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How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Aug 06, 2023Aug 06, 2023

Published August 4, 2023

Katie Okamoto

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No matter who you are, you can benefit from breathing better air inside—a fact that has become clearer with the rise of wildfire smoke and COVID-19, alongside a growing body of research showing that many everyday household products off-gas potentially harmful chemicals.

Improving indoor air quality may be especially important for members of vulnerable groups, including children, older adults, or those who have existing respiratory issues. Most people spend a large chunk of their lives indoors, where common irritants such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores can trigger allergies and asthma.

You might face compounded health effects from poor indoor air quality if you’re a smoker or live with one, or if you are exposed regularly to outdoor air pollution, says Dr. Enid Rose Neptune, a professor of pulmonology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and scientific advisor at the American Lung Association.

Take even a few of the steps we outline below, and you and your housemates can breathe more easily right away and enjoy long-term benefits, too.

This is the most effective way to improve your home’s air quality, according to the EPA. Some sources of indoor air pollution, such as smoking indoors and using wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, are simpler to eliminate.

Others, such as building materials and household furnishings, may be difficult or impossible to remove.

Be sure to maintain perspective: “We can only control what we can control,” says Nsilo Berry, a researcher at the Healthy Building Network. Here are a few steps to control sources of indoor air pollution:

Ventilation and filtration may make sense at different times or can work in tandem. Bringing in outdoor air flushes out trapped pollutants from your home, while air filtration removes pollutants and particulates that are already inside.

Researchers are learning more and more about the potential health impacts of the stuff people bring into their homes or use on their bodies. Cleaning products, personal-care products, candles, fragrances, and other routine purchases can be sources of indoor air pollution.

For many shoppers, it’s impractical to try to avoid worrisome chemicals—and for everyone, avoiding them entirely is impossible. But it may make sense for those in high-risk groups to take a more cautious approach. Reducing even some of the known sources of VOCs and SVOCs in the stuff you use daily could improve your indoor air overall and in the long run. Here are some quick ways to start:

Keep in mind that the health impacts of the air you breathe are cumulative and include not just the air in your home but also outdoors, at your place of work, and at school. Everyone can take steps to breathe better inside, but the reasons that people need to do so—including the effects of climate change and the ubiquity of certain chemicals in products—won’t improve without large-scale changes.

This article was edited by Christine Cyr Clisset.

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Use these items to clean your home’s air, reduce the sources of respiratory problems, and limit the infiltration of new particulates.

Reduce smoke.Regularly clean soft decor items such as rugs, upholstery, and bedding.Maintain HVAC filters, AC units, and fans.Swap gas for electric.Dry out damp areas.Purge unneeded chemicals such as cleaning supplies, fuels, and paints.Keep plants outside.Air out your home.Vent when cooking with gas.Run a HEPA air purifier.Vent around fresh sources of VOCs.Go unscented.Disinfect judiciously. Go phthalate-free.Look for EPA-Certified Safer Choice, Green Seal, Greenguard, and MPI Extreme Green labels.Download an evidence-based app.