When we think about pollution our minds usually turn to smog-filled cities or huge factories churning out smoke into the air.
However, inside our everyday homes, there are plenty of pollutants that can be just as harmful, and sometimes even worse than the outdoor threats.
Air quality is an important factor in good health and something that can be easily rectified with a few simple changes.
Due to the serious health consequences of air pollutants like mold and carbon monoxide, it’s crucial to understand what’s going on inside of your home and know what you can do about it.
We’ve uncovered some of the most common indoor air pollutants and what makes them so dangerous so you can see what’s potentially going on in your home.
By following our simple steps for improving the air quality indoors you can make a huge impact on your family’s health and ensure that inside the home is as safe and comfortable as it can be.
Table of Contents
Common Indoor Pollutants at Home
We usually think of pollution as something that happens outdoors only, but inside our homes, there are many pollutants lurking.
These pollutants can be dragged inside from the outdoors, grow or develop due to the environment indoors, and others get there from the introduction of new items like paint or new furniture.
Indoor pollutants come with plenty of risks for our health, and because many of them are invisible or hard to spot, it makes matters worse.
These are some of the most common air pollutants found inside a regular home, and what makes them so dangerous.
One of the most common indoor pollutants is mold and the fungus can quickly and easily grow, and it’s notoriously hard to get rid of once it arrives.
Mold is caused by high levels of moisture and will spread due to the small spores being circulated or moved throughout the home.
Asbestos was declared unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1971 but many homes still have traces of it.
As long as the asbestos isn’t disturbed or damaged then it doesn’t pose harm, but it can be a serious and deadly pollutant otherwise.
Smoke from outside or second-hand smoke that occurs from tobacco smoke is extremely dangerous to have inside the home. This can come from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, with over 4,700 different chemicals being found in this type of smoke.
Lead was commonly used in household paint until 1978 and many homes from this era will have trace amounts in the air.
Any chipping, peeling or fading in a lead-based paint can be toxic and is especially dangerous to have around children.
Pet dander is a leading allergen and it can easily come off of our pets and spread through the entire house.
People can even bring pet dander inside of their homes even if they don’t have an animal themselves.
Dust mites breed indoors and they are a serious allergen that can affect your health.
Commonly found in bedding, furniture, and carpets, they are microscopic and hard to see in the home, usually taking many attempts to get rid of.
Radon is a gas that occurs naturally everywhere, some with higher levels than others.
It’s odorless and colorless and is created by uranium in the earth breaking down, and it can be dangerous to your health if not detected.
Carbon monoxide is another odorless and colorless gas that occurs when a fossil fuel combusts.
Any combustion appliances in the home, like ovens or heaters, can cause a carbon monoxide leak and need to be checked regularly for any faults.
How to Tell If Your Home’s Air Is Polluted
Pollution is often an invisible thing so it can be hard to know when your home and family are at risk.
The average American home is vulnerable to all types of indoor pollutants no matter how clean they might feel, so you should always take steps to reduce their levels and do whatever you can to improve your air quality.
If the air quality of your home is poor you may notice symptoms starting to develop not long after you get home, and they can also disappear a couple of hours after you leave.
Common symptoms of poor air quality and pollution include dry or irritated eyes, coughing, sneezing, fatigue, increased allergies, and headaches. Depending on the type of pollutant in the home and your sensitivity to it, these symptoms can differ for everyone.
The only way to tell if your home’s air is polluted is by using a range of different methods. You can purchase air quality monitors, carbon monoxide detectors, and perform visual checks for mold and mildew, among others.
Because most forms of indoor pollution are invisible and odorless, taking these measures is essential for finding the source of the problem and improving the air quality.
The Health Side Effects of Indoor Pollutants
Indoor pollutants can have many side effects both in the short and long term.
Depending on the severity of the pollution and the type, it might have different side effects on our health, and some people may be more sensitive than others.
Long term exposure can even desensitize you to these symptoms so they’re less obvious over time even if they are still having negative effects.
The short term health side effects of indoor pollution including common allergy symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and irritated eyes, and other symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and dizziness.
Some of these reactions can be immediate and others take days or week to develop, again depending on the individual.
Long term exposure to indoor pollutants like lead and asbestos can be more serious and when left untreated over the years can be more difficult to treat.
Studies have shown health effects including cancer and heart disease are caused by lead poisoning or asbestos exposure, and these can be extremely debilitating and fatal.
What makes the health side effects of indoor pollutants so difficult to determine is not knowing the concentration amount or time periods that can cause them.
As research is still in its early stages about poor air quality in the home and what effect it can have on the individual, it’s important to remove any potential threats as soon as they’re found.
7 Steps for Improving Air Quality at Home
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, improving the air quality of your home and reducing pollutants can be done with three types of methods.
Source control, improved ventilation, and air cleaners are the three approaches they recommend, and within each of these, there are seven simple steps you can take to reduce pollution inside the home and improve the quality of the air we live in.
Check for signs of mold and mildew
Sometimes the easiest way to clean the air in our home is to remove mold, and it’s something that most of us have spotted at least once in our lives.
Do a thorough check of your home and look for excess moisture or mold spots that can indicate a larger problem, and take care of them immediately.
Mold spores spread through the air and can make humans very sick, and this fungus is known for its resilience when trying to remove it, so you don’t want to let it grow out of control.
Keep floors clean
Even though we’re concerned with the air quality in our homes, it’s the floors that actually bring a lot of these pollutants in.
Make a conscious effort to vacuum with a device that features a HEPA filter, as well as mopping, to keep things like pet dander and dust from causing issues.
A simple addition of a doormat can reduce the number of pollutants brought inside from others and keep your home clean as well.
Maintain humidity levels
Humidity is a major cause of indoor pollutants, whether it’s creating a breeding ground for dust mites or facilitating the growth of mold.
As a goal, your home should be at around 30 – 50% humidity which can be easily checked with a smart thermostat or air quality monitor.
A dehumidifier can be helpful in warmer months when indoor levels can’t be controlled, otherwise simple measures like hanging clothes to air dry, opening windows, and fixing any leaking plumbing can all help reduce humidity.
Improve insulation and ventilation
In order for the air inside of a home to be clean, it has to be fresh and new. While it might seem comfortable to have all of the doors and windows shut, fresh air is essential to reducing indoor pollutants.
Make sure you have adequate ventilation through the entire house, especially in high moisture areas like the bathroom, and check that pipes and other heating appliances are insulated.
For homes and apartments that can’t get much natural air in, investing in an air purifier can be a smart purchase to help improve the air quality.
Have a range of houseplants
Houseplants are not only great for décor, but they can do wonders at improving air quality as well. Just like a natural air purifier or dehumidifier, choosing the right type of houseplants can actually absorb excess moisture from the air and help to purify it as well.
Some carefully placed houseplants around the home will improve your air quality significantly and reduce common pollutants like mold. Popular choices include the Peace Lily and Boston Fern, both known for their low maintenance and minimal sunshine requirements.
Test the air quality
You can easily test the quality of the air at home to give you an idea of just how healthy it is, and this should be done regularly to ensure you are living with the best quality possible.
An indoor air quality monitor can be purchased online and show you levels of chemical pollutants, dust, allergens, and humidity inside of the home.
With the readings that it calculates, you can then try to target the source and eliminate it to improve the quality of air.
Limit synthetic fragrances
According to WebMD, synthetic fragrances from everyday household products can cause a lot of pollution in the home.
These products emit chemicals into the air which can create pollution and cause reactions in some people.
One study on plug-in air fresheners specifically found that up to 20 different volatile organic compounds were released while it was in use, all of which are spread into the air we breathe inside.
Opt for natural fragrances and limit your use of fabric softeners, air fresheners, and dryer sheets where possible.
Clean Air for a Healthier Home
The air in your home is something that needs to be as clean and healthy as possible for your family’s wellbeing.
There are many sources of pollution that can occur indoors and so vigilance is required to make sure they’re not an issue in your home.
Being aware of the symptoms of pollution is a good first step, but to guarantee the quality of air in the home you have to target the source.
Mold and mildew growth are some of the biggest causes of pollutants and performing simple checks of the home to look for excess moisture or signs of dampness is the easiest way to resolve it.
The air we breathe is essential to our wellbeing and when the quality of that air is compromised our bodies will react almost instantly.
Indoor air pollution is a very real threat to homes and something that needs to be taken seriously, so make sure you regularly perform checks of the air quality at home and rectify any issues right away.