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Could your air at home be full of invisible toxins?

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6 top tips for healthier indoor air

Air pollution has hit the headlines lately, with claims that it could be contributing to 40,000 early deaths every year.

A recent report from the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health suggests that outdoor emissions are not properly under control, and that the issue of indoor air pollution has been overlooked.

Outside, pollutants such as diesel fumes and industrial emissions could be associated with a wide range of potential health effects, from diabetes to low birth weight.

Many of us are aware of the potential effects of outdoor pollution on both the environment and on human health, and that much more needs to be done to reduce emissions.

However, what many people neglect to consider is the pollution inside their own homes. Indoor air quality has been estimated to be up to 5 times worse[1] than outdoor air.  Since we spend around 90% of our time indoors, this is a concerning thought. Yet with the advent of ‘eco-homes’ and more efficient insulation, we’re compounding the potential effects on our health. The report mentioned above estimates that, across Europe in 2012, indoor air pollution contributed to around 99,000 deaths.

So what can cause indoor air pollution?

Common sources of indoor air pollution may include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Household cleaning products
  • Synthetic home fragrances and air fresheners
  • Radon
  • Building materials
  • Emissions from cooking and log fires
  • Off-gassing from home furnishings, including carpets, curtains, memory foam mattresses and vinyl flooring
  • Off-gassing from paints, furniture and fittings (such as MDF products)
  • Allergens from pets, house dust mites and moulds
  • Emissions from outdoors infiltrating the home


What can you do to improve your indoor air quality?

One of the positives is that some small changes can make a big difference to your indoor air quality. We recommend the following actions for cleaner air at home or in the office:

1. Check for obvious hazards

Before you embark on an indoor air cleaning regime, make sure you have the basics first. It is vitally important to ensure you have a working carbon monoxide detector and get gas appliances tested according to manufacturer’s instructions. Cigarette smoke is also a very hazardous indoor air pollutant. Make sure you ask smokers to always go outdoors before lighting up.

2. Improve ventilation

This is an obvious one, but good ventilation is key to keeping your indoor air fresh and healthy. Airtight homes may be great for your wallet and your carbon footprint, but they are not so good for maintaining high indoor air quality. Poor ventilation leads to stale, stuffy air with a higher concentration of allergens and pollutants.

If practical, open windows and keep doors closed when cooking or having a bath or shower.  If you need to dry your clothes indoors, make sure you keep that room well ventilated too.  When you’re not cooking or showering, keep internal doors open to encourage airflow. An extractor fan can be helpful in kitchens and bathrooms to help reduce condensation, which can lead to mould growth. Be sure to keep your extractor fan clean as these can collect grease and pollutants. 

3. Purify your air

A study by NASA found that certain indoor plants are able to remove small amounts of organic chemicals from indoor air, such as carcinogenic benzene and formaldehyde. Both their leaves and roots are able to absorb some Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)[2]. Chrysanthemum and English Ivy are good picks, but be careful if you have pets as these can be toxic if ingested by animals. 

For a more effective solution, we suggest using an air purifier. You can’t see, hear or even smell most air pollutants or allergens, so despite a thorough cleaning regime and toxin avoidance you can never be truly sure that your indoor air is completely pure. Depending on the model, air purifiers filter or sterilise the air, removing the vast majority of airborne pollutants or allergens. A wide range of units are available; some are good ‘all-rounders’, others have particular specialisms like reducing tobacco smoke particles or chemicals. Click here to view all of our home air purifiers and learn more about how they can benefit you.

4. Use ‘clean’ household products

Strong bleaches and cleaning products can be laden with toxic ingredients like phthalates (endocrine disruptors) and certain VOCs which can be released into the air.  They can trigger unpleasant side-effects if you are sensitive to them, including headaches and respiratory problems. People with asthma, eczema or chemical sensitivity may be particularly affected by these chemicals, but we recommend that everyone uses household products that are as gentle and natural as possible. The E-Cloth range of microfibre cloths enables you to clean your home using simply water!

It’s not just cleaning products that you should watch out for. Home fragrances, ‘plug-ins’ and scented candles can all contribute to the ‘toxic soup’ of chemicals in indoor air, as well as triggering uncomfortable symptoms like dizziness and nausea in those with chemical sensitivity. Scrap the synthetic fragrance and make your air at home truly clean (rather than simply smelling clean) with a good cleaning regime and an air purifier. And if you must use candles, opt for natural soy or beeswax unscented ones.

5. Watch out for toxins in fixtures and furniture

Have you ever noticed a ‘chemical smell’ emanating from new MDF furniture, vinyl flooring, memory foam mattresses, fresh paint, car interiors or carpets?

Some people like the smell, but actually it’s a sign that potentially harmful VOCs are being released into the air in the form of fumes. For example, MDF can release toxic chemicals like urea formaldehyde. This phenomenon is known as ‘off-gassing’ and, in some cases, can go on for weeks or even months.

To avoid these toxins, we suggest choosing organic or natural furnishings where possible. Instead of vinyl flooring, choose cork or natural hard wood. Standard household paints can give off a great deal of chemicals and smells which linger long after it has dried – try VOC-free alternatives instead. Certain memory foam mattresses can give off chemicals like methyl benzene, which can affect the nervous system, and vinilideine chloride, a possible carcinogen and respiratory irritant. Go for the kinder option and choose a pure, organic mattress instead. These ones are certified by the Soil Association and contain absolutely no harmful chemicals. 

6. Keep allergens at bay

It’s not just toxic chemicals that can make our air unhealthy. Our air at home can be rife with allergens, from house dust mites to mould spores and pet dander. A thorough cleaning regime can help to keep these at bay – view our Allergy Information section for more detailed information on tackling these particular allergens. Allergens can lurk in carpets and be dispersed into the air when walked on, so ensure you vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter.

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[1] U.S Environmental Protection Agency | Air & Radiation | http://www3.epa.gov/air/basic.html#indoor

[2] Health Boosters | http://blog.withings.com/2015/01/16/7-tips-to-improve-indoor-air-quality-in-your-home/

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