As the thermometer drops, we tend to keep our windows shut and our heat turned on high – but these hibernating habits can create stagnant air and accumulate irritants in our homes.
Air pollution is usually associated with outdoor air pollution - smog, smoke from wildfires and fine particulate matter, to name a few sources. But there is also concern about indoor air pollution, and in winter when we spend most of our time indoors we are most susceptible to negative health effects.
HEALTH CONCERNS OF BAD AIR QUALITY
The Government of Canada warns that air pollution, even at low levels, has a negative impact on human health. Science has shown a link between air pollution and health conditions, increased hospitalizations, and in extreme cases, premature death. As such, bad indoor quality can have long-term health effects such as higher risk of suffering from one or several of the following:
- Respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or allergies
- Heart conditions like arrhythmia, heart attack and high blood pressure
The acute symptoms of bad air quality might range from breathing difficulty, wheezing, coughing and sneezing to dry, irritated eyes, nose and airways to tiredness, headaches and/or dizziness. If you notice any of these symptoms starting up after entering the home, or acting up any time you are in a certain area of your home, they might stem from bad indoor air quality.
For people who are sensitive to indoor allergens or have respiratory problems, air quality can exacerbate their problems. This is especially true in wintertime when closed windows, stale indoor air and heating systems increase the amount of allergens and irritants in our homes, our immune systems are already weakened and the bad indoor air quality might lead to asthma flare-ups and allergy symptoms.
SIMPLE TIPS TO IMPROVE INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Whether you are suffering from pre-existing conditions which worsen every winter, or you want to ward off long-term health effects, here are the good news: there are many very simple and effective ways to improve the air quality in your home.
1. VACUUM REGULARLY
Accumulation of dust, dander and other particles on all surfaces is a natural occurrence. Unfortunately, these are also some of the most common irritants in our homes. In the winter time, it’s more important than ever to vacuum regularly.
Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to catch even the smallest particles, and clean the vacuum’s filter regularly to get rid of the irritants. Don’t just focus on the busy areas of the home, but vacuum all surfaces, including underneath the couch. Pay special attention to carpets and upholstered furniture, where dust easily accumulates, by using the appropriate attachments for your vacuum model.
2. CLEANING AGAINST DUST BUILDUP
Not only should you vacuum regularly, but also clean floors and surfaces with damp microfiber mops and cloths. Microfiber is especially good for removing particles, as the textile’s extremely thin fibers trap dirt, dust and even bacteria and remove them from surfaces instead of spreading them around.
In order to improve your home’s indoor air quality, you should also often change and wash your bed linen, pillow covers, curtains, drapes, table cloths and any over textiles which could accumulate dust and particles. Use a natural laundry detergent without fragrances to avoid irritation.
Conventional cleaning products pollute the indoor environment, which is why it’s important to use natural cleaning products. Look for VOC-free or low-VOC cleaners. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds and describes a class of chemicals that contain carbon atoms (= organic) and have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. This means they enter the surrounding air very easily, and can thereby reach your airways. Many VOCs can cause severe irritation or allergic reactions, and can even have long-term health effects. The Government of Canada recommends avoiding VOCs whenever possible, so choose natural, low-VOC cleaners for your home.
3. ACTIVELY AVOID HUMIDITY
Carefully control the humidity levels in your home. Too much humidity can lead to the growth of mould. Inhaling mould spores can acutely irritate the airways and lead to coughing, wheezing and throat irritation, while long-term exposure to mould result in long-term reduced lung function and chronic diseases such as asthma.
In order to control humidity in the house, always use the kitchen fan when cooking and the bathroom fan when taking a shower. Let the fans run for at least 30 minutes after you finish, possibly longer. Make sure that both fans exhaust to the outside, so that humidity can be carried out of your home.
4. CHANGE AIR FILTERS AND CLEAN AIR VENTS AND DUCTS
Make sure to change the filters in your kitchen and bathroom fans and HVAC system regularly to avoid build-up of particles. In order to work properly, transport spent air outside and bring fresh, clean air inside, the filters have to be clean and dust-free. Otherwise, they might simply circulate the irritants in your home.
Clean the air vents inside and outside - first wipe the outside of the vent, then unscrew the cover and soak it in some warm, soapy water for a few minutes. Wipe clean with a sponge or cloth, using a toothpick or similar to clean between the vent’s slats. If your air ducts look quite dusty, you might want to consider having them cleaned professionally to remove the trapped dirt, and thereby the irritants.
5. LET FRESH AIR IN
Even when it’s cold and dreary outside, it’s very important that you open your windows wide several times a day to let stale air out and fresh air in. When airing, try to get the best ventilation possible by having the interior doors open wide, and letting the air circulate.
A lot of indoor plants are said to be very helpful to clean the indoor air quality by filtering toxins from the air and converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. However, recent studies suggest that while this might be true under laboratory environment, plants in a home are not as effective as you might think. In fact, the soil may have bacteria, pesticides or other contaminants, and can develop mould if watered too much. And the plant leaves themselves often collect a lot of dust.
Plants have many benefits in the home, even if they don’t clean the indoor air as well as previously thought. If you have plants in your home, make sure you have plants that don’t emit VOCs! Only water your plants as much as needed, and regularly wipe the leaves of your plants with a damp microfiber cloth to remove dust and other particles which could irritate your airways.
6. SMELL GOOD - NATURALLY!
For the sake of the environment and your indoor air quality stay away from all aerosol sprays! Air fresheners, deodorants, hair sprays - they are full of VOCs.
Avoid all artificial fragrances in your home, as they can irritate your skin and airways. Be it in cleaning products, laundry products or dish washing products - clean doesn’t have a scent! Choose unscented or naturally scented products, such as products lightly scented with essential oils.
If you want to pep up the smell in your home, use essential oils in a diffuser. Essential oils can also help you relax (e.g. lavender essential oil) or to brighten your mood (many citrus peel essential oils). All without harmful chemicals, and without harming the indoor air quality!
These few, simple steps can go a long way improving your indoor air quality this winter. When it comes to keeping the dust and dirt at bay, there is no way around regular cleaning. However, you don’t have to do it all on your own!
With AspenClean’s all-natural home cleaning service, you can book a regular cleaning service to fit your schedule, and you don’t have to worry about bringing any unwanted VOCs and chemicals into your home either!