Indoor Air Pollutants & How to Get Rid of Them
Most of a person’s time, i.e., approximately 90%, is spent indoors, which, believe it or not, is 2-5 times more polluted than the outdoor air!
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 3.8 million people die from diseases linked to indoor air pollution. Hence, it is imperative that you actively work to remove indoor air pollutants and maintain good indoor air quality.
The situation isn’t as scary as it sounds. Since our homes are closed spaces, the concentration of pollutants remains excessive. It’ll only become a health hazard if neglected for a longer period of time and not taken care of timely.
Read on to learn everything that you need to know about indoor air pollution and how to eliminate it, including the role of air purifiers and air conditioners.
What Is Indoor Air Pollution?
Indoor air pollution is a severe form of pollution that you cannot see but can sometimes smell or feel in the air. It is caused by the concentration of harmful chemicals in the air, which can lead to allergies, breathing illnesses, and other fatal diseases.
In simpler terms, it is the contamination of the air with pollutants present indoors that you breathe.
What Causes Indoor Air Pollution?
Indoor air is contaminated by various chemicals produced by different indoor electronics and naturally present mold & bacteria.
Houses with poor ventilation are more prone to indoor air pollution. The reason is that the indoor air can, over time, become saturated with contaminants. The contaminants can be fur and dander from pets, dust, mold/fungi, cigarette smoke, or harmful chemicals such as from cleaning products. Without ventilation, these pollutants cannot be ejected from the indoor air and will continue to pose a risk. On the other hand, if there is ventilation, the fresh incoming air will dilute the dirty indoor air.
In addition, a high humidity level inside your home is also a significant cause of poor indoor air quality. Humidity leads to the growth of mold and bacteria, contaminating the air that you breathe. But if you have a smart AC controller, then you can take control of indoor humidity levels within no time.
While you may not realize it, your home is full of sources that play their part in worsening the indoor air quality. Following are the major sources of indoor air pollution inside your home:
Your HVAC/Air Conditioning System
87% of US homes use some sort of air conditioning, and it surely is a blessing! But, your HVAC system can contribute a lot to your indoor air quality. If not maintained and cleaned properly, it can end up being a breeding house for mold and bacteria. The ducts can have water leaks that promote the production of these microorganisms. Whenever you feel a bad smell is coming from your AC, gear up for an inspection!
The air filters in your air conditioning system catch all the dirt particles from the air. But there comes the point when they are so full of dirt that they stop doing their job. Hence, circulating all the dust for you to breathe in. Change them as frequently as you can, approximately every two weeks, to avoid getting into such a situation.
A smart thermostat or a smart air conditioner controller (if you have a mini-split, window, or portable unit) can be used to provide cleaning alerts based on the cleanliness status of your AC’s air filter.
Carpets and Rugs Trap Dirt
As much as you adore your cozy rug, indoor air pollutants stick to carpets and can thrive on the surface for quite a long time. Dust & dirt particles, dander, and chemicals that pollute the air, easily make their way and settle into carpets. When someone walks over the carpet, drags a chair, or even turns on the fan, these pollutants become airborne, consequently reducing the air quality inside your home.
Combustion Sources Contaminate the Air
Any source inside your home that burns fuel, gas, or coal can become a source of indoor air pollution. If you have a gas stove, fireplaces, and space heaters, they can increase the pollutants’ intensity like carbon monoxide and radon in the air.
This also includes candles and cigarettes. So, basically, whatever is burning inside your home is a contributor to poor indoor air quality.
Pet Fur and Dander
If you’re a pet owner, then we don’t have to tell you how many hairs pets shed. The dander can stick to almost everything present around your house.
This can be a concern if someone in your home has asthma or allergies. Outdoor pets can also carry other particles in their coats that can pollute your indoor environment.
Air fresheners use high amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOC) that are considered hazardous air pollutants. In addition to the pollutants present in their formula, they can contaminate the air by reacting with other chemicals already present in the air.
Just like air fresheners, cleaning products also have VOCs and other harmful chemicals that contaminate indoor air. Even though their essential purpose is to kill germs and clean the area, but in the process, they also leave traces of harmful chemical substances.
Paints also have VOCs that can be emitted in the air for more extended periods. If you have a really old house, then there is also a chance that the walls have lead paints. It is very unlikely, though, because it was banned a long time ago. But it’s always a good idea to hire a contractor for an inspection.
The furniture in your house may emit certain gases, including benzene and formaldehyde, etc. This process is known as off-gassing. While almost every piece of furnishing is undergoing this process, some toxins are more harmful than others. They also contain flame retardants that are linked to causing chronic illnesses. New furniture releases more of these pollutants that tend to decrease over time. Ensure your house is adequately ventilated to push out these harmful gasses.
The construction material used to build new houses or even during a renovation can release many air pollutants. If an old house or wall is being demolished or renovated, extra attention must be paid since it may release asbestos (What is asbestos? Explained below).
Common Indoor Air Pollutants
Following are the most common types of pollutants that are often present in the indoor air. These are the pollutants that you need to limit or eliminate for healthy living.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile organic compounds are released from certain solids and liquids. They remain in the air and can have adverse effects if inhaled. The concentration of VOCs is higher indoors than outdoors.
The reason being that they are present in a number of items that you may be using daily. These include pesticides, cleaning products, paints, permanent markers, printers, and adhesives, among many others.
The most common VOCs are benzene, formaldehyde, xylene, ethylene glycol, and acetone.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can only be seen under a special microscope. You won’t know if anything has asbestos in its formula unless it is mentioned. The fibers of asbestos, if inhaled, may leave adverse effects on your health and especially lungs.
Asbestos was present in a variety of household objects until it was banned. If you have really old boilers, steam pipes, ducts, and floor tiles, you should get thorough testing to see if they’re releasing asbestos fibers.
Lead was found in high amounts in old paints. Even though it is also banned now, still many homes that haven’t been renovated can still have these paints. When the paint is scraped or sanded, it may release lead dust into the air. Even the very minimal amounts of lead dust particles can have severe health implications if inhaled.
In the US, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Uranium is the primary source of radon production, and some rocks also release it. Due to its high density, it stays in the air longer and is found mostly in basements. The sources of radon are found in almost all parts of the US.
Ozone is considered to be present in the upper atmosphere of the Earth, proving to be really beneficial in protecting people from UV sun rays. But ozone can also be produced as a reaction between other indoor air pollutants. Certain VOCs can react with nitrogen oxide, and in the presence of sunlight, tropospheric ozone is produced. Long-term exposure can lead to many respiratory illnesses.
The biological contaminant is a broad term for dust mites, bacteria, mold, pet dander, pet saliva, pollen, etc. The presence of biological pollutants can trigger allergies. Long-term exposure can also lead to infectious illnesses.
Effects of Indoor Air Pollution
Indoor air pollutants can leave adverse effects on your health in the long term, making it extremely important to do something about them. Your house is not full of pollutants all the time. But over time, they can be accumulated and stay indoors without you realizing it. Therefore, if you ignore small things such as proper ventilation, then these pollutants can harm your health over a long period.
First, let’s take a look at how indoor air pollution can affect you, followed by how to get rid of them.
- When you do not get to inhale clean, fresh air, your body eventually starts to get tired. You may feel fatigued because instead of a concentrated amount of oxygen, you’re inhaling harmful substances.
- The presence of indoor air pollutants also results in aches. Some contaminants have a terrible odor that can result in headaches.
- Allergens, including pollens and many other biological pollutants, can cause irritation in your throat, eyes, nose, and even on the skin. If you have super sensitive skin, it can react to the chemicals badly.
- Breathing polluted air also results in sinus congestion, and you may have trouble breathing.
- Some indoor air pollutants may lead to excessive coughing and sneezing, especially in children and older people.
- If exposed to such a situation for a long period, it can reduce your productivity since all your energy goes down fighting these pollutants.
How to Get Rid of Indoor Air Pollutants?
Now you know that indoor air pollutants are really hazardous and something needs to be done to eliminate them. The air purifiers are used to purify the indoor air, while some people also believe that air conditioners are enough for the purpose.
Air Purifier Vs. Air Conditioner
There is a difference between air purifiers and air conditioners. One is used to regulate the temperature of indoor air, and the other cleans it. While air conditioners are believed to trap some pollutants like dust and dander in its filter, it does not provide thorough purification.
For instance, if someone is smoking in the room, your AC would keep circulating that dirty air after cooling/heating it. Let’s see what both of them can do for your indoor air pollution.
What Does an Air Purifier Do?
Air purifiers remove pollutants present in the indoor air, improving the indoor air quality while purifying it. An air purifier works by filtering the air using different filters to remove the various types of indoor air pollutants.
Air purifiers are of the following types:
- High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) can remove more than 99% of the airborne particles of 0.3 microns in size. It is made of delicate layers of glass fibers. From dust mites to diesel particles, it can capture almost all types of pollutants.
- Ionizers blast negatively charged particles or anions in large amounts into the air. They then get attached to the pollutants, increasing their density. In this way, they are eliminated from the air and fall on the surface.
- Carbon-activated filters are used to remove foul odors due to the increased intensity of toxic gasses in the air. It uses beads of activated carbon to filter the harmful gasses.
- UV light air purifiers use ultraviolet light to eliminate airborne indoor air pollutants like mold, bacteria, and viruses. It is available as a stand-alone product and the combination of other filters and often comes installed in some AC models.
Does an AC Work as an Air Purifier?
Air conditioners do play their part in cleaning the air but partially. The air filter inside your AC traps many pollutants like dust mites, hair, and pet dander, protecting against the illnesses these contaminants may bring.
The efficiency of your AC’s air filter depends on its quality. It is measured through Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values (MERVs). The higher number indicates that the filter can trap pollutants more efficiently.
However, it needs to be pointed out here that air conditioners are not built to clean the air. Though they do the job to some extent, they cannot keep the air clean for a longer period. Also, it cannot purify the air from indoor air pollutants.
Also, in comparison to an air purifier, an air conditioner is not a good option. The reason is that yes, it can remove some of the pollutants, but it can also circulate them back into your living space.
Ways to Eliminate Indoor Air Pollution
If you don’t want to invest in any equipment, let’s look at some of the easy ways to remove indoor air pollutants.
1. Ventilate Daily
Ventilation is the key when it comes to maintaining balanced and healthy indoor air. Open windows in your house daily for some time to allow some fresh air to come inside. It’ll push considerable amounts of pollutants outdoors. You can also install exhaust fans to ensure proper ventilation. They are especially useful in the kitchen and bathroom.
2. No Indoor Smoking
We’re not here to tell you about the dangers and health risks of smoking. But indoor smoking should be a no-no. The smoke particles can dilute in the air and can stay there forever. Also, the smoke has a deteriorating effect on the health of non-smokers as well.
3. Vacuum Frequently
If you have carpets in your home, then you must vacuum them as often as you can. Try to slow down your pace when vacuuming so that the particles attached to the surface do not escape in the air. In addition to that, you should also vacuum your sofas and curtains or any other clothing item that may have pollutants.
4. Shower Your Pets Regularly
Pets can become carriers of harmful pollutants if not cleaned properly and frequently. They can bring toxins from the outdoors with their hair. If you have one, don’t forget or skip the showers of your little friend.
5. Get Rid of Carpets
As mentioned above, pollutants settle into the carpet and can stay there for a longer period. Clean them as frequently as you can. Even regular cleaning can leave some of its traces. The best solution is to get rid of all the carpets and find their replacement.
6. Replace Air Filters Often
After filtering the air for some time, air filters get dirty, and they stop working. Dust mites and pet dander will not be filtered out and stay in the indoor air. Set reminders and change your AC filters more often.
7. Dry Things Outdoors
High humidity levels can increase the growth of mold inside your home. If you’re drying your clothes indoors, then the humidity level would be high. Try to dry your clothes outdoors.
If you must do it indoors, then use a dehumidifier to lower the humidity levels.
8. Use No VOC Paints
Make sure you buy paint that labels “No VOC.” Paints can emit harmful gases for really long without you even realizing it. Also, do not store unused paint boxes indoors. They should be stored in a properly ventilated area or the garage or shed outside.
9. Keep a Check on Humidity
As discussed above, humidity plays a significant role in maintaining healthy indoor air. Make sure you keep a check on the humidity levels inside your home. You can also use a smart AC controller and set humidity limits using Comfy Mode.
With the pandemic taking its toll over the whole world, it is more important than ever that harmful airborne particles are eliminated regularly from indoor spaces. Let’s get to work and breathe cleaner air!