When you think about air pollution, you probably imagine smoke or factory fumes, so you might be surprised how much air pollution you may encounter every day inside your home. Indoor air pollution can even be more of a threat to your health than the air outside. The pandemic didn’t just force us to stay indoors or reconsider how we spend time indoors (masked? With people outside your household? Six feet apart?) — it also made us reexamine what we know about airflow, ventilation in our homes, and air purification. As we enter another stage in the pandemic, it’s an apt time to consider hazardous factors besides germs that could be in your air.
Although measuring the precise composition of your indoor air is complicated, the air in the average American household could harbor particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs, for short), and bioaerosols, like mold, bacteria, and more. Left unchecked, these substances can pose serious risks to your health. Here’s what to know about the indoor pollution in your home and what you can do to help clean the air inside.
What’s in your air?
Measuring indoor air quality is a complex task because there are so many different types of pollutants that might be in your air. Few at-home pollution tests can detect them all. Three that you might want to pay close attention to are particulate matter, VOCs, and bioaerosols.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, particulate matter “is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in air.” The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national air quality standards for six “criteria” air pollutants, or common air pollutants that are most likely to cause harm to human health, property, or the environment. Particulate matter that measures 2.5 micrometers or smaller, or 20 times smaller than the diameter of the average human hair, is one of those criteria pollutants.
These particles can come from a variety of sources, but in most homes, they’re generated through cooking or other combustion-related activities, such as smoking tobacco, burning candles, use of unvented space heaters, fireplaces, and more. These particles can aggravate chronic coronary and respiratory diseases. The National Ambient Air Quality Standards dictate that levels of PM2.5 pollution should not exceed 15 micrograms per cubic meter.
Volatile organic compounds are gases emitted by organic chemicals, which are among the ingredients in many common household products. These products include paint, varnish, wax, cleaning solvents, disinfectants, cosmetics, hobby products, and more. These gases can linger in indoor air, especially after activities like painting or home remodeling.
Bioaerosols are microscopic airborne particles that originate from plants and animals, and which can contain living matter such as viruses, bacteria, or fungal spores. Though not always pathogenic, bioaerosols can be extremely irritating to the respiratory system. Common sources of bioaerosols include pollen, mold, animal dander, pest droppings, and urine.
How indoor air pollution affects your health
The health effects of indoor air pollution can range from immediate impacts to long-term concerns.
Some pollutants can have an immediate effect after a single exposure. They can cause dizziness, headaches and fatigue, as well as irritate the upper respiratory system. Particulate matter may increase the risk of lower respiratory infections, while VOCs are more likely to cause a feeling of lightheadedness or dizziness. Bioaerosols such as pollen can trigger allergic reactions. People, and even pets, with preexisting conditions, such as asthma, may experience stronger immediate reactions to indoor pollution than others.
Indoor air pollution can be harmful, but it affects each person differently. There is no way to know how you’ll react or which health problems you could develop, if any. So, the best course of action is to make sure the air inside your home is as clean as possible.
Are you polluting your air?
Although some sources of air pollution could be beyond your control, you might be responsible for a considerable amount of the pollution in your home. Some activities, such as heating your home, are necessary for your health, but doing them without adequate ventilation can be hazardous. Balancing the amount of outdoor air in your home can be tricky. Too little, and stagnant airflow can trap pollutants inside your home. But some homes don’t have ventilation systems that allow for adequate flow of air from the outside.
Participating in activities that create particulate matter, such as cooking with gas or smoking, without ventilation from an air system or open windows can cause pollution to accumulate. The same is true for cleaning or practicing hobbies that emit chemical fumes.
How to improve your indoor air quality
You clean the rest of your house. It’s time to start cleaning the air, too.
The first thing you can do to improve your indoor air quality is to stop air pollution at its source. Replace gas appliances with electric alternatives. Always smoke outside, and curtail the use of fireplaces and candles in unventilated areas. Make sure your home is clean and free of pests, but while you’re cleaning, be aware of VOCs that your cleaning products might be putting out into the air. Switch to more natural products or open a window while you work. Consider taking your most air-polluting activities outside. Do hobbies that require spray paint in an open garage or on the driveway, for example.
When you’re thinking about ventilation, consider making changes that are broader than turning on fans and opening windows. Install small fans in your bathroom and kitchen if you don’t have them already. Many have filters to help remove particulate matter. Window air conditioners are also more efficient at bringing fresh air into your home than forced air heating and cooling systems.
Don’t forget the air-purifying capabilities that are already available in your home. Many heating and cooling systems come with a space for air filters. If you have one of these, opt for high-quality air filters that remove allergens and other particles, and change your filters frequently according to their instructions.
Besides modifying your behavior and improving ventilation, there is one more option for helping make the air inside your home cleaner. You could clean the air itself. A variety of air purifiers on the market offer levels of air cleaning capabilities. Small, table-top air cleaners can remove some pollutants, while larger models scrub a range of particles and gas from the air. Choose a model that is right for your space and your price point.
Molekule has air purifiers, which use a proprietary PECO technology to both capture and destroy pollutants in the air, including viruses, bacteria, mold, VOCs, pollen, and more. Some of their devices also have FDA clearance to destroy viruses and bacteria in particular and are ideal for all spaces, from single rooms to whole apartments. And for peace of mind? They ship filters automatically every time you need a new one.
*If you are unsatisfied with your purchase from molekule.com for any reason, you have 30 days from the date of shipment to request a full refund, including shipping charges.