Indoor air quality plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. As we spend significant amounts of time inside our homes, ensuring the air we breathe is clean and free from contaminants is paramount. This guide takes an in-depth look at the most common indoor air pollutants and their sources, alongside effective strategies for combating them including indoor air quality accessories like Respiray’s wearable personal air purifier, Wear A+.
What are the main threats to your home’s air quality?
High carbon dioxide (CO2) levels
While CO2 is a naturally occurring gas that’s found in the air we breathe, high indoor levels can be an indicator of inadequate ventilation. Typical outdoor concentrations hover around 400 parts per million (ppm). Meanwhile, the levels indoors can be significantly higher, especially in tightly sealed buildings with many occupants, where they can be as high as 2,000 – 5,000 ppm. Very high CO2 levels (above 5,000 ppm) can cause symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and, in extreme cases, increased heart rate and blood pressure. In addition to its inherent risks, elevated CO2 levels could also signify that other pollutants have accumulated indoors.
Particulate matter (PM)
Fine particles can originate from various sources, such as combustion processes (like cooking or heating), tobacco smoke and outdoor air pollution infiltrating indoors. PM can penetrate deep into the lungs, leading to respiratory and cardiovascular issues.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
These chemical compounds are emitted from certain solids or liquids in gaseous form. Common sources include paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings. VOCs can cause symptoms ranging from eye, nose and throat irritation and headaches to damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys.
This category includes pollen, pet dander, bacteria, viruses and mold, whose growth can be promoted by inadequate ventilation, high humidity and water leaks. These pollutants can trigger allergies, asthma and other respiratory problems.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
This colorless, odorless gas – a by-product of incomplete combustion – can be emitted from malfunctioning or improperly used appliances such as stoves, heaters and fireplaces. CO interferes with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, leading to symptoms like headaches, dizziness and, at sufficiently high concentrations, even death.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that enters into homes through the ground. Prolonged exposure to radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.
While beneficial in the upper atmosphere, ground-level ozone is a lung irritant. Some electronic air purifiers, particularly those with UV lamps, produce ozone, which can exacerbate asthma symptoms and affect lung function.
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
A reddish-brown gas that can be emitted by unvented gas appliances like stoves and heaters, NO2 can irritate the lungs and lower resistance to respiratory infections.
High humidity levels in the home can promote the proliferation of mold, mites and other allergens.
Pollutants can enter into buildings from outdoors through open windows, doors and ventilation systems. These contaminants might include pollen, pesticides and industrial emissions, among others.
Where do these pollutants come from?
In order to keep our home air as clean as possible, it’s important to first be aware of where pollutants like those listed above originate from.
While some of the pollutants that affect the breathability of our indoor air enter from the outside world, many already reside, or are generated, within our homes – below is a breakdown of the most common sources.
Unvented portable heaters are a particular concern, as they can release CO and NO2.
Gas stoves and ovens
Gas appliances can release CO, NO2 and even some VOCs if not properly vented.
Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces
These can emit PM, CO and VOCs, so it’s absolutely essential that they are properly vented and maintained.
Many candles, especially scented ones, can release VOCs and PM when burned. In particular, paraffin candles are known to release soot and other pollutants.
Air fresheners often emit VOCs, including some that can react with other indoor pollutants to form harmful substances like formaldehyde.
Photocopiers and printers
In an office environment, these devices – especially certain types of laser printers – can release ozone and particulate emissions.
These release a multitude of pollutants, including PM, VOCs, CO and other toxic substances, making smoking indoors particularly dangerous for residents’ health.
Oil-based paints and solvents
The use of oil-based products indoors can significantly increase levels of VOCs in the home.
Air purifiers that generate ozone
Some electronic air purifiers, particularly those with UV lamps, and ionizers are designed to generate ozone, which they claim will “purify” the air by neutralizing certain contaminants. However, ozone is a lung irritant that can exacerbate respiratory problems.
Freshly dry-cleaned clothing can introduce VOCs into the home – particularly perchloroethylene, a common dry-cleaning solvent.
Home appliances that process water, including humidifiers and dehumidifiers, can become sources of mold and bacterial growth if not properly maintained. These microorganisms can then be released into the air, leading to health conditions.
During the self-cleaning process, these ovens release various pollutants, including fine and ultrafine particles, aldehydes and other VOCs.
If you’re allergic to animals then you’ll be familiar with the pet dander and pollen that household pets can carry on their fur or bring in from outside.
The quality of the air outside directly affects that in our indoor environments. Factors influencing our outdoor air include local industry, traffic and natural phenomena, among others. The cleaner the air beyond our four walls the better, as pollution can exacerbate any indoor air quality issues. The three main mechanisms through which the air outside can affect our indoor air are summarized below.
This includes air entering the home through openings like windows and doors.
These refer to air coming in through outdoor air intakes associated with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Infiltration is a process by which outdoor air flows into the house through openings, joints and cracks in the walls, floors and ceilings and around windows and doors.
What are the solutions to poor indoor air quality?
Improving and maintaining our home air quality often involves a combination of approaches, including eliminating or reducing pollution sources, improving ventilation and keeping the air clean using various devices. Here are some effective strategies:
Regularly open windows and doors to allow fresh air in and stale air out. This can help dilute and remove indoor pollutants. Does not apply when outdoor air quality is worse than it’s indoors.
forced ventilation system with filters to bring in cleaned air from outside.
Use air purifiers equipped with High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. These devices can capture tiny particles, including pollen, dust, and some viruses.
Wearable air purifier that works like classical HEPA air purifier, but it’s much closer to you – so it provides clean air at every inhale and will follow you everywhere.
Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-50%. Too much humidity can encourage mold growth, while too little can exacerbate respiratory issues. Consider using dehumidifiers in damp areas and humidifiers in overly dry spaces.
Some indoor plants can act as natural air purifiers by absorbing toxins like formaldehyde and benzene. Examples include spider plants, snake plants, and peace lilies.
Reduce Tobacco Smoke
Refrain from smoking indoors. Tobacco smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals that can linger in indoor environments and pose health risks.
Limit Use of VOCs
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are found in many household products, including paints, varnishes, and cleaning agents. Use low-VOC or VOC-free products, and ensure adequate ventilation during and after their application.
Regularly clean and dust your home. Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter can help capture more dust and allergens. Also, wash bedding and curtains frequently to remove dust mites and other allergens.
Identify and eliminate sources of pollutants. This could mean fixing leaks to prevent mold, sealing off areas with asbestos, or ensuring proper ventilation for appliances that can emit harmful gases.
Install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors in your home, especially if you have fuel-burning appliances. CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly in high concentrations.
Which rooms are subject to which pollutants, and what are the most effective countermeasures for each?
To tackle indoor air pollution effectively, it’s essential to identify the specific issues that can affect each area of the home. This table breaks down the potential risks for each room and the solutions you can put in place:
|Living room||Candles, tobacco products, dust, pet dander||Use unscented candles, avoid smoking indoors, vacuum clean regularly, keep pets groomed, use Respiray Wear A+|
|Kitchen||Gas stoves, ovens, high humidity, mold spores||Ensure proper ventilation, maintain appliances, use exhaust fans, fix any leaks, use Respiray Wear A+|
|Bedroom||Dust mites, pet dander, pollen (if the windows are open)||Wash bedding frequently, use air purifiers, keep pets away (or well groomed if letting them in)|
|Bathroom||Mold, high humidity, cleaning chemicals||Use exhaust fans, clean regularly with non-toxic cleaners, fix any leaks|
|Garage||Carbon monoxide, paints and solvents, car exhaust||Ensure proper ventilation, store chemicals properly, don’t run vehicles indoors, use Respiray Wear A+|
|Basement||Mold, radon, high humidity||Use a dehumidifier, use a detector to check for radon, fix any leaks, use Respiray Wear A+|
|Home office||Printers, photocopiers, dust||Ensure proper ventilation, clean regularly, use indoor plants, use Respiray Wear A+|
Breathe with the best of them
A healthy home is one where every breath feels clean, free and easy. By being aware of the potential indoor air pollutants and taking proactive steps to counter them, we can ensure that the family living space remains a sanctuary of well-being. The good news is that from room-specific solutions to home-wide strategies, enjoying optimal air quality is well within reach. And with innovative solutions like Respiray Wear A+, we’re better equipped than ever to keep breathing easy.
Remember, every breath matters – so make sure the air in your home is the best it can be!