Green expert and author Lori Bongiorno on how to reduce indoor air pollution in your home
Did you know that the air inside your home may be more polluted than the air outside? Eye irritation, headaches and allergic reactions are just a few of the potential effects of indoor air pollution. Luckily there are plenty of things you can do to help your family breathe easier in your house.
Swap out certain household products. Building materials, furnishings, carpets, paints and cleaning supplies can emit harmful, volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some ideas for banishing them: Use less toxic cleaners (low-VOC paints, sealants and glues are affordable and work well. Check labels for products with less than 50 grams of VOCs per liter). Look for formaldehyde-free pressed wood and building supplies. Choose area rugs rather than wall-to-wall carpeting. Air out dry-cleaned clothes before bringing them inside. Replace vinyl shower curtains with those made of natural materials.
Clean regularly. Chemicals can accumulate in household dust, so wet-mop or vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Keep your furnace and other fuel-burning appliances well maintained, and don’t forget to change the filters. Also, fix leaks and eliminate sources of still water to avoid the formation of molds.
Test and monitor for pollutants. Radon, a naturally occurring gas found in the ground, can accumulate in your basement and penetrate your living area. A simple test kit can tell you if the levels in your home are too high. In addition, battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors with digital monitors are available at most home-improvement stores. Install them in your bedroom and other places where you spend a lot of time and can hear the alarm. Be sure to replace the batteries regularly.
Ditch commercial air fresheners. They may contain synthetic fragrances that can aggravate asthma and allergies. Instead, find the source of the odor you’re attempting to mask and fix it. You can also try decorating with plants that absorb air contaminants, such as spider plants, peace lilies or gerbera daisies.
Make sure you have good ventilation. There are varying levels of ventilation, from open windows to whole-house mechanical systems. The idea is to bring in enough outdoor air to dilute the pollutants in your house and to circulate some of them outside. Installing bathroom and kitchen fans that emit exhaust to the outside is an effective way to keep mold and mildew at bay. Your best bet is to find a knowledgeable professional who can advise you.
About the author: Lori Bongiorno is the author of GREEN, GREENER, GREENEST: A Practical Guide to Making Eco-Smart Choices a Part of Your Life (Perigee Trade, March 25, 2008). For more information, visit greengreenergreenest.com.