5 Sources Of Indoor Air Pollution You Can Fix TODAY
Did you know that the air inside your home can actually be more toxic than the air outside?
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 3% of the world’s disease burden is caused by indoor air pollution (source)!
Nowadays, people spend a lot more time indoors than our grandparents and great grandparents did. Possibly even up to 90% of a person’s time is spent indoors if they are homebound, have a job that requires them to work indoors, or are home with small children much of the time.
It’s not necessary to constantly expose yourself and your family to indoor air pollution. Once you know the sources and possible consequences, you can take steps to reduce or remove them from your home.
The Sources Of Indoor Air Pollution + The Problems They Cause
#1 — Poor or Dirty Ventilation
Air that moves and circulates is cleaner air. Stale, stagnant air can be toxic air. This is why most home’s see a rise in indoor air toxicity in the winter time — because homes are shut up to keep the cold out.
With homes being closed up all winter long, toxins like off-gasses from furniture and carpeting, smoke from candles or wood stoves, and odors build up in the home because they have nowhere to go.
In addition, if you use central forced air to heat and cool your home but neglect to clean or change your filters, your own HVAC system is simply circulating dust, dander, dust mites, and even mold spores throughout your home.
In the summer time, warm, still air and humidity is the perfect breeding ground for mold — and any type of mold in your home’s air is toxic! If your home doesn’t have forced air conditioning to remove humidity from your indoor air (like our home), this can cause all kinds of problems — especially mold.
Consequences of Poor or Dirty Ventilation: Breathing problems, respiratory conditions, including asthma, dry or sore throats, sinus problems, allergies, sneezing, possible mold exposure.
How To Fix This Today
- Regularly check and change the filters for your HVAC system. Don’t go with the cheapest filter you can find. Rather, invest in filters that have good reviews for catching even microscopic particles. If, after a few months of regular use, your HVAC filter isn’t very dirty, it’s NOT doing its job. More allergens, dust, mold spores, and dander are making it through the filter than being trapped in it — and that’s a problem.
- Weather-permitting, open windows as often as possible. Even in the winter time, it won’t make your house too cold to open your windows for 5 to 10 minutes each day and let in a little fresh air. Toxins can escape while your home is filled with fresh, clean air.
- Utilize fans to keep your home’s air circulating. Ceiling fans and even box fans move the air, preventing it from becoming stale and stagnant. Just make sure to keep fan blades cleaned too!
- Invest in a dehumidifier to use during hot, humid months if you don’t have central air conditioning. The most ideal spot for your dehumidifier is in the moistest area of the house. In our home, that’s our basement. Make sure the dehumidifier is large enough to cover the square footage of the most humid area. Our house is a perfect rectangle that’s 2,200 square feet — making our basement 1,100 square feet, so our dehumidifier has to be able to handle the moisture from that amount of square footage.
#2 — Fumes From Cleaning Products
Commercial cleaning products like Lysol, Clorox, 409, Windex, or Pine Sol (There are literally hundreds I could name!) that make our homes smell squeaky clean are actually just bad chemistry experiments in shiny packaging.
All those things that you think are making your home smell fresh and clean are a major contributor to indoor air pollution — especially in the winter when their vapors have nowhere to go.
These chemicals are TOXIC. There’s a good reason why they have warning labels and should be kept locked in cabinets where small children can’t accidentally ingest them. They’re even harmful if they come into contact with skin! Inhaling them is no different.
Consider your laundry products too.
Dryer sheets, smelly good laundry detergent, and commercial fabric softener may make your clothes and towels smell nice, but that only means that your body and house are getting a constant supply of the chemicals that comprise these scents. Did you know dryer sheets contain chloroform?!
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a database where you can look up the ingredients in just about every cleaner and household product out there. A little investigating will turn up some pretty disturbing results.
Consequences of Fumes From Cleaning Products: Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in aerosol and plug-in air fresheners and pretty much anything with the word “fragrance” on the label. Companies don’t have to disclose the exact ingredients on labels because it’s “proprietary information”, so if you see “fragrance” on a label, chances are there are phthalates present (source).
The fragrances added to cleaning and laundry products can cause immediate symptoms: headaches, wheezing or sneezing, and watery eyes in those with asthma, allergies, or who are just sensitive to smells.
Ammonia is another dangerous chemical that’s added to glass cleaners, polishing agents, and floor cleaners because it evaporates and won’t leave behind a residue. Evaporation means it’s going straight into the air. Ammonia is a powerful irritant, causing chronic bronchitis and asthma. If mixed with bleach (which should NEVER be done), the duo creates a poisonous gas that can be deadly!
Chlorine in toilet bowls cleaners, bleach, scouring powders, and mildew removers irritates the respiratory tract and releases fumes into the air that can travel throughout your house by way of your HVAC system.
Oven cleaners pose some of the most serious threats in our homes because they contain sodium hydroxide, an irritant that is corrosive to anything it touches, including the eyes, skin, and airways. Inhaling sodium hydroxide can cause a sore throat that last for days (source).
Long-term effects of exposure to any of these fumes disrupt hormones, particularly the reproductive hormones estrogen and testosterone, because they block or mimic these hormones in your body. Over time, this can cause low sperm count, undescended testes, and estrogen-sensitive breast cancer (source).
How To Fix This Today
- Begin making your own homemade, green cleaning products. Vinegar and water make an excellent glass and window cleaner. Dr. Bronner’s soap is perfect for cleaning floors, toilets, counters, and sinks.
- You can go a step further and add anti-microbial essential oils to your homemade products. (I have posts in the works for DIY cleaning products!) My favorite anti-microbial EOs to use in homemade cleaners are lemon, grapefruit, and melaleuca.
- Swap out your scented fabric softener for plain white vinegar. Add a few drops of lavender, lemon, or orange oil if you want a little scent.
- Properly dispose of commercial chemical cleaning products. Personally, I wouldn’t give away chemical cleaning products because I don’t want to contribute to the toxicity of another’s home; but if you know someone who is completely opposed to homemade or natural cleaners, giving your old stuff away may be the best option. Check the product’s label for proper disposal procedure, and always recycle the bottle if you can.
- My oven has never been cleaner than when I make a paste of baking soda and water, slather it all over the inside, let it soak for an hour or so, then scrub it down. Easy and cheap!
#3 — Pesticides
Having your home regularly sprayed for pests increases the toxicity of your home’s air.
Think about it — if pesticides are deadly to small insects, can human exposure be without any risks?
And since most pesticides are sprayed either by a professional (who’s basically wearing a Haz-Mat suit) or a can of spray that you pick up at the store, it stands to reason that inhalation will likely happen at some point.
According to a recent survey, 75 percent of U.S. households used at least one pesticide product indoors during the past year. Products used most often are insecticides and disinfectants. Another study suggests that 80 percent of most people’s exposure to pesticides occurs indoors and that measurable levels of up to a dozen pesticides have been found in the air inside homes. (Source.)
Consequences of Pollution from Pesticides: The milder side effects of pesticide exposure are very similar to many of our other products: headaches, nausea, eye/throat irritation.
However, long-term or repeated exposure (ie. having your house sprayed every 3-6 months) increases the risks of more serious issues: damage to the liver, kidneys, endocrine, and nervous systems. Basically the same way that pesticides kill pests are what they do inside our bodies, slowly, over time.
How To Fix This Today
- Find the point of entry for ants and simply block it with something that repels them. Cucumber, dried mint leaves, cayenne pepper, coffee grounds, or even a piece of string soaked in a citrus essential oil are all things that ants find detestable and will avoid at all costs.
- Diatomaceous earth is a fine powder that can be sprinkled throughout your home. It is not harmful to humans at all, even if ingested, yet when pests walk through it, it absorbs the waxy coating of their exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. This works well for all insects, since all insects have exoskeletons. We have used this method successfully to repel scorpions, roaches, and fleas!
- Create a spider-repelling spray out of fractionated coconut oil and white vinegar. Spray around the house, wherever spiders seems to want to hide. Spiders also hate peppermint oil, so mix some in your spray or add a few drops of peppermint oil to a bottle of water, shake, and spray liberally around baseboards, corners, or under furniture. Bonus! Your house will be minty fresh!
- Since critters like to hide in damp, dark places, simply remove their hiding spots. Relocate wood or debris piles away from the home. Cut back thick plants or shrubs where insects and spiders might get cozy. Keep household clutter under control. Frequently dust or vacuum behind and underneath cabinets, armoirs, dressers, and beds.
#4 — Fumes From Personal Products
Yes, I’m sorry to tell you that your favorite designer perfume or cologne is not only contributing to hormone-disrupting toxicity in your body, they’re also adding to the pollution inside your house
On average, popular fragrances contain up to 14 secret chemicals and often more. Some of the worst are Calvin Klein’s Eternity (men and women), American Eagle’s Seventy Seven, Chanel, and Old Spice body spray (source).
Ingredients range from a variety of petrochemicals and phthalates to parabens — all of which are highly toxic and spread throughout your air with every spritz.
Wanna be grossed out even more? Read this list of 5 Repulsive Ingredients in Your Perfume or Cologne. (Ew. So glad I don’t wear this stuff anymore.)
Fumes from nail polish, polish remover, and hair spray also get into your atmosphere. Even if you’re only breathing them in for a few minutes, it still exposes you (and anyone else breathing your home’s air) to acetone and tolulene* — the same product used in paint thinner. (Fumes, anyone?)
Consequences of Inhaling Fumes From Personal Products: I could write an entire post on why wearing perfume/cologne is a bad idea for your hormones (and maybe I will!), but let’s just say that our skin is our largest organ and anything we put on it — good or bad — is rapidly absorbed straight into our blood stream.
For the purposes of indoor air pollution, however, the consequences of using perfume/cologne, polish and polish remover, hairspray, etc. means that propellants, artificial fragrances, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are circulating in your air and inhaled by everyone in the home.
The liver is burdened with all this toxicity, so the body can have problems with natural detox pathways. Parabens interfere with natural hormone production and even mimic estrogen in the body (pseudoestrogens).
Phthalates are a known carcinogen that can damage the liver and kidneys, cause birth defects, and early breast development in both boys and girls (source).
Acetone in polishes and polish remover is a toxin which must be broken down by the liver — and too much at once can cause headaches, lethargy, slurred speech, and a lack of coordination.
“Common chemicals found in hairspray are aerosol propellants, alcohol, carcinogenic polyvinylpyrrolidone plastic, formaldehyde, and artificial fragrance, which can cause low blood pressure, breathing difficulty, coma, as well as irritation of the skin, eyes and lungs” (source).
*I explain the side effects of tolulene in detail in the next item.
How To Fix This Today
- Environmentally and physiologically friendly nail polish (Piggy Paint, Scotch Naturals, Acquarella) and removers (Acquarella, Mineral Fusion, Karma Organic Spa) exist! Splurge on something non-toxic for yourself!
- Create your own all-natural hair spray.
- Blend essential oils in a roller bottle with a carrier oil to create a custom scent and avoid the toxicity from perfume completely! You can control the scent to your liking: floral, earthy, citrus-y, calming, grounding, or sweet simply by switching up the oils. Some of my favorite oils for scent are ylang ylang, patchouli, frankincense, lavender, and peppermint. Bonus! This is also waaaaaay cheaper than a $60 bottle of hormone-disrupting chemicals that doesn’t smell natural at all!
#5 — Scented Household Items
Air fresheners, scented plug-ins, wax warmers, and scented candles may leave behind a nice smell, but what they’re releasing into your home’s air is anything but nice.
The four main ingredients in air fresheners are propellents, petroleum distillates, formaldehyde (surprise, surprise), and p-dichlorobenzene (pDCB — also found in mothballs; source).
The chemicals released by scented candles and wax warmers are just as dangerous as those from smoking! Paraffin wax, the main ingredient in candles and scented wax, releases two very dangerous chemicals when heated: tolulene and benzene gasses. Additionally, the materials used to make candle wicks commonly contain lead. After just a few hours of burning, there can be levels of lead in the air that exceed acceptable levels. (Source.)
Consequences of Inhaling Fumes From Scented Household Items: If you’re burning candles with leaded wicks, lead causes hormone disruption, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems.
Benzene (from scented candles and wax) is a proven cause of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Long-term exposure to benzene increases the risk of aplastic anemia — a condition in which the production of both red and white blood cells is reduced. Benzene has been shown to be fetotoxic in animals, meaning it is harmful to the babies born to mothers that were exposed to benzene through inhalation, causing reduced birth weight. (Source.)
Tolulene is classified as CNS depressant — central nervous system depressants depress the central nervous system. It is rapidly absorbed through inhalation. In fact, tolulene can be detected in the blood within 10 seconds of exposure (source).
Psychological effects of tolulene include:
- a “floating” feeling
- reduced ability to concentrate
- confusion and memory loss
- delusions and hallucinations
Physiological effects include:
- eye/nose/throat irritation
- slurred speech
- nausea and vomiting
- organ damage
All that is possible with repeated and long-term use of scented candles and wax warmers!
What about aerosol and plug-in air fresheners?
Because they contain propane and acetone, they are classified as blood toxicants, liver toxicants, gastrointestinal toxicants, and respiratory toxicants. They also contain isoparaffinic and aliphatic hydrocarbons — substances that literally suffocate oxygen in the blood (source). And that’s the short list. 🙁
Of course, you’ve also got the potential side effects of formaldehyde, which are similar to other symptoms of chemical exposure.
And the propellants, petroleum products, and pDCB — a laundry list of harmful toxicity and problems:
- watery/irritated eyes/nose/throat
- asthma and other respiratory disease
- skin lesions
- liver damage
- loss of appetite
- development of chronic illness
How To Fix This Today
- Get rid of scented candles and replace them with air-friendly alternatives. You don’t have to give up candles completely — just switch to healthy beeswax candles that are naturally scented. Or make your own!
- It’s also possible to save money and your air by making your own wax melts from beeswax and coconut oil.
- Dispose of aerosol air fresheners completely. Their scent just covers up odors temporarily anyway. By mixing essential oils in a spray bottle with water and a little witch hazel, you can have a custom scent to spritz and eliminate odors naturally. A spray like this is also perfectly fine to use as “Febreeze” on furniture, carpeting, and clothing. Double duty!
- Diffuse essential oils to eliminate odors and fill your home with a lovely scent, as well as provide health benefits and an immune system boost.
All of these indoor air pollutants are real problems. And the more of them you use, the more polluted your home’s air is. By getting rid of the sources of indoor air pollution and replacing them with healthy and environmentally friendly alternatives, you are cleaning up your home’s air one product at a time!