Indoor air quality (IAQ) probably isn’t top of mind for most people, if any. But it should be because you’re probably not breathing clean air.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later.” That means headaches, itchy eyes, and fatigue now, and an increased potential for respiratory complications, heart disease, or cancer later. So yeah, it’s serious stuff.
IAQ is affected by myriad factors, but according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the leading issue is poor ventilation. In theory, you can just open the windows to increase air flow but that might not be a pleasant option in the dead of winter, or even a option at all if you live in an urban environment with poor outdoor air to begin with.
Thankfully, there are different methods to improve IAQ, like testing your indoor air, creating clean oxygen with a houseplant, and even reducing the use of some household products that can lead to high levels of total volatile organic compounds (TVOCs), which are the gases emitted by everything like nail polish, paint, or even just your stovetop when making dinner.
Here are five ways to test, filter, and improve your IAQ.
Test your space with an IAQ monitor
If you live in a well-ventilated house in a rural area not used for raising livestock, then you may have great IAQ in your home; the rest of us probably have issues.
Using an IAQ monitor gives you a real-time snapshot of the air in your home (or office, school, daycare center — you get it) and can also help get an accurate sense of the air by tracking data over time. That way, you won’t wonder if you just tested the air at a bad time or get a false positive if you happened to test a room while its air was unusually pure.
Test for radon gas too
And while you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to use a radon detector. Radon is a radioactive, odorless, and invisible gas that comes up from the ground, so even a clean home with intentionally-reduced levels of TVOC can be at risk. And radon is deadly; after smoking, it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer.
A good radon detector will give you both current and historical data on the gas levels found in your home. If it’s consistently high, consider hiring someone to help you seal off the bottom of your house and potentially install a ventilation system under your home too.
Detox with an air purifier
A good air purifier isn’t cheap, but a great air purifier is actually kind of expensive. The benefits of clean indoor air can extend throughout your life, so a one-time expenditure now could actually save you a lot in medical bills later — not to mention quality and maybe even duration of life.
The Blueair Classic 480i air purifier ($686.99) uses a HEPA filter and an electrostatic charge to capture harmful particles in the air, and it can be set to automatically adjust fan speed and clean the air faster when sensors detect an increase in air pollution. The Alen BreatheSmart FIT50 air purifier ($550) has a mechanical filtration system and uses activated carbon to capture the smallest bits of pollutant. The system features an Air Quality Indicator Light that tells you the IAQ in real time with five different colors. Blue? That’s high-quality air. Purple? Better set the thing on high and go outside for a walk.
Create your own oxygen with houseplants
Capturing TVOCs, allergens, bacteria, dust, and other unpleasantness floating in your air is a great way to make indoor air less bad. But to make it better, you need to add more pure O2.
And how do you do that? With houseplants.
Plants are pretty amazing. They consume carbon dioxide, release oxygen, and add a lovely aesthetic upgrade all at the same time. At a quick count, my wife and I have 17 houseplants in our home. They vary between pothos plants that are tucked out of sight and allowed to grow as large as they want along with more curated, interesting ones in decorative planters.
Clean with safer household products
One of the best ways to reduce the harmful TVOCs contaminating indoor air is to never present them in the first place. When shopping for household products you use on a regular basis like dishwasher detergent or dish soap, consider a brand like Lemi Shine, which makes cleaning products with natural citrus extracts instead of potentially dangerous chemicals. Or Aunt Fannie’s cleaners; its glass cleaner, floor wash, and multi-purpose cleaning solution are all vinegar based.
Decorate with zero-VOC paint
And when it comes time to paint the walls of a room, spend the extra money for zero VOC paint. You will be keeping your family safer and, because the paint is also low in odor, you won’t have to deal with that awful smell lingering for days.