February is Care About Your Indoor Air Month

Why should you care about your indoor air? We spend most of our time indoors – about 90 percent of our time, to be exact. And, indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Indoor air can contain chemicals, gases and living organisms such as mold and pests. Indoor air pollutants can cause a variety of health concerns – from allergies to headaches and from heart disease to cancer. Improving indoor air quality can improve the quality of your health and the quality of your life!

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Common indoor air pollutants include …

  • smoke
  • combustible pollutants such as carbon monoxide
  • volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde and naphthalene
  • dust mites
  • pet hair and dander
  • molds

Controlling common environmental pollutants can improve indoor air quality. In fact, source control is the most effective solution for most indoor air quality issues.

Dust and clean your home and office regularly with high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuums and environmentally preferred cleansers.

Avoid products that contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are chemicals that evaporate into noxious gases at room temperature. They are found in a wide array of products such as cleansing solutions, propane, paints, building materials, air fresheners, insect repellants, pesticides and nail polish. Common VOCs include formaldehyde, naphthalene, benzene, toluene, xylene, phenols, alkyl alcohol ethoxylates and perchloroethylene. Limit your exposure to VOCs by examining product ingredients and choosing environmentally preferred alternatives. Read and follow directions on product labels. Ensure proper ventilation when using products that may contain VOCs, and always store products according to manufacturer instructions out of the reach of children and pets.

Wash bedding in hot water and use allergen proof covers to prevent dust mites. Dust mites in bedding are a common cause of allergies, and they can exacerbate asthma.

Eliminate smoking in your home. Second hand smoke can cause respiratory concerns and even cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to second hand smoke because it can exacerbate asthma and cause ear infections. Second hand smoke is even linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Keep pets away from bedding and soft furniture. Pet dander and hair are major allergens. Vacuum carpets and furniture often to remove dander and hair.

Control pests by closing cracks, sealing leaks amd properly storing food.

Ensuring proper ventilation is an effective way to improve indoor air quality. Increase the amount of fresh air in your home or office when weather conditions are favorable and when your HVAC is not in operation by opening doors and windows.

Combustible pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can be emitted from fuel burning appliances when they are not properly vented. Properly vent fuel burning appliances such as gas water heaters, gas stoves, gas dryers and fireplaces. Inspect such appliances regularly and repair them when necessary.

Central heating and air conditioning systems have filters designed to trap dust and other indoor air pollutants. Change or clean these filters regularly according to manufacturer recommendations to maintain clean air and to maintain the efficient operation of your HVAC. When purchasing air filters, look at the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV rating. A higher MERV rating generally translates into more effective air filtration. Household HVAC filters usually rate between a 1 and 12.

Excessive moisture can create excessive humidity and thus a prime environment for mold – a common air pollutant. To prevent mold, maintain indoor humidity at 30 to 50 percent. Promptly repair any water leaks and dry water damaged areas. If mold develops, remove it promptly and thoroughly clean the area using proper safety precautions and personal protective equipment.

Clean your shoes prior to entering your home or office to avoid carrying outdoor pollutants into your indoor environment. If possible, leave your shoes by the door, and ask your guests to remove their shoes upon entering your home.

Carpets can degrade indoor air quality because they often trap allergens and pollutants. Clean your carpets regularly by vacuuming and steaming. If you are installing new carpets, choose carpeting and installation materials with no or low VOCs.

Use environmentally preferred cleaning products that contain plant based or biodegradable ingredients instead of chemicals. Fumes emitted by chemicals can degrade indoor air quality and often exacerbate respiratory issues, and caustic compounds can cause eye and skin irritation.

Dry cleaning chemicals such as perchloroethylene can be hazardous and detrimental to indoor air quality. If you have to dry clean your clothes, air them in fresh air following a dry cleaning prior to storing them. Or, try in-home dry cleaning products. In-home dry cleaning products such as Dryel do not contain perchloroethylene.

For more information on indoor air quality, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Air Quality site.

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