Airborne Contaminants in Your Home

A person holding their hands to their chest as if in pain or discomfort.

In recent news, a new study by Rice University in Houston Texas has shown that levels of air pollution and ozone can be directly correlated to an increase in the instances of heart attacks. Peak exposure to both fine airborne particles, emitted by factories and cars, and ozone, a reactive form of oxygen, was shown to increase heart attack risk, particularly for men and the elderly.

Additionally, spikes in the number of hospital admissions for cardiovascular problems have been observed on the days with the highest pollution levels. The researchers said they wanted to highlight the health costs of pollution on society and promote its reduction. They also believe the supposedly safe levels of pollutants set by the Environmental Protection Agency are too high and should be lowered.

While we can’t avoid pollution completely if we live in the city, hot and still days in summer consistently show the highest readings. It’s worth avoiding spending too much time outside in the city on days like this, particularly if you already have a cardiovascular or respiratory condition.

Unfortunately, staying indoors with all the windows shut isn’t likely to be the best solution either. Here’s why:

Lines of colored paint drawn on a wall next to paint containers.

3 Types of Airborne Toxins in Your Home

Air pollution can happen indoors as well and from a surprising range of sources. While it’s less obvious than the smoggy air of the city or a face full of exhaust fumes, there are some airborne contaminants in your home to be aware of and worth trying to minimize your exposure to where possible.

1. Paint and Furniture Fumes

Many paints, varnishes and similar products on the market off-gas in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Breathing in these fumes, especially over a long period, can cause headaches, place stress on the liver and lead to various other health problems. Of course you should always stay out of a freshly painted room for as long as possible, but, while it eventually diminishes, VOC off-gassing can go on for a long time.

The best bet if you are painting a room, especially a bedroom or living room, is to use only specialized paints that clearly display that they are VOC-free. Even furniture like your couch, plastic and stained timber furnishings, electrical equipment and curtains (especially shower curtains) can off-gas with volatile organic compounds and other airborne contaminants. These become more concentrated the more closed up your home is so winter can be particularly problematic.

A patch of mold next to a radiator.

2. Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew are microscopic fungi that grow on a surface like your bathroom tiles, bedroom windowsill, a loaf of bread or even your leather jacket or shoes. The mold and mildew you can see is only when it’s highly concentrated. Mold spores are common in enclosed homes and particularly love warm and humid environments.

Breathing in too many mold spores has been demonstrated to cause respiratory issues, allergic reactions and even nervous system disorders and depression.

Any visible mold should be removed with vinegar and a damp sponge. Some resources also recommend wearing a breathing mask when you do this to avoid any airborne spores stirred up when cleaning. Ventilation can help and it’s recommended to keep the windows slightly open, even in winter and especially whenever you are having a shower, cooking on a hot plate or drying clothes and as much as possible and other times.

To really minimize mold, the humidity level in your house needs to be kept low (apparently below 54%). A good dehumidifier can help with this and could be worth the investment if you regularly notice mold and mildew in your home.

Image a microscopic organism.

3. Microorganisms and Airborne Particles

Microscopic biological contaminants like dust particles, pet dander, bacteria, viruses and dust mites are common in many of the environments we live in. You can’t avoid these completely and generally a healthy person’s immune system will take care of a reasonable levels of them.

Health problems can result though when enough of these microorganisms and airborne particles build up to a toxic level. Dust mites are a big problem since we spend so much time with our face next to our pillow when we sleep. Wash your bed sheets and particularly pillowcases regularly with very hot water to minimize dust mites and definitely try to keep pets off beds and couches.

Half a dozen drops of eucalyptus oil in the washing machine with your bedsheets may also help to greatly reduce them. Unless the air pollution outside is particularly bad, say if you live on a busy road with vehicles pumping out exhaust fumes, it’s good to keep your windows open and have the air circulating around your home. Fresh air has a higher concentration of negative ions which help reduce floating airborne particles.

Ideally, consider really improving the air quality in your home by getting a good air purifier with a HEPA filter. While these are always recommended for those with asthma and respiratory problems, even people without obvious breathing difficulties usually report an increase in energy and a greater sense of wellness once the burden of dealing with airborne contaminants in their home is greatly reduced.

Conclusion

I hope this page has provided a few ideas on how to minimize breathing in toxins in your home. Building up your immunity is obviously important, but simple steps like keeping your windows open, washing your sheets regularly and choosing paints and furnishings that don’t off-gas with volatile organic compounds may help improve the healthiness of your home and your own well-being.

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  • Bottle of vinegar does wonders for a lot of surfaces.
    its exceelent at getting mold off tiles and other surfaces.
    For showers, i tend to replace the curtain ( i rotate them through the year).. give them a bit of a rub with vinegar and then put them out in the sunshine for a bit of time to let the sun/UV blast whats left to bits

    seems to work

    Fiona

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