We're all too aware of the vehicle exhaust pipes and factory smokestacks that pour pollution into the air outside, but causes of indoor air pollution can be much more subtle.

Most of us spend more time indoors than out, not realizing that the air quality in our homes, schools and workplaces can be 10 times worse than it is outdoors. Learn the ways in which unhealthy air pollution invades our living spaces, and try a few indoor air care solutions that can help us improve the air we breathe.

Causes of indoor air pollution

Chances are, you've got dozens of air pollutants seeping out of the furniture, paint, carpet, upholstery and other items that surround you where you sit at this very moment. They come from chemicals, living organisms and even straight from the soil to cause irritation, allergic responses, illness, cancer and other ailments. Because modern structures are typically well-insulated to regulate energy consumption, these five main types of pollutants are typically trapped inside:

  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in building materials, furnishings, office equipment, cleaning supplies, air fresheners and many other common products.
  • Combustion pollutants come from heat sources or fuel-burning appliances like wood stoves, water heaters and dryers and include both particles and odorless, colorless gases. Among these gases are nitrogen dioxide, which causes irritation and shortness of breath, and deadly carbon monoxide, which interferes with the delivery of oxygen to the body.
  • Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the soil; it is the top cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall.
  • Secondhand smoke is a well-known indoor pollutant that is particularly dangerous to children, causing respiratory illness, cancer and increased risk of ear infections and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.)
  • Mold, dander, dust mites and pollen are asthma triggers that can cause dizziness, coughing, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing.
Improving the air quality in your home or office

Don't just sit back and let poor indoor air quality affect your health. There are a number of ways in which you can dramatically improve the air in your home, from making better choices about the items your purchase to decorating with air-cleaning plants.

Choose healthy, low- or no-VOC furniture, building supplies and home furnishings. Natural products that have not been chemically treated will help decrease the volatile organic compounds in your home, and most secondhand products have already off-gassed these compounds, making them a safer choice.

Use non-toxic, green cleaning products and pest control methods, and avoid artificially scented air fresheners. Never mix chemicals like household cleaners unless directed to do so on the label.

Ask smokers to use tobacco products outdoors, well away from entrances and open windows.

Air filtersEnsure proper ventilation so that pollutants are drawn outside and fresh air is brought in, especially when working with paints, solvents and other chemicals. Ventilation will also make fireplaces, heaters and other fuel-burning appliances safer and help control indoor humidity levels, preventing the growth of mold and mildew. Be sure to change air filters on a regular basis.

Have radon levels tested in your home. Radon gases can enter a building through cracks, gaps and seams and build up inside. You can purchase a do-it-yourself radon testing kit or hire a radon tester to come to your home. If your home has high radon levels, the EPA recommends hiring a contractor to seal up the underside of the house.

Filter the air naturally with indoor plants. Many houseplants including aloe, ficus and philodendron purify the air of pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde, and bring a touch of nature indoors while they're at it.

Control asthma-triggering pollutants by limiting soft surfaces like carpeting and curtains, placing mattresses and pillows in airtight, allergy-free covers and washing bedding on a weekly basis. Use a vacuum with a powerful HEPA filter to remove pet dander, dust mites and pollen from household items.

Know more about indoor air care solutions? Leave us a note in the comments below.

Photo: Laineema/Flickr

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