Southern California, where I live, is notorious for its poor air quality. Just how poor becomes apparent when a rare rainstorm washes the smog away and the mountains stand out against a blue sky. But believe it or not, smog is actually less of a threat to health than the air you breathe in your own home.
In fact, the same air pollutants that are monitored by environmental laws outdoors are found in levels two, five, sometimes 100 times higher in the average American home. Most of us spend 90 percent of our time indoors and even more during the winter. Newer, more energy-efficient homes literally seal us inside this toxic environment.
Reduce Your Exposure
Although it is impossible to escape indoor air pollution altogether, you can improve the air quality in your home. Begin by eliminating as many contaminants as possible.
First and foremost, banish smoking. Secondhand smoke is responsible for thousands of lung cancer deaths and tens of thousands of heart disease deaths each year in nonsmoking adults. It also contains strong irritants that worsen symptoms of asthma and allergies and increase the risk of ear and respiratory tract infections in children.
Next, reduce your exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Hang dry-cleaned items outdoors or in the garage for two hours before bringing inside. Store paint, solvents, and pesticides in the garage. Minimize your use of household cleaning agents and disinfectants or look for “green” products, which are safe and nontoxic. And avoid air fresheners, which mask odors while releasing dangerous chemicals.
Consider an Air Purifier
These steps will dramatically improve the air you breathe, but they won’t solve the problem altogether. There is, however, a practical and very reliable way of cleaning up the air in your home: a quality air purifier. This is something I think you should consider, particularly if you live in a tight, energy-efficient house in an area with weather extremes or, more important, if you or a family member (especially a child or a senior) suffers with asthma, allergies, any respiratory illness, or cardiovascular disease.
Let Plants Clean the Air for You
Another effective way to clean up your indoor air is with plants. Plants work as natural air purifiers by absorbing impurities into their leaves and transporting them into the soil. Once in the soil, microorganisms break down these harmful vapors into plant food.
Virtually all indoor plants clean the air of known contaminants, however, the following are best known for their air-cleaning capabilities:
- English Ivy
- Chinese evergreen
- Spider plant
- Golden pothos
- Snake plant
- Weeping fig
- Bamboo palm
- Peace lilies
- Gerbera daisies
Now it’s your turn: What are your plans for making your indoor environment healthier this fall and winter?