Julie Rowin MD
How is Your Indoor Air Quality?
While most individuals understand that outdoor air quality is important to their health, many are unaware of the detrimental effects of indoor air pollution. With everyone sequestering indoors due to the weather and the pandemic, improving indoor air quality is an important health strategy.(1,2)
With the spread of COVID-19, disinfectants and cleaners of greater power have been introduced into our indoor environments, and with more time spent in the home, there has been an increased use of air fresheners, electric diffusers and aerosols within homes. Increased use of these volatile chemical products may pose a health hazard.(3) To make matters worse, efforts to make homes airtight to improve energy efficiency have created buildings with reduced ventilation resulting in the buildup of these indoor pollutants to potentially harmful levels. Therefore, it is important to learn about some simple everyday strategies that anyone can utilize to improve the health of your indoor air.
For daily cleaning, avoid these products:
Antibacterial cleaners contain pesticides and are not needed for daily cleaning. They often contain toxic chemicals and volatile organic compounds. See the Environmental Working Group’s “guide to healthy cleaning”. If you must disinfect your belongings, consider doing this outside your home or only in a very well-ventilated area.
Air fresheners contain dozens of undisclosed and often untested chemicals. Open windows, use fans and try baking soda instead.
Drain cleaners contain extremely toxic chemicals. Use a drain snake or make fizzy drain opener with ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup baking soda.
Fabric softeners and dryer sheets contain asthma causing “quat” (quaternary ammonium compounds) and secret “fragrance” chemicals. Try adding vinegar to the rinse cycle to prevent static cling, soften, and brighten and reduce strong odors.
Oven cleaners can cause damage to skin, eyes and lungs. Try sprinkling baking soda on oven stains, moisten with water and let stand overnight, wipe and rinse.
It would be easier if all ingredients were listed on the label, but they are not. Many manufacturers of household cleaners do not disclose all ingredients on product labels, making it virtually impossible for consumers to choose safer products. Check the label for warnings, not marketing claims. -Environmental Working Group
Skip products containing ammonia, 2-butoxyethanol, chlorine bleach, ethanolamines, “Active ingredients” such as ADBAC, benzalkonium chloride, ingredients with names including “-monium chloride” or triclosan.
See our Homemade everyday household cleaner recipe
Minimize the use of these other main sources of pollutants inside your home:
Paints, paint strippers, hobby supplies and other solvents
Choose new building and home furnishing products carefully. See the EWG's healthy living home guide for choosing building products, foam furnishings, carpet and paint that avoids health-harming chemicals such as formaldehyde-releasing preservatives.
Use plants liberally in your home. Certain plants are known to do well indoors and improve air quality.(4) Specific examples include:
Green Spider plant
Variegated snake plant
Use a True HEPA filter (high efficiency particulate air) or medical grade HEPA air filter for your bedroom and common rooms. The use of an air cleaner can be useful to reduce the levels of air pollutants, bacteria and viruses in enclosed spaces.
Install a whole house water filtration system to improve the quality of your drinking water and decrease your exposure to chlorine during showering and bathing.
Choose bare floor over wall to wall carpeting.(5).
Keep humidity under control to discourage growth of mold and fungus.(6) Relative humidity level depends on the temperature outdoors, but should be maintained between 30-50%.
Use a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency filter which will help to reduce indoor particulate pollution.
For more information on indoor air quality, see the EPA's website.
Dominguez-Amarillo S, Fernandez-Aguera J, Cesteros-Garcia S, Gonzalez-Lezcano RA. Bad Air Can Also Kill: Residential Indoor Air Quality and Pollutant Exposure Risk during the COVID-19 Crisis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(19).
Seguel JM, Merrill R, Seguel D, Campagna AC. Indoor Air Quality. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017;11(4):284-295.
McDonald BC, de Gouw JA, Gilman JB, et al. Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions. Science. 2018;359(6377):760-764.
Susanto AD, Winardi W, Hidayat M, Wirawan A. The use of indoor plant as an alternative strategy to improve indoor air quality in Indonesia. Rev Environ Health. 2020.
Becher R, Ovrevik J, Schwarze PE, Nilsen S, Hongslo JK, Bakke JV. Do Carpets Impair Indoor Air Quality and Cause Adverse Health Outcomes: A Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(2).
Midouhas E, Kokosi T, Flouri E. Outdoor and indoor air quality and cognitive ability in young children. Environ Res. 2018;161:321-328.