July 30, 2014

View as List 20 Indoor Air Pollution Tips

  • woman smelling tulips on kitchen counter

    Scientific evidence shows that the air you breathe at home, whether you live in the city, the country or a suburb, is often more heavily polluted than the air outside. The adverse effects depend on individual sensitivities, as well as the types and levels of pollutants. Some signs to watch for: Symptoms that hit more than one household member at once; headaches that seem to bother you when you’re at home but clear up when you leave; fatigue, irritated eyes, coughing, skin rashes and dizziness. Follow these tips to curb indoor pollution and protect your family.

  • 1

    Ban Smoke

    Don’t smoke or allow smoking in your home. It’s the single best thing you can do.

  • 2

    Adjust Windows

    Ventilate your home by opening windows and using fans to blow air outside. Keep windows closed, however, on high-pollution days and, if you have seasonal allergies, when pollen counts are high. Interested in air cleaning machines? Their effectiveness varies.

  • 3

    Vent Appliances

    Make sure your oven, clothes dryer and other appliances are properly vented. Run the exhaust fan on high when cooking, especially on a gas range. 

  • 4

    Prevent Mold

    Keep indoor humidity below 50 percent to prevent mold growth. Use air conditioners in warm, humid weather. If you use a humidifier in winter, clean and disinfect it often.

  • 5

    Air the Bathroom

    Rubber duck sitting by a windowsill

    Be sure your bathroom is properly vented, and use the fan when you’re showering or bathing. Open a window; run the vent fan to disperse bathroom smells.

  • 6

    Avoid Scented Products

    Don’t use air fresheners, scented candles, incense and the like. They mask rather than remove odors. Air fresheners actually pollute indoor air with such potential carcinogens as paradichlorobenzene and limonene; scented candles produce polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Don’t assume that “green” air fresheners are any safer.

  • 7

    Limit Beauty Products

    Use hair sprays, nail polish, polish removers and spray perfumes sparingly and in well-ventilated areas.

  • 8

    Skip Mothballs

    Mothballs produce paradichlorobenzene and naphthalene fumes, which if inhaled in sufficient amounts can make you sick. People sometimes wear sweaters (or sleep under blankets) that smell of mothballs—not a great idea. To combat moths, clean clothes before storing: wash washables and dry-clean woolens. Store clothes in airtight containers without mothballs. Also avoid using insect sprays. 

  • 9

    Air Dry-Cleaned Clothes

    Woman adjusting shirts on a clothing rack

    Clothes that are newly dry-cleaned can temporarily raise pollution levels in your home. If you notice a chemical smell, remove the plastic bags and air the clothing out (outdoors if possible) before wearing. 

  • 10

    Wash New Fabrics

    Wash any new permanent-press and cotton fabrics—especially linens and towels—before using them. Many labels direct you to do so. The washing gets rid of sizing and other chemicals.

  • 11

    Use a Doormat

    Shoes can track in pesticides, dirt and other kinds of pollutants, so wipe them on a doormat to capture this debris, then remove your shoes. If you have crawling babies or toddlers who pick things up from the floor, consider setting up a shoe removal area just outside the door for family and guests. The floors will stay cleaner.

  • 12

    Vacuum Often

    Use a vacuum with a microfiltration bag or HEPA (high-efficiency particulate-arresting) filter—especially if you have allergies to dust, dander, dust mites or pollen. These have a two-ply design that can trap many of the smallest particles. Such filters cost more than the standard ones and may fit only certain vacuum models. There are also electrostatic filters that fit over the exhaust of some models, but these can generate harmful ozone as a byproduct.

  • 13

    Choose Safer Carpet Padding

    If you are buying and/or installing new carpet, ask the retailer for carpet, padding and adhesives that have the lowest emissions. Ask whether the installer will follow the Carpet and Rug Institute’s guidelines, which were designed to reduce emissions. Increase ventilation for two or three days after installation.

  • 14

    Limit Furniture Fumes

    If you are buying unfinished pressed-wood furniture or building materials, buy those stamped with the HUD (Housing and Urban Development) emissions seal. Government regulations have reduced the formaldehyde content of many products. Also avoid using aerosol furniture polishes and paste waxes.

  • 15

    Use Pesticides Sparingly

    little girl playing under a mosquito net

    Investigate nonchemical methods. Consider using a pest control company for persistent problems. Ask in advance how it plans to minimize exposure for humans and pets. Most states require certification and licensing.

  • 16

    Clean the Chimney

    Don’t use a woodstove, kerosene heater or fireplace. If you like a wood fire on occasion, have the chimney cleaned annually.

  • 17

    Clean Your Furnace

    handyman fixing a household appliance

    Have your furnace inspected and cleaned according to directions.

  • 18

    Install CO Detectors

    A colorless, odorless gas, carbon monoxide (CO) sickens thousands of Americans a year and kills many. Install CO detectors outside all bedrooms; look for an Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) seal.

  • 19

    Prevent Accidental CO Poisoning

    In addition to the tips above, don’t cook with charcoal indoors, including houseboats and motor homes or trailers. Never run your car engine in a garage, particularly an attached garage. Thanks to new regulations, CO emissions from automobiles are much lower than they used to be.

  • 20

    Get Rid of Radon

    Radon is an invisible, odorless radioactive gas found naturally in soil and water. It can seep into a house through cracks in the foundation as well as construction joints. You should test your home for radon, particularly if you live in an area where radon is prevalent. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and about one in every 15 U.S. homes has elevated levels. You can find out whether your home has radon by purchasing a do-it-yourself test kit at hardware stores. Radon problems can be fixed by installing special ventilation systems and sealing foundation cracks.