Air pollution brings to mind smokestacks and clogged freeways, but the air in our homes and offices is often much worse than outdoor air. Pollutants from fireplaces and stoves, cleaning supplies and building materials, tap water and radon become particularly concentrated during the winter, when our indoor spaces are tightly sealed against the cold.
These and other airborne pollutants ramp up inflammation and increase the risk of multiple health problems. Clearing the air makes a real difference. For example, three years after public smoke-free laws were adopted in Florida, hospitalizations for heart attacks and stroke fell by 18 percent.
You obviously have no control over the quality of air in public places, but here are four easy ways to clean up the air in your home.
- Maintain your heating system. If your furnace isn’t working properly, it can emit dangerous fumes. Air-duct cleaning of heating (and air conditioning) systems has also been reported to decrease levels of airborne mold in homes. And it may reduce the levels of dust mites and animal dander as well. Finally, you might want to consider changing your furnace filters on a monthly basis during the winter.
- Use “green” household products, which are now widely available in supermarkets and health food stores. You can also make your own cleaning products using ingredients such as baking soda, distilled white vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide.
Baking soda can be used for scrubbing counters, deodorizing the refrigerator, and cleaning drains. White vinegar diluted with water is effective for most kitchen and bathroom surfaces. And hydrogen peroxide makes a good disinfectant. These cleansers may take a little longer to work and require more elbow grease, but the trade-off is worth it.
- Surround yourself with houseplants, which are nature’s air filters. They draw in airborne chemicals and other harmful compounds through their leaves and deposit them in the soil where they are broken down and utilized as plant food by micro-organisms. This process effectively removes toxins such as nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and benzene, to name a few.
Experts recommend using one to three plants for every 100 square feet of living space. Spider plants, philodendrons, golden pathos, aloe vera, and Chinese evergreen plants all ranked highly in their ability to remove pollutants. Keep in mind that the soil in potted plants can collect mold and mildew over time, so keep an eye on them if you are susceptible to these allergens.
- Get a HEPA filter. Used in hospitals and clean rooms, these filters remove particulate matter—the tiny particles of smoke, dust, soot, pollen, and other pollutants that are abundant in indoor air. A HEPA filter is especially useful if you have respiratory or cardiovascular problems. In one study, these filters removed nearly 60 percent of air particulates, lowered C-reactive protein (CRP) levels by 32 percent, and improved endothelial function.
Now it’s your turn: Do you use any other methods for purifying the air in your house?