Thinking Green, Living Healthy
by Lauri Cielo
Eliminating indoor air pollution: According to the EPA, the air we breathe inside our homes and offices can be five times more polluted than the air outside, and this may be affecting you and your family’s health. The next four tips offer ways to improve the air quality in your home (or office):
- Test for radon and carbon monoxide:these two extremely dangerous indoor pollutants are easy and affordable to test for with home detection monitors you can pick up at any hardware store. Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that occurs naturally in soil and rock. It can be found in 1 out of every 15 homes, and is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Testing for radon can only be done with a specialized radon testing kit available at hardware stores everywhere, and just may save your life. Carbon monoxide is also odorless and invisible, but it usually comes from a car left idling in the garage, or a faulty gas-powered stove or heater. It can only be detected with a special carbon monoxide detector. If you have a gas or propane stove, or a home heated with gas or oil, a carbon monoxide detector is as important to your home safety as a smoke detector (and costs about the same). Ventilate daily:bringing in cleaner outdoor air by opening up windows is the easiest way to dilute the contaminated air in your home. However, you’ll want to keep the windows closed on high-pollen-count days or when it’s very humid outside, which can raise the risk of mold. When cooking and bathing, make sure to use exhaust fans. According to Nate Bellino at HomeLab, you’ll want to ventilate the kitchen with a fan or nearby open window during cooking, and for at least 15 minutes after you are done preparing the meal.
- Vacuum slowly and often: dust is a leading source of air pollution because it absorbs toxic gases, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and radon. It can also contain pollen, animal dander, mold spores and dust mites, which are known allergens. Vacuuming slowly and methodically captures the most dust, whereas vacuuming quickly just raises the dust, which defeats the purpose. Vacuum slowly at least twice a week, and step outside to empty the vacuum cleaner bag or canister, and avoid inhaling any dust as you do so. That’s because bacteria can multiply 100-fold inside a vacuum, according to Charles Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona.
- Avoid fragrances: joint research from the Environmental Working Group and the University of Washington found that all top-selling laundry products emit at least one substance regulated as toxic or hazardous. Fabric softeners and dryer sheets are the worst offenders. And most air fresheners, cleaning products, scented candles, hair products, nail polishes, and perfumes also contain VOCs and phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that may affect reproductive development. If you must use some sort of fragrance in your home, boil citrus peels or herbs like cinnamon, sage, rosemary, or mint, or diffuse pure, plant-based essential oils into the air.
- Bring in the houseplants: plants work as natural air purifiers by drawing in airborne chemicals and other harmful compounds through their leaves and depositing them in the soil where they are broken down by micro-organisms. This process effectively removes VOC toxins such as nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and benzene, to name a few. To improve indoor air quality, experts recommend using one to three houseplants for every 100 square feet of living space, though your results will vary greatly depending on the types of plants you are growing, their size and their health. These plants are best known for their air-cleaning capabilities: a) philodendrons, b) English ivy, c) Chinese evergreen, d) spider plant, e) golden pothos, f) snake plant, g) bamboo palm to name just a few.
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