Does your home smell dirty? It’s not just your nose. The indoor air of your house can be polluted more than you actually think. But where does indoor air pollution come from? From your kitchen, household items, and more, there are unseen pollutants that will compromise your family’s safety. It’s important to identify these sources so that you can mitigate the risks as soon as possible.
When we think of pollution, many of us picture dark smoke coming out of factories, black car emissions, or a sea of garbage. But what many people don’t know is that their very homes can also harbour pollution.
Many times, it’s not always the dark, smelly smoke. There are cases when the pollution is silent but deadly, just like carbon monoxide. Also, your day-to-day chores can produce pollution that will accumulate inside your house over the days.
Where Does Indoor Air Pollution Come From?
To help you tackle indoor air pollution, it’s important to know where the pollutants are coming from. Here are some of the most common pollutant producers in the household setting:
1. Cooking appliances
The process of cooking produces a lot of odors. At first, it would be appetizing, but over the days, the accumulated odors would stink so badly.
Aside from that, your gas-powered cooking appliances like stove, grill, and oven produce fumes. One of these could be carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas that can kill people in less than five minutes.
Overall, the kitchen is one of the biggest producers of pollution inside the house. But the good thing is that it’s also easy to combat.
Your kitchen hood is placed for one big purpose: to suck out cooking fumes and odors. This will keep your kitchen ventilated, so your indoor air will remain clean and healthy to breathe.
2. Tobacco products
A lot of us are guilty about smoking indoors. It’s a very bad habit that will cause a slew of problems. First of all, the smoke that comes out of cigarettes is actually microscopic ashes. When a person inhales it, the soot will cause lung irritation. Prolonged exposure can cause severe respiratory problems like pneumonia, bronchitis, and even lung cancer.
The biggest problem with smoking is that the nicotine from the tobacco product will cling to surfaces. This includes the walls and ceiling of your house, the furniture, and basically all the items present while you puff.
When this leftover nicotine reacts to nitrous acid found in the air, it produces carcinogens. Carcinogens, if you don’t know it yet, are the compounds that cause cancer.
Remember that smoking can be firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand. Just because you smoke outdoors doesn’t mean you’re not going to bring pollution inside your house.
3. Cleaning products
Almost every home uses at least one cleaning product. It’s a necessity in keeping a healthy and sanitary home. But if used improperly, the cleaning agent will cause indoor air pollution.
The harsh chemicals in cleaning products can cause mouth, eyes, nose, lungs, and skin irritation. You don’t need to be in direct contact with the chemical to experience this. Many of these products create fumes that will linger in the air even after cleaning.
Those with pre-existing respiratory problems will be at high risk of irritation when exposed to the fumes of cleaning products. For some, it will trigger allergies and worsen inflammation.
Aside from cleaning products, crafts, and supplies can also produce the same level of pollution. The likes of paint, toner ink, glue, and adhesive have off-gassing. If not aerated, your indoor air quality will not pass health standards.
Most modern homes have asbestos-free insulation. However, many older houses still have this dangerous material installed in their attics.
Asbestos is a breathing irritant. It’s a naturally occurring mineral made of flexible fibres. It has excellent electricity, heat, and corrosion-resistant, which is the same reason it’s popular for insulation.
Nowadays, hundreds of American homes still use products laced with asbestos. To be fair, this substance is still allowed as long as it doesn’t comprise more than 1% of the product.
So how will you know if your insulation has asbestos? You have to check the type of insulation you have. If yours is a blanket for batt form, you don’t have to worry about asbestos. This is the case whether you have cellulose, fibreglass, and other insulation material.
However, if you have loose-fill insulation, that’s when you have to keep checking. Asbestos is found on many loose-fill insulation materials, which is also called blown-in by other construction companies.
This filling is lumpy, loose, and fluffy. Still, not all loose-fill insulation has asbestos right off the bat. I suggest calling your landlord or real estate agent to inquire.
If you’re told that the fill is Vermiculite, I suggest having it replaced immediately. Vermiculite is one of the most common construction materials containing asbestos. It has a pebble-like look with a silvery gold or greyish-brown color.
When disturbed, Vermiculite will release needle-like asbestos fibers, which will go airborne. When inhaled, these fibers will cause severe lung damage.
About 70% of all Vermiculite materials found in old houses were mined in Libby, Montana, back in 1990. So if your house is built before or in 1990, you should check your insulation right away.
5. New flooring or carpets
Your new flooring can also be a source of indoor air pollution. If you recently had your flooring replaced, you should conduct a quick check of your carpets.
New carpeting is a major contributor to indoor air pollution because of its volatile organic compounds (VOC). VOCs like benzene, formaldehyde, and stain repellents will become airborne in an enclosed room. Some carpets even come with carcinogens that will cause serious health problems when inhaled.
Aside from that, carpets tend to trap pollution within the fibers. Unless you vacuum, aerate, and clean it properly, the irritants will be left sitting on the ground. When disturbed, like when you walk through it, the pollutants will become airborne.
Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with getting new carpets. Just make sure that you’re getting non-toxic options. Also, keep the room ventilated to allow the VOCs to dissipate.
6. HVAC system
Your HVAC system is supposed to keep your home ventilated. However, if not maintained, this very same system will recirculate dirt and dust all over your home. This spells massive indoor air pollution.
An HVAC system is usually composed of air conditioners, heaters, boilers, furnaces, and ductwork. As these components function, it sucks in pollutants.
Such pollutants came from outdoor sources when you open the door, window, or the particles your body brings indoors. The off-gassing of new carpet, asbestos, and cleaning products will also congregate into your HVAC system.
As the particulates build-up, it gets trapped along the ducts and filters of the HVAC system. If not cleaned, this dirt will be thick enough to block airflow. It will also harbor pests like rats and mites, as well as molds and mildew. If you have a dog, pet dander will add to the mix.
While the dirt in your HVAC system is unlikely to give you cancer, it will still wreak havoc on your family’s respiratory system. You’ll notice recurring coughs and colds without apparent reasons. And for those with asthma, the attacks would be major.
Lastly, your fireplace might be producing a lot of pollution than what you normally see. Burning wood inside the house is a very tricky process. Without proper ventilation, this will likely cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Also, fireplaces produce a lot of soot and ashes. If not cleaned up, tiny particles from the ashes will go airborne. And once you turn your HVAC system, these particles will cling to the ducts and vents.
Again, if not cleaned, this will cause continuing pollution in your home. You might be surprised that the indoor air quality inside your house is poorer than the outdoors.
Tips to improve your indoor air quality
As much as poor indoor air quality might be alarming, there are easy ways to improve it. The following are some of the steps you can take:
🏠Use an air purifier
Air purifiers aren’t the panacea for the entire indoor pollution problem. Still, it does a great job in filtering airborne particulates that pose a serious health threat. In fact, you can now find air purifiers in the market that can pick up to 0.1 microns of dirt.
Take note that particles below 2.5 microns are highly dangerous to a person’s health. Since it’s microscopic, these particles can easily enter the lungs and the bloodstream.
With that, an air purifier will be your head-start in cleaning up your home’s indoor air.
As mentioned, your carpet can harbor the nastiest dirt in your house. From pet dander, dust, soot, and so on, your rugs will be filled with it if you don’t vacuum regularly. Cleaning it three times a week is the rule of thumb, though you can vacuum more frequently if you live in an area with poor outdoor air quality.
Aside from your carpets, make sure that you wash your curtains, drapes, and sheets regularly. For the curtains, washing them quarterly is the ideal schedule, while your sheets should go to the wash weekly.
🏠Remove the clutter
Old boxes, piles of newspaper, untouched books, and unnecessary décor all hide dust. Some would even harbor mites. Instead of letting this clutter sit, it’s best to get rid of it.
You can donate your old books to a local library and sell the newspaper to the recycling centre. My rule of thumb is that if you don’t need it, get rid of it. You can even apply Marie Kondo’s ‘Spark Joy’ concept here.
🏠Get your HVAC checked by a professional
Just because your heating and cooling system works doesn’t mean it’s 100% in good shape. I suggest scheduling annual inspections so a technician can advise you if cleaning or repairs are due.
Aside from that, you should also do your part in cleaning or replacing your HVAC filters. At most, filters require cleaning or replacement every 3 months. But if you run your AC or heater for a long period, frequent cleaning is needed.
🏠Keep the air moving
Ventilation is important to disperse pollutants in your home. However, it’s more than just opening windows and doors. You have to ensure that the air that gets in is clean.
For starters, always turn on your kitchen hood while cleaning. This is a basic task that many household owners tend to overlook. Aside from the cooking smell, the kitchen hood will also remove toxic fumes coming from the stove.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the signs that you have poor indoor air quality?
A: If you always get headaches, coughs, colds, and sinus congestion at home, it’s best to check your indoor air quality. In worst cases, individuals will experience shortness of breath and allergic reactions if their indoor air is highly polluted.
Q: Can stale air make you sick?
A: Stale air is due to lack of ventilation. The smell itself won’t do a lot of harm. However, poor airflow also means that contaminants and pollutants are trapped inside the property. This is the part that can make you sick, especially if there are high levels of carbon monoxide concentration inside.
Q: How often should you air out your home?
A: You should let the outside air in every other day. You can do this by opening your windows and doors to let the fresh air outdoors. However, you should only do this if your area isn’t highly polluted. Just imagine living in the middle of New York City, where thousands die from pollution. You wouldn’t want that dirty air in your house.
Where does indoor air pollution come from? It can come from both inside and outside your home. Proper ventilation, regular cleaning, and being smart with your home supplies options will help reduce this. You can also hire a professional to help assess your home’s indoor air quality.
Home Air Quality is founded by Bernard K to provide information on Indoor Air Quality in Homes and enlighten people about what they need to know about creating and maintaining a comfortable and healthy home environment.
We believe that “Quality air brings a healthy life.”