For the past few months, we’ve been advised to stay home or shelter in place to keep ourselves and families safe from COVID-19.
In the process of doing so, however, we’re exposing ourselves to common indoor pollutants that may be of a concentration that is comparable to a “polluted major city,” say University of Colorado Boulder researchers.
“Even the simple act of making toast raised particle levels far higher than expected,” claims Marina Vance, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, who led the study.
Indoor pollutants are sneaky; many we can’t smell or see but may cause allergy-like symptoms, nausea, headaches, and even cancer.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate the level of pollutants in the air in your home.
First, let’s look at that elephant in the room
Decades ago, NASA and The Associated Landscape Contractors of America (now known as The National Association of Landscape Professionals) collaborated on a study of how plants may clean indoor air.
The results, that plants were “a promising, economical solution to indoor air pollution,” was gleefully picked up by the media and distorted into the myth that we live with today.
Yes, plants may clean the air of volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as those emitted by paint, carpeting, drywall, and more. But there’s a catch – they can only do that in a hermetically sealed environment, such as a space station or laboratory.
Since our homes are not hermetically sealed, houseplants offer aesthetics, not clean air.
Regardless of what they tell you on your favorite online plant store’s blog, rubber plants do not “filter formaldehyde” from indoor air, and pothos won’t get rid of the benzene from the air in your home.
How does this stuff get into our homes?
Indoor pollutants get into our homes in a number of ways. “Some are carried in on the breeze; some are carried in, unwittingly, by you,” according to Mary H.J. Farrell at ConsumerReports.org.
Carpet, furniture, and other upholstered items emit pollutants. Even the paint on the walls may be a contributor. The list also includes:
- Cleaning and personal care products
- Central heating and cooling systems
- Smoking in the home
- Cabinetry or furniture made of “certain pressed wood products” (EPA)
- Carbon monoxide fumes from an attached garage
For a more complete list, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency online at EPA.gov.
How to improve your indoor air
It’s frightening to know that the air inside your home is polluted, but there are steps you can take to improve your air quality, including:
- Keeping dust to a minimum.
- Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Mopping floors with non-toxic cleaners.
- Having everyone remove their shoes before entering the home.
- Routinely replacing the HVAC filters in the home.
- Maintaining your air conditioning unit(s) to help lower the amount of pollen that enters the home.
- Ensuring your home is well ventilated while cooking, cleaning with chemicals, and using hobby or personal products.
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