The air inside your home can be toxic. It can even be more dangerous to your heath that the sooty, pollen laden air outside your front door. This is because we go for long periods without opening windows or circulating air. In the winter, we rely on dry, overheated air that disperses dust and debris everywhere and in the summer, we rely on moldy, wet air conditioners that cause bronchitis and strange infections like legionnaires’ disease. As global warming marches forward, the winters will get colder and drier and the summers will be blazing. Humidity levels are dropping worldwide because of the lack of rain and this is causing the faster dispersion and wider spread of pollutants and air born toxins.
Overall, this closed up air and temperature control that we rely on is also why the air in your home likely contains two to five times as many pollutants as outdoor air, according to an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And if you’ve been working with harsh chemicals, such as paint strippers, the air in your home may be one thousand times more toxic than the air outside during and immediately after the procedure. And if you rarely open your windows, double that time span and add hours to any application of cleaning chemicals, beauty products or household toxins like pest control sprays. They literally circulate throughout your home over and over again, looking for enough fresh air to disperse themselves. Without it, they hang like a cloud.
But don’t let me scare you too bad. There are solutions to this problem, a form of detox for your home. So you don’t need to wear a gas mask all day or run outside every few minutes to gasp “fresh air”. Just follow my hints and take the steps necessary to clean the air in your home. I will clue you in on the most common offenders of air quality and what you can do to reduce their effects.
But before you don a gas mask and hunker down in a closet, realize that there are steps you can take to clear the air in your home. Below, the typical offenders and how you can minimize your risk:
1. Gas stoves. If you have a gas stove, make sure the adjustments are reducing carbon monoxide emissions. The flame should always burn blue and not turn yellow. If the color is burning yellow, contact your gas company and have them help you get it right.
2. Electric stoves. Make sure you have an exhaust fan. And if you do, clean it frequently and make sure it actually vents to the outside and not just to the wall behind it. Maintain the silver grill and if it is discarded or lost, replace it.
3. Cleaning products. Try to avoid aerosol cleaning products that emit fumes or gases. This includes pest control products. Buy the pump sprayers or plastic traps rather than the spewing spray nozzles that end up putting insecticide in the air and on every surface in sight. If you use an aerosol glass cleaner or other spray cleaner, open the doors and windows when you do it and allow the room to air out afterwards. Your best bet is to locate fume free products, green products with non toxic ingredients or to go natural with some of my recipes from Herbal Alternatives to Chemicals .
4. Refrigerator. Check the fridge for freon leaks and for leaking pipes from ice makers. These spew toxic freon and other chemicals into the atmosphere. If you don’t hear a hissing behind the fridge, then check it for a chemical smell. If either is present, call a repairman. The same is true for a leaking dishwasher, which can send detergent laden water all over the floor where it dries and expels odors that are hard to eliminate. Not to mention the mold that can take hold of your floors, cabinets or carpeted areas very quickly when left wet for a while.
5. Laundry area. If you have washer and dryer hookups in a laundry closet, it may be in your kitchen. If not, it may be in the garage. I like the latter arrangement much better but I have been in a home for the past three years that has the washer and dryer in a closet next to the pantry. If the dryer is not properly vented and the lint filters are left uncleaned, the air can get clogged with toxins that you can literally feel when you breathe. Dust and lint spewing through the house on a waft of warm, moist air is not a lung friendly combo. And watch the washing machine for leaks. These can cause a build up of mold and mildew that will make everybody sick fast. And even if it doesn’t leak, make sure to open windows and run fans when running a load or you will be breathing laundry surfactants and optical brighteners for hours afterwards. These are toxic and are harsh on the lungs, especially those of young children. Try buying non toxic laundry detergents and never use anti static sheets in the dryer. Try reading my previous post on Non Toxic Laundry Solutions for further help.
1. Check everything in the bathroom for leaks. Just like in the kitchen, mold and mildew proliferate on wet surfaces and can cause a mold outbreak that will make everybody very sick very quickly. Most especially are those of you who have allergies or asthma. I have allergies and I know firsthand what mold can do. I spent 5 years in an apartment that had black mold in the closets. Here in Florida, hurricanes cause periodic flooding and subsequent wet areas that are hard to dry in the humid atmosphere. So I was sick from this and I know it’s not easy to get over. Luckily, I no longer smoke.
2. Cleaning products. The bathroom is notorious for “extra strength” cleaning products, from the blue stuff they have you flooding the potty with to the foaming scrubbing bubbles you are spraying on the tub. To add insult to injury, the bathroom is a small, tiled area with little ventilation and holds these fumes as long as it holds the wet mist after a shower. Sometimes for hours. All of these hard core toxins are reputed to kill evil bacteria and are probably a necessity for many of us but be careful! Use only while ventilating the area; open any and all windows and make sure the air vents are open. Leave doors open and windows open until the smells evaporate and the surfaces are dry.
3. Beauty products. I know you don’t think of this stuff as being bad for the air but believe me, they are! Perfumes, hair sprays, lotions and even toothpastes leave a scent and also a “fume” in the air after they are used. Hair sprays and perfumes are hardest on the lungs; just ask someone who is allergic, like me. I literally feel smothered standing next to these lovely women who have doused themselves in Chanel or Musk. This is just a hint of what it is likely doing even to those of you who don’t notice it. So use this stuff in a ventilated room, open windows after a beauty routine and try coloring your hair or waxing your legs on a back patio. Better yet, go to natural, unscented and non toxic beauty products or try making some of your own natural concotions. Read my post on Making Herbal Skin Cleansers for help with that.
1. Carpeting. In areas that are carpeted, make sure you vacuum often. When you wash carpeting, make sure you open all the windows, run fans and allow to dry completely. Mold grows swiftly under moist carpeting and toxins from carpet shampoos are strong irritants. If you spot clean, treat this with the same respect you do a machine. Foaming shampoos spew chemicals into the air that can linger for hours.
2. Bedding and linens. To keep dust mites and bugs to a minimum, either vacuum your mattress and pillows often or use zip on plastic covers. You can use unscented garbage bags for your pillows as long as you wash the cases in non toxic detergents. This is the place you should be the most careful with laundry products and the chemicals, like fire retardents, that are added to your linens and clothing. You lay on those sheets, with your head pressed against that pillow for as long as 8 or 9 hours a day. You are not often in the same outfit for this long a period of time so your exposure to chemicals used in bedding products is greater than almost anything else except shampoo and soap. You may not notice the odors coming from the linens, pillows or bedclothes but your body does. If you wake up with a cough or feel soreness in your lungs when you take your morning breath, then consider exposure to toxins in your bed. Itching in your ears, watering eyes and dermatitis are other warning signs. Just take care with the products you use and take time to think it over carefully when you shop.
3. Air conditioning and heating. Nowhere else in the home does the quality of air matter more than in the bedroom. Laying there, deeply breathing while you sleep, you are taking it all in for hours on end. Mold or mildew in air conditioning vents or trapped dust and lint in heating systems can reek havoc with your health. Change the filters every 3 months. If you use reusable filters, they should be wiped with a wet cloth or washed in soapy water and then dried every 3 months or so. It may seem like a luxury but you should consider hiring a professional vent or duct cleaner to clean the system every few years or so. If you use a humidifier, open the windows during the day for a few hours. Otherwise, the moisture buildup can cause mold or mildew growth in the air vents, behind the drywall or under the carpet.
4. Painting and repairs. If your home was built before 1978, be sure to have it tested for lead. Lead exposure, as I’m sure you already know, is dangerous, especially to children. If there is lead in the paint, DO NOT paint over it or try to remove it yourself. Call a professional and then have the house repainted with lead free, non toxic paint. And then try to keep painted areas dust free and make sure that the paint does not start peeling. Peeling paint can put a lot of toxic micro debris in the air that can slowly destroy your lungs. When doing any household repairs, try to go the most natural, modern, non toxic products even if they cost more. It is worth the investment to keep your body out of the doctors office. And, last but not least, have your home checked for radon, a colorless, odorless gas that seeps out of the ground and is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers.