How to maintain air quality in your home

September 17, 2020

woman turning off air con to fix air quality

Now that we have been spending most of our time inside our homes due to the global pandemic, you might be considering if the air quality in your home is harmful to you. According to the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment it is generally recognised that Australians spend 90% or more of their time indoors. 

Poor indoor air quality may produce a range of health effects from mild and generally non-specific symptoms such as headaches, tiredness or lethargy, to more severe effects such as aggravation of asthma and allergic responses. Most of these conditions can also arise from a number of different causes other than the quality of the air in your home.

What you do in the home can make the single biggest difference to the health of the indoor environment.

What are some common pollutants?

Indoor pollution sources that release gases or particles into the air are the primary cause of indoor air quality. Inadequate ventilation can increase poor indoor air quality by not bringing in enough outdoor air to dilute emissions and high temperature and humidity levels can also increase concentrations of some pollutants.

Whether a source of air pollutants causes an indoor air quality problem or not depends on:

  • The type of air pollutant
  • The amount and rate at which it is released from its source
  • The degree of ventilation available in the home to remove it from indoors.

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Some other common pollutant sources are:

  • Fuel-burning combustion appliances
  • Tobacco products
  • Building materials and furnishings as diverse as:
    • Deteriorated asbestos-containing insulation
    • Newly installed flooring, upholstery or carpet
    • Cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed wood products
  • Products for household cleaning and maintenance, personal care, or hobbies
  • Central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices
  • Excess moisture

What are the consequences of poor air quality?

The idea of our homes being polluted sounds disturbing, but air pollution is normal and unavoidable, only becoming a problem when it isn’t taken seriously and is allowed to build up.

Indoor air pollution has been linked to a wide variety of adverse health effects which include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Headaches, dizziness and fatigue
  • Respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.
  • Skin rashes and memory lapses

Most of these health effects are due to a long-term effect of poor indoor air quality, but immediate effects can include irritation of eyes, nose and throat.

Some groups of people in the community are more vulnerable to pollutants than others. These include:

  • the very young
  • the very old
  • those with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular disease
  • those who are sensitised to a substance.

Some of these groups are also more likely to spend more time indoors than the general population.

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How to improve the air quality in your home?

This might sound obvious but keeping your airflow fresh is the cheapest and easiest way to improve the air quality in your home. When you let the outside air in to circulate the air, it carries out the nasty particles in the air that are feeding the bacteria that causes poor air quality. This will also reduce the humidity in your home which will help kill off those dust mites that thrive with high humidity. It is also ideal to keep your windows open when you are cleaning or decorating your home to allow the chemicals in certain products to ventilate outside.

This is quite unknown but buying that new lounge or that new wall unit can actually be harmful for years. Volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, are the gases given off by fabrics, glues and paints. They react with the sunlight and chemicals in the atmosphere to form particles that irritate and damage our lungs. As items stop emitting VOCs after a few years, second-hand furniture will no longer be gassing off into your home.

This links in to point number 2, carpet is a fabric-based item which collects and emits VOCs into your home. Carpet is also one of the main dust keepers, and if you don’t vacuum often, you’re trapping all the dust in your carpet. Floorboards and tiles are easier to clean and maintain, using a vacuum and even a steam mop are great to eliminate the nasties that collect up.

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Dust and pollen particles can be microscopic, yes, that’s right, almost impossible to clean because it is almost impossible to see, unless you have a microscope laying around. This is where the air purifier comes into play. The air purifying machines trap and remove almost 100% of pollutants by drawing in dirty air, filtering it and releasing it back out into the room, much cleaner and fresher. If you have hay fever, this will be your new best friend as it will keep your sinuses happy.

Good quality vacuum cleaners can be expensive, but they are a wonderful investment to combat dust, pollen and pet hair, all of which can build up and irritate your respiratory system. Vacuum as regularly as you can, including underneath sofas and beds. Bash cushions, rugs and blankets against outside walls to reduce how much dust they are holding. Change your bedding weekly and wash it at 60 degrees to kill dust mites and germs. Try keep your surfaces clutter-free for frequent dusting and use a damp cloth to trap those particles.

Dust mites, mould and viruses love heat and moisture, making kitchens and bathrooms their best choice. When you are having a hot shower try to keep the door shut, try cover cooking pans, turn on the extractor fan to get rid of steam and hang wet clothes up to dry outside. This is where windows help as well as it will stop the condensation building up. If controlling your humidity levels proves to be a little difficult, you can consider investing in a dehumidifier for poorly insulated rooms.

Smoking in an enclosed space is one of the worst pollutants for poor indoor air quality. Toxic airborne tobacco particles release over 7000 chemicals and remain at harmful levels for up to five hours. Airborne chemicals stay around for a long time, so if you’re moving into a new home try avoid any homes where smokers have lived before you. The chemical term is adsorbed’ and what this means is that the chemicals move onto the walls and all the surfaces on your home and they will just permeate and stay there slowly releasing over time.

Air fresheners may help mask bad odours but every spritz sprays a torrent of synthetic chemicals into your home. Swap the sickly scent of fake vanilla for naturally fragranced or fragrance-free products. Better still, go fully natural with an organic room diffuser or essential oil burner. You can also neutralise cooking smells by leaving a bowl of white vinegar in the kitchen overnight or microwaving slices of lemon in water.

As some people can spend up to 90% of their time indoors, it is important to research and consider healthy air quality a top priority. There are many different types of plants that aid in the removal of pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and carbon monoxide. However, remember that some plants and plant parts can be toxic, and you should keep them out of the reach of children and pets.

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Smoke is a serious source particulate matter, so again make sure to open your windows when you burn something: candles, incense, a roast chicken. Try keep the candle burning to a minimum and consider other forms to have your room smelling fresh. If you’re cooking make sure to always use your vent, whether it is a quick scrambled egg or a pot roast, the vent will help eliminate the humidity that is released by cooking.

Words by Ece Demir


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