We spend 90 per cent of our lives indoors – at home, in the office or in a car. Yet on average, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
Pollution comes from many sources so anyone who thinks they are breathing fresh air when they sit in their family room will be shocked to learn what they are really breathing.
The health impacts of indoor air pollutants and allergens may include skin, eye and throat irritation, headaches, drowsiness, worsening of asthma symptoms and dizziness.
Other, long term, chronic exposure can increase risk of cancer, liver and kidney damage, and harm to the central nervous system.
People with respiratory problems such as asthma, young children, the elderly and those with heightened sensitivity to chemicals may be more susceptible to irritation and illness from pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The build-up of VOCs in indoor environments has been associated with ‘sick building syndrome’.
Gas cookers and unflued gas heaters contribute to a large percentage of pollutants in a home. Others such as fungi, microbial contamination, house dust mites, dust, pet dander, air toxins such as formaldehyde and VOCs from household chemicals also adversely affect indoor air quality.
Unfortunately, as our homes become better sealed from the external environment, pollutants being released from indoor sources are being found at even higher concentrations at home.
A 2019 study in Canada suggested that a half-hour kitchen clean-up using common household cleaners, wipes and sprays dramatically boosted harmful indoor air pollution.
Canadian environmental advocacy group, Environmental Defence, tested the air in 14 Ontario homes the day before the kitchen cleaning, then again for a two-hour period during and after the cleaning.
Some homeowners were given popular wipes, cleansers and glass sprays to use; some were given products with non-verifiable ‘green’ claims and two used certified green products.
The study found that concentrations of VOCs more than doubled in nine homes, while the air quality in 12 of the total 14 households involved was above the level that some jurisdictions consider safe.
To put the findings in perspective, the average level of VOCs in homes using the common cleaners was slightly higher than a nail salon and marginally lower than inside a brand-new car.
The study highlights the hidden dangers of household cleaners and the risks of exposing ourselves to VOCs at home.
Australian research by CSIRO et al evaluated 25 years (1991–2016) of investigations of VOCs within indoor environments and found that the most prevalent compounds indoors were terpenes, turpentine being one example.
Cleaning the Air in Your Home
The first obvious step to make the air in your home fresher is to remove items that are causing pollution.
Sources that may be problematic include household furnishings that tend to off-gas more VOCs when they are new. Possible sources include carpet, furniture, paint, plastics or electronic devices.
It is also a good idea to check the Australian Environment Department’s National Pollutant Inventory for updated details on VOCs. Its fact sheet includes a list of known VOCs that you can look out for when you next buy something such as household cleaning products.
Another important step is to ventilate by opening windows, using fans and maximising the amount of fresh air coming in.
However, if it’s spring when pollens are floating around from the numerous plants that give many people an allergic reaction, it’s best to keep windows and doors closed as this can exacerbate the problem for many people.
Adjusting climate control to keep the temperature and relative humidity as low as possible or comfortable is also recommended. Chemicals will off-gas more under warmer conditions with high humidity.
If performing renovations, it’s best to do these when the home is unoccupied or during seasons that will allow for additional ventilation.
Cleaning regularly, not just an annual spring clean, will help to maintain a cleaner indoor environment all year round.
Easy Answers to Clean Air Indoors
There are many reasons why it isn’t convenient to address indoor pollution with the above methods. For these circumstances, a good investment is to use an air purifier with an activated carbon filter, which neutralises VOCs, odours and other harmful gases.
The best air purifiers will also have a HEPA filter, which helps to remove over 99 per cent of dust and nasty allergens from the air. Some HEPA air purifier come with a UV germicidal light that will inactivate microbes such as viruses and bacteria that are trapped on the filters.
In deciding which air purifier to purchase, it’s important to make sure that its coverage area suits the size of rooms where it will be used.
This, along with power saving features, air cleaning modes and other features should be on the unit’s specifications list.
To maintain optimum humidity, dehumidifiers can help with some units offering a built-in nano silver filter and zeolite to remove VOCs, which further improves indoor air quality.
With Spring now upon us, an air purifier could be the best investment yet that will help to greatly reduce the effect of pollutants and therefore protect the health of the whole family.
Hi, I’m Anna the Editor of Beauty and Lace. This website was my first baby and since its launch, I’ve gained three kids, a husband, and a puppy! We want to keep this space positive, we are all about sharing the things we love – and avoiding the things we don’t. Happy reading x