The air you breathe matters. A lot. And I’m not just taking about the great outdoors. Nope. We’re talking indoor air quality here. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air quality may be anywhere from 2 to 5 times poorer than outdoor air quality. In some cases, it’s more than 100 times worse (source).
This becomes even more of a concern during the winter months when we spend less time outside. And let’s be honest, most of us spend more time indoors than we do outdoors no matter what the season.
Some of the immediate reactions to poor indoor air quality include:
- Frequent sneezing and coughing at home
- Waking up congested or with a headache
- Irritated throat, nose or eyes
Long term reactions include things like asthma and respiratory infections.
Poor indoor air quality: Common culprits
- Smoking indoors, smoke drifting in from outdoors, or smoke being carried indoors on clothing
- Other things that burn, like oil, gas, kerosene, charcoal briquettes, wood or candles
- Central heating, cooling or humidifying systems
- New or recently installed building materials and furnishings, including carpets and certain wood pressed products
- Household cleaning and maintenance products
- Personal care products, like hair spray or soaps
- Too much moisture in the house
- Tracking pesticides and pollens in on shoes and clothes
- Improper circulation of fresh, outside air
The quality level in your home is determined by how much and how often pollution is getting into the air. For example, if you have a properly adjusted gas stove, it will emit significantly less carbon monoxide than one that is not properly adjusted. And of course, good ventilation contributes to improving air quality.
Improving indoor air quality
Aside from the obvious solutions (don’t smoke indoors, replace air filters, check for mold, etc), there are three simple ways that you can improve your indoor air quality right now. And they don’t require fancy technology, either. Awesome.
1. Open your windows
Circulating fresh, outdoor air through your home not only removes stale air but it also moves pollutants out. It brings in fresh oxygen and makes your home feel better really fast.
But it’s cold outside!
During the winter months it’s especially important to circulate air. I will open 1 or 2 windows for 10 – 15 minutes once or twice a day. It generally doesn’t affect my heat, but I do notice a difference in the air almost immediately. (I’ll often turn my heater off during that time so that it doesn’t turn on and push money out the window.) You can also choose one room, close the heat vents and open the windows for 20 minutes with the door closed. When you are done, close the windows and then open the door to let that fresh air in throughout the whole house.
Note: If the air outside is really bad you may want to hold off on opening the window. For example, in Utah (the land where I live) we usually get a nasty inversion during January. I will always check the air quality outside before opening my window during those “yucky” days.
2. Go green: House plants to the rescue.
In the late ’80s, NASA and the Associated Landscape Contractors of America studied houseplants as a way to purify the air in space facilities. Since plants are nature’s lungs, it makes sense that they would be good to have in the home. Best of all, many houseplants not only filter the air but can also absorb air toxins like benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
According to the NASA study, here are the top plants to improve indoor air quality:
- English ivy (Hedera helix)
- Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
- Golden pothos or Devil’s ivy (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)
- Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ’Mauna Loa’)
- Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
- Bamboo palm or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
- Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata‘Laurentii’)
- Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn.Philodendron cordatum)
- Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, syn.Philodendron selloum)
- Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
- Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
- Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ’Massangeana’)
- Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ’Janet Craig’)
- Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ’Warneckii’)
- Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina)
- Gerbera daisy or Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
- Pot mum or florist’s chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
- Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
The NASA studies generated the recommendation that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more vigorously they grow, the better job they’ll do for you. (source) But even if you can’t get that many right now, any houseplants are better than none.
3. Ditch the toxic chemicals
The fumes and chemicals from common household cleaning products are big-time offenders of indoor air quality. Ironically, things like commercial “air fresheners” are some of the most toxic stuff around (and often have labels on them informing the use not to inhale… even though the product is designed to be sprayed in the air?)
There are so many basic recipes out there to help you get rid of the toxic stuff for good while improving indoor air quality, too. If you aren’t sure where to start, consider checking out my new ebook: Toxic Free. It’s perfect for those looking to remove harmful toxins for good. You’ll also simplify your life and put a few extra bucks in your pocket to boot.
Tell me, what do you do to improve indoor air quality?
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NOTE: Due to an never-ending cesspool of spam, I have made the tough decision to close comments 14 days after the original posting of all posts. Sorry to anyone left out of the conversation. I just needed to spend less time monitoring spam and more time with my kids. Best wishes, Robin!