Team Green Adventures has been hosting free workshops, open to the community, since 2009. It all started with our Engage Green workshop series, which features sustainability topics like composting, gardening, recycling, and more. One of my all-time favorite workshops was our Indoor Air Quality workshop with the American Lung Association. Five years later we brought the workshop topic back as part of our Wellness Workshop Series, which occurs the 4th Thursday of every month at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge (2008 Charlotte Ave, 37203).
Missed our workshop, but still want to learn? This week’s blog gives a quick overview of the 12 best tips we learned to improve your home’s indoor air quality:
1. Your Pillows
Do you remember when you first got your pillow? After a long night’s slumber you’d get out of bed and your pillow would fluff back up all on it’s own. Over time, however, your pillow starts to lose it’s fluff and needs a little prompting right? That’s because your pillow is a popular dwelling for dust mites. If your pillow is over 1 year old, more than 90% of it is full of dust mite feces, and each time you fluff up your pillow, you’re spreading those feces throughout your bedroom!
Gross! If it’s been a year, it’s time to replace it. If your pillow is less than a year old, you should be sanitizing it each time you wash your sheets. Dust mites can be killed off with extreme heat or freezing temperatures, so toss your pillow in the dryer for an hour, or stick it in the freezer for the day. You can also buy a dust mite pillow cover to keep the dust mites out from the start!
If you live in a house with wood floors, you already know that it needs to be swept every couple of days, otherwise it becomes unbearable to walk on with bare feet (dust, dirt, pet dander, hair, and pollen gets everywhere!). Having a house full of carpet doesn’t make that dust, dirt, and hair go away, you just can’t see it. What’s worse is that those same dust mites living in your pillow love to live in the carpet as well, along with fleas and other microscopic bugs!
You should be vacuuming your carpet every few days, and make sure your vacuum has a HEPA filter in it. If not, the dust-sized particles that you’re sucking up are just getting tossed back into the air and landing back in the carpet while you vacuum!
Middle Tennessee is a hotbed for Radon, which is radioactive gas released from rocks like granite, shale, and phosphate (pretty popular rock types in our area)! It’s estimated that 1 in 15 houses have Radon gas emissions, and it’s the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer. Get your house tested.
Have you ever parked your car at work in the morning, and by late afternoon it’s completely yellow from pollen? If you live in Middle Tennessee, you probably have! Pollen counts are highest between 6am and 10am. Avoid leaving your windows or doors open during this time of day, or hanging clothes outside to dry. If you’re pretty active outside during these times of day, keep in mind that the pollen is settling on your clothes and shoes, and you’re bringing that pollen indoors as soon as you enter your house. Consider taking your shoes off at the door to prevent pollen deposits in your carpet.
5. Open Your Windows
Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. I just told you to keep your windows and doors closed to keep the pollen out, right? Only in the mornings. In the late afternoon and evenings, when pollen counts are low, it’s a great idea to open your windows and doors to let fresh air in, and create air flow to help suck some of that dust and stuffy air out of the house. Be sure to open windows and doors on opposite sides of the house to create an air channel.
If you find mold anywhere in your house, it isn’t enough to wipe it away. Mold generally grows in damp areas, so if you have mold growing, you need to find the source and fix it. Is there a leaking water pipe, or maybe your roof is leaking? If it’s in your bathroom, are you running the bathroom fan to prevent moisture buildup on the walls? Once you’ve identified and remedied the source of the mold growth, be sure to wash away the mold with a chemical agent that will kill the mold completely, like diluted bleach.
7. Air Fresheners
Avoid them, unless you’ve done the research on them! Air fresheners don’t just add fragrance to a room, they have chemicals in them that deaden the nerves in the nasal passage and introduce a new scent that can still be smelled. Instead, consider removing the cause of the offensive smell (trash, dirty dishes, dust), then simmer a small pot of water with natural ingredients like lemon peels, rosemary, mint leaves, jasmine or cinnamon sticks. You can also place a bowl of baking soda or white vinegar on a shelf to absorb lingering offensive odors more quickly.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemical compounds known to cause cancer and a wide array of other health issues. They can be found in the air fresheners mentioned above, along with opened paint cans, new carpet, chemical cleaning agents, and new plastics. Opened paint cans and bottles of cleaning solutions are probably the most common VOC culprits in the average American household, and a simple solution is to store these items as far from the general living space as possible. Keep them in your garage (so long as there is no living space directly above the garage) or in a shed. You can also purchase paints and cleaning products that are “low-VOC.”
If you’re having new carpet installed in your house, consider a long weekend away from the house once the carpet is installed and keep the house well ventilated while you’re gone. You can also run an air purifier during this time… after considering the notes below.
9. Air Purifiers
Studies have shown that indoor air can be 5-10 times MORE polluted than outdoor air. Part of the reason is because homes are being built with energy efficiency in mind, so what comes in, stays in! As a result, the home air purifier business quickly took root. They work, generally, by creating air movement and trapping the air contaminants in a filter. However, not all home air purifiers are created equal; some have been proven to actually create ozone. Be sure your home air purifier has a HEPA filter, just like your vacuum.
10. Exhaust Fans
I mentioned the importance of running the bathroom exhaust fan during a shower in order to limit the build up of moisture on the walls, but that’s not the only time you should run your exhaust fan. It’s also important to ventilate the bathroom while cleaning it with strong chemicals, and when using other personal care products like hair dye or any spray beauty products like hair spray or spray deodorant. Think of it this way… if you can smell it, it means there are particles floating through the air, landing and sticking to places in addition to your intended target. An exhaust fan will help remove more of these particles while they’re still floating in the air.
Everyone has their one chore they hate doing most of all. For me, it’s dusting. It’s not that I necessarily hate it, I just forget that I’m supposed to do it. Nonetheless, at some point I’ll notice the tops of my shelves getting a little “hairy” looking. When dusting, it’s important not to use a feather duster, because all you’re really doing is sweeping the dust back into the air, and letting it settle back down at a later time. Instead, use a vacuum, or better yet, a damp cloth, and continually rinse out the cloth thoroughly as you go. When dusting wood furniture, consider using lemon oil instead of furniture polish.
When you damp dust, you can get away with doing it less often! Remember to dust the tops of your light bulbs, fan blades, picture frames, and tops of sculptures/art figurines, too!
Live plants are a wonderful, and beautiful, way to improve your indoor air quality. As we all know, plants breathe in CO2 and release fresh oxygen (yay fresh air!), but some household plants are actually known to naturally purify the air and remove VOCs! Among the list of plants is English Ivy (absorbs formaldehyde), Peace Lily (absorbs benzene and acetone), Lady Palm (absorbs ammonia), Wax Begonia (absorbs benzene) and Golden Pothos (absorbs carbon monoxide).
If you enjoy learning about these types of health tips, considering joining us for some of our other upcoming Engage Green Workshops (1st Wednesday of each Month) and Wellness Workshops (4th Thursday of each month). Our next Engage Green Workshop discusses DIY Natural Home & Body Care. Now that you know how to clean out all the bad air in your home, you can learn how to make your own natural home and body care products to keep your Indoor air quality fresh!
– Keeley (Team Green’s Director)