How to reduce air pollution in your home
There has been growing public concern about air pollution in the UK in recent decades. The government's National Air Quality Strategy is constantly (and justifiably) criticised as ineffective and unambitious, whilst the detriment caused by manmade pollution has finally achieved some prominence in the mass media - partly thanks to the popularity of nature documentaries such as BBC's Blue Planet II. However, the global health crisis presented by indoor air pollution has not received nearly as much attention.
Air pollution is deadly. It has been shown to exacerbate (and in some instances to directly cause) fatal cases of lung cancer, heart disease and asthma. The World Health Organisation attributes 8 million deaths annually as being a direct result of air pollution, 3.8 million of which are caused by indoor pollution – an astonishingly high percentage considering its lack of media coverage and public attention. Given that the majority of us spend 90% of our time indoors, the quality of air that we are breathing in those spaces should not be taken lightly.
It is worth noting that there is no ‘typical’ air pollution level for indoor spaces; it can be better or worse than outside your front door. The range of sources and factors within the home that can contribute to unsafe pollution levels are surprisingly vast, from the chemicals released by open fires to the temperature, ventilation and humidity of the building. Sometimes their resulting physical symptoms are described as ‘sick building syndrome’; a medical condition in which people in a building feel unwell for no apparent reason. However, the correlation between common ‘sick building syndrome’ symptoms and air pollution is very clear. For instance, a low indoor humidity can result in eye irritation and rashes, whilst airborne microbes can cause infections and asthma.
Luckily, there are several steps that you can take to improve the quality of the air in your home:
1. Use an environmental sensor to monitor the air quality in your home. These can help you assess the major contributors to pollution in different areas of your home, in addition to the contrast between air quality inside and outside of your home.
2. Place houseplants around your home to remove toxic chemicals from the air. NASA recommends that we should have at least one plant per 100 square feet of our living and office spaces. Some plants have superior air-filtering qualities than others; snake plants, peace lilies and pothos are some particularly effective examples (but note that these should be kept out of reach from pets and children as they can be harmful when ingested).
3. Invest in an air purifier. This air-filtering alternative (or supplement) to houseplants can be considerably pricier, but are certainly lower maintenance.
4. Always switch on the extractor fans while cooking. If possible, use a stove that has a good ventilation system and does not use solid fuel.
5. Use natural paint when decorating. In Japan it is common to move out of your home for weeks after repainting your home in order to avoid the high levels of volatile organic chemicals emitted by (non-natural) drying paint, which can be highly toxic.
6. Do not smoke in the home.
7. Use natural, eco-friendly cleaning products in the home and try to avoid sprays wherever possible.
8. Keep your windows open/shut as often as possible - this one depends on where you live. If the air pollution is worse outside, keep windows and doors shut as much as possible – and vice versa. You can use your environmental sensor to monitor this.
9. Avoid burning incense or candles indoors. If you do want to burn a candle, it is much better to invest in a soy or beeswax candle. These are more expensive but longer-lasting and less polluting – burning a cheap paraffin candle is effectively burning diesel in your home.
10. Select hard surface floors for your home.
11. Try to retain a safe humidity in your home. Take special care to ensure that your bathrooms are well ventilated.
12. Dust and vacuum regularly and remove any mould in your home straight away.
13. Ensure that all fuel-burning appliances your home are well maintained and inspected regularly.
14. Ensure that any leaks and cracks in the walls, floors and roof are fixed promptly.
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British Lung Foundation (2018). Indoor Air Pollution. Retrieved from https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/indoor-air-pollution/improving-air-quality
Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (2010). UK Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from https://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/postpn366_indoor_air_quality.pdf
Wolverton, B. C. (1989). Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement. NASA: United States. Retrieved from https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=19930073077
Woodier, C. (2019). How to improve your air quality at home. Which? Retrieved from https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/air-purifiers/article/how-to-improve-your-indoor-air-quality-at-home