helps in reducing airborne mold and can filter out formaldehyde.
  6. Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea seifrizii): Effective in removing formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene from indoor air.
  7. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata): Known for its ability to remove formaldehyde and xylene from indoor air.
  8. Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica): Helps to reduce formaldehyde levels in the air and is relatively low maintenance.

What device improves air quality?

A Levoit Air Purifier
A Levoit Air Purifier

An air purifier is a device specifically designed to improve indoor air quality. It works by removing contaminants and pollutants from the air, such as dust, pet dander, pollen, mold spores, and other airborne particles. Air purifiers typically use filters, such as High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, to trap these particles and provide cleaner air.

HEPA filters are highly effective in capturing microscopic particles as small as 0.3 microns with a high-efficiency rate. Some air purifiers may also include additional filtration technologies, such as activated carbon filters, which can help remove odors, chemicals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air.

When choosing an air purifier, it’s important to consider the size of the room or area you want to purify, as different models have varying coverage capacities. Additionally, look for air purifiers with a Clean Air Delivery Rate certification, as it indicates the device’s ability to remove specific pollutants from the air.

Using an air purifier in your home or office can be beneficial, especially for individuals with allergies, asthma, or sensitivity to airborne particles. It can help reduce exposure to pollutants and create a cleaner and healthier indoor environment.

Below are the top 3 best-selling air purifiers on Amazon right now.

LEVOIT Core 300 True HEPA Air Purifier

The LEVOIT Core 300® True HEPA Air Purifier is a high-performance air cleaning device designed to improve indoor air quality. It features a three-stage filtration system, including a pre-filter, True HEPA filter, and an activated carbon filter.

The air purifier also features a powerful yet quiet motor that circulates and filters the air in medium to large rooms. With a compact design, user-friendly controls, and a filter replacement indicator, the LEVOIT Core 300® True HEPA Air Purifier provides an effective and convenient solution for maintaining fresh and clean indoor air.

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LEVOIT Vital 100S H13 True HEPA Air Purifier

The LEVOIT Vital 100S H13 True HEPA Air Purifier is a powerful air purifier that can help improve the air quality in your home. It features a 3-stage filtration system that removes 99.97% of airborne particles 0.3 microns in size, including dust, pollen, smoke, pet dander, and mold spores. The Vital 100S also has a quiet operation, making it ideal for use in bedrooms and other quiet spaces.

The Vital 100S is energy efficient, so you can use it without worrying about your energy bill. It consumes only 35 watts of power, which is less than a standard light bulb. It is also small and compact, making it easy to move around and store. It measures only 10.2 x 10.2 x 2.7 inches and weighs only 3.4 pounds.

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LEVOIT Core 400S Smart Air Purifier

The top-performing Levoit Core 400S Smart True HEPA Air Purifier can purify large rooms, such as bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and basements. It can purify a 403 ft² room 5x per hour and a 990 ft² room 2x per hour.

It features a three-stage filtration that includes a pre-filter, an H13 True HEPA filter, and a custom high-efficiency activated carbon filter that helps neutralize odors, cooking and wildfire smoke, and VOCs. It also boasts a whisper-level quiet and combat allergies and asthma.

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Disclaimer: Air purifiers are not medical devices and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. They can help to remove pollutants from the air, but they cannot completely eliminate all pollutants. If you have a medical condition, it is important to consult with your doctor about the best way to manage your condition.

Aside from air purifiers, there are other devices that help improve indoor air quality. These devices are as follows:

  • Humidifiers: Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which can be beneficial in dry environments or during winter months when indoor air tends to become dry. They can help alleviate dry skin, dry throat, and respiratory issues caused by low humidity.
  • Dehumidifiers: Dehumidifiers, on the other hand, reduce humidity levels in the air. They are useful in damp environments or areas prone to high humidity, as excessive moisture can promote mold growth and contribute to poor air quality.
  • HVAC Systems: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems play a crucial role in maintaining good air quality. Regular maintenance of HVAC systems, including changing filters, cleaning ducts, and ensuring proper airflow, can help improve indoor air quality.
  • Air Quality Monitors: Air quality monitors measure and monitor the levels of pollutants in the air, including particulate matter, VOCs, carbon dioxide, and other gases. They provide real-time data and alerts, helping you stay informed about the air quality in your surroundings.
Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor

The Amazon Smart Air Quality Monitor is a small, portable device that measures five key factors of air quality: particulate matter (PM 2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), humidity, and temperature. It uses color-coded LED lights and an easy-to-understand air quality score in the Alexa app to let you know how good or bad the air quality is in your home.

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03/04/2024 10:31 am GMT
  • Ventilation Systems: Proper ventilation is essential for ensuring good indoor air quality. Ventilation systems, such as exhaust fans, windows, and air vents, help remove stale air and bring in fresh outdoor air. They can help dilute indoor pollutants and improve air circulation.
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can be produced by fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, furnaces, and fireplaces. Carbon monoxide detectors can alert you to the presence of this potentially dangerous gas, allowing you to take immediate action and ensure safety.

These devices can work together to create a healthier indoor environment by reducing pollutants, controlling humidity levels, and promoting proper air circulation. It’s important to choose devices that suit your specific needs and follow manufacturer guidelines for their proper use and maintenance.

Conclusion: Why is it important to improve indoor air quality?

In conclusion, ensuring good indoor air quality is essential for promoting a healthy and comfortable living environment. By taking the proactive measures mentioned above, individuals can significantly improve the air quality inside their homes. The benefits of these efforts are far-reaching, as improved indoor air quality not only helps prevent respiratory problems and allergies but also contributes to overall well-being and productivity. By prioritizing indoor air quality, individuals can create a safer and healthier environment for themselves and their families.

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