Keeping the indoor air quality in your home fresh and clean during the winter months is difficult especially when there are weeks at a time of inclement weather. According to Dr. E. Neil Schacter, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York: “If you live in a home with chronically poor air quality, you can experience frequent headaches, long-lasting colds, and bronchitis as well as chronic asthma.”
Because poor indoor air quality in homes can actually cause or exacerbate illness, I frequently call this “sick home syndrome”. Indoor air pollutants that are the most guilty of making the air in your home unhealthy are combustion by-products such as wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, water heaters, dryers, and stoves; solvents such as perfumes, scented products, paint, air-fresheners, glue, carpeting and cleaning products; outdoor sources such as dust and particles, radon, molds, pesticides, lead and building chemicals; pets – animal dander and other particles from pets with fur or feathers can majorly aggravate allergies and asthma in sensitive individuals. As people stay indoors more, so do pets that go outside during less inclement weather.
Recommendations for Keeping the Indoor Air Quality in Your Home Clean
1. Living Plants.
Placing living plants throughout your home is a very safe easy way to add oxygen (cleans and purifies) to the air. Examples of plants to include are several palms, like Areca, Lady, Dwarf Date, and Bamboo, as well as Rubber Plant, Dracaena, English ivy, Peace Lily, Boston fern, Aloe Vera, Snake Plant and Spider Plant. Make sure to keep the soil fresh (use organic potting soil) and the plants healthy. Plants that are pet-friendly include Aloe Vera, Yucca, Bamboo, Snake Plant, Ferns and Bromeliad. This page (PDF) has a great list of plants which are toxic to indoor pets.
According to the NASA Clean Air Study, researchers suggest using at least one plant per 100 square feet of home or office space for healthy indoor air quality. Other research has shown that micro-organisms in the potting mix (soil) of a potted plant remove benzene from the air, and that some plant species also contribute to removing benzene. This page provides a list of air-filtering plants and what each plant removes.
2. Air Purification.
Good air purifiers will improve indoor air quality by removing allergens, harmful particles, and odors. Purified air is especially important to people suffering from asthma, allergies, or chemical and pollutant sensitivities. Ideally, according to the layout of your home, it is best to have air purifiers in all bedrooms as well as the main living areas. Most effective air purifiers cover up to 600 sq.ft. of living space. We recommend filters that include the following:
- Electrostatically-charged dust collection grid effectively traps charged particles & pollutants like a magnet. Simply wipe clean when dirty.
- High-efficiency HEPA filter – most effective way to capture dust and allergens.
- Activated carbon filter traps chemicals, gases and odors.
- Germicidal UV lamp destroys micro-organisms.
- Photocatalytic oxidation (TiO2) filter which effectively reduces chemicals, bacteria and odors.
- Air-cleaning negative ions that circulate throughout the room. Negative ions are completely safe and scientifically proven as effective in producing clean air.
- Washable pre-filter does not require replacement, and enhances the durability and performance of the other filters.
- Sensor Technology that monitors air quality.
The air purifier that I recommend and use in our home and office is the Intelli-Pro Air Purifier.
3. Essential Oil Spritzers.
Use essential oils to effectively clean and freshen indoor air. A good DIY essential oil room spritzer recipe is the following: Add 12-15 drops of pure essential oil to 1/2 cup of white vinegar and 1 1/2 cups of purified water. Place in a dark glass spray bottle shake well before each use. This recipe is especially useful for bathrooms, closets, basements and sick rooms. Make sure that the essential oils you use are free from chemical additives. Essential oils for air purification include: Lemongrass, Lime, Lavender, Sweet Orange, Peppermint, Pine, Rosemary, Sage, Tangerine, Tea Tree, Thyme, Frankincense, Eucalyptus, Ginger, Grapefruit, Helichrysum, White Camphor, Marjoram, Myrrh, Cilantro, Citronella.
4. Aromatherapy | Essential Oil Diffuser.
Quality heat-free and water-free aromatherapy diffusers work well and can actually clean the air of viruses and bacteria. Be sure to use good quality essential oils.
5. Air-out your home.
When weather permits, open a window. Easy and free. This is one of the most effective ways to get the old air out and fresh air in. If you live in a heavy industrial or chemical area, be careful that you are not trading one concern for another. Another recommendation is to use trickle ventilation, which is a 10-inch high screen with extra filters. It adjusts to most windows and allows fresh air in and helps escort indoor pollutants out.
Grow herbs on your windowsill. Basil, mint and thyme are excellent choices to grow indoors year-round. These naturally fragrant herbs will help clean the air while providing a decorative touch to the windowsill.
7. Regular Cleaning.
Regular dusting and frequent vacuuming will help tremendously in reducing airborne pollutants like mold, pollen, pet dander, and dust mites. Use non-toxic cleaning products.
8. Change filters.
Change furnace and air-conditioning filters frequently. Spray rubbing alcohol on the vents inside your home. If there is mold on the vents use a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to kill the mold.
9. Remedy mold issues.
If your house has ventilation concerns, has a basement or you live in a humid area, it’s a good idea to have your home checked yearly for mold.
10. Keep humidity in check.
The extreme dryness of winter air also contributes can cause discomfort and even illness. Winter air can make your skin very dry and bothersome. Be aware that air that is overly humid can easily become a breeding ground for mold, mildew and bacteria. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests keeping indoor humidity in the 30 to 60 percent range. Adding the right amount of humidity to the air will help control dust mites, mold and mildew. Using both humidifiers and dehumidifiers to achieve this humidity range is fine, depending on the dryness of your air.
11. Dry Cleaning.
Before bringing in clothes that have been dry cleaned, allow them to hang in the garage or on the patio before bringing them indoors. Dry cleaning products can emit chemicals such as formaldehyde.
Indoor air quality depends on the length and severity of winter in your particular area, the age, condition and size of your home, the number of family members, and how the indoor space is divided. Health-wise, improving the air quality of your home can help you and your family experience less respiratory concerns and feel better all year-long. If you have concerns about indoor air quality, consult with a knowledgeable home air quality expert for more suggestions on how to turn the air quality in your home into a breath of clean air.
References & Resources
1. Sick Building Syndrome. EPA. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pdfs/sick_building_factsheet.pdf
2. Papinchak, Heather L., Holcomb, E. Jay, Best, Teodora Orendovici, Decoteau, Dennis R. Effectiveness of Houseplants in Reducing the Indoor Air Pollutant Ozone. HortTechnology, 2009 19: 286-290
3. Kwang Jin Kim et al. Efficiency of Volatile Formaldehyde Removal by Indoor Plants: Contribution of Aerial Plant Parts versus the Root Zone. Horticultural Science, 133: 479-627 (2008)
4. Wolverton, B. C. and J. D. Wolverton. (1993). Plants and soil microorganisms: removal of formaldehyde, xylene, and ammonia from the indoor environment. Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences 38(2), 11-15.
5. Lanphier, Loretta. (February 2013) 20 Non-Toxic Ways to Have a Fresh Smelling Home. OAWHealth.com