Even if you live in a city like I do, the air inside your home may be more polluted than the air outside of it. Some of the contamination of our indoor air quality comes from things like wall paints, glues in carpeting, and flame retardant chemicals leaking out of furniture. While it would be great to replace your sofa and mattress, rip up all your carpeting, and repaint every wall with milk paints, this is unrealistic for most of us.
Instead, I often suggest that my private clients try the following simple, free (or almost free) tips to reduce a variety of sources of indoor air pollution:
1. Open Windows
This may feel counterintuitive if you live in a city, where car exhaust seeps through every screen. Nevertheless, outdoor air is usually cleaner than indoor, thanks to things like carcinogenic formaldehyde that lurks in glues found in carpets and plywood furniture, and neurotoxic flame retardants used in upholstered furniture.
So whenever you can, throw open the windows, especially if you live in a rural environment. In many cities, certain air pollutants tend to be at their lowest levels in the morning, so urban dwellers should open windows first thing and then close them up around 3:00 p.m.
2. Replace Your Shower Curtain Liner
Soft plastic items like raincoats, shower curtain liners, and inflatable beach balls are often made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which contains hormone-disrupting phthalates. (Often these items will be very stinky, so you’ll know immediately when you open them that they are made of vinyl).
Just one toxic shower curtain can release enough volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to seriously compromise the air of a small bathroom, so replace any PVC shower curtains or liners with a fabric version, such as a Bean Products hemp shower curtain.
3. Put Down the Broom
Flame retardants and other toxins accumulate in household dust, and sweeping sends plumes of dust into the air, where toxins are more easily inhaled.
Instead of sweeping, use a vacuum to banish dirt and chemicals. Ideally, you’ll use a HEPA-sealed vacuum that effectively traps toxins, and one that is RoHS certified so that the vacuum itself doesn’t contain flame retardants (I know—nothing can be simple!). One brand that fits the bill is Miele.
PS: A wet mop is also better than a broom when it comes to clearing your home of toxic dust.
4. Clean Up Your Cleaning Supplies
One of the major sources of indoor air pollution is the noxious cleaning products many of us use. Bleach, glass cleaners, and air fresheners—all products we buy to keep our homes feeling clean—contain ingredients that are caustic to our respiratory tracts and potentially disrupting to our endocrine systems. (Ironically, air fresheners are often the worst offenders. Check out this Safe Air Freshener Guide for nontoxic options.)
PS: Need more evidence to ditch the Clorox? A recent study found that children living in homes that were regularly bleached actually suffered from more infections than children whose parents didn’t use bleach.
5. Use Simple Air Purifiers (But Don’t Bother With Electronic Ones)
Unless you suffer from significant allergies, I believe that electronic air fresheners are overkill (if you’re set on one, the Coway AP-1512HH is the one I recommend).
Less expensive ways to scrub your indoor air include:
- Wool rugs, since wool absorbs and traps VOCs.
- Charcoal air purifiers, which help with odors, allergens, and VOCs, while also dehumidifying the air.
- ECOS Pure paints and primers, which absorbs formaldehyde and other VOCs.
- Houseplants, which perform double duty by absorbing airborne toxins and producing clean oxygen. You’ll want about one six-inch plant per 100 square feet of indoor space, or a minimum of 15 plants for a 2,000 square-foot home. The NASA Clean Air Study identified the top air-filtering plants, and to get the most comprehensive air-filtering effect, opt for a variety of plants from their list.
Extra Credit: Tackle Your Water!
Once you’ve taken some measures improve the air inside your home, I encourage you to consider cleaning up your water as well.
Even in places where the water is known to be “good,” chlorine and controversial fluoride are added. Pitcher-style or refrigerator filters help a little, but mostly clean up the appearance and taste of water, rather than doing much to make it healthier. A more robust carbon-block water filtration system will deal with chlorine, chloramines, heavy metals, hydrogen sulfide, VOCs, pharmaceutical products, and a range of other chemicals you haven’t heard of, but definitely don’t want to be drinking. I opt to filter out fluoride as well with this three-stage filter.