Use these 25 indoor air quality tips from the American Lung Association to help reduce the risk factors for asthma and other lung illness in your home.
How Dirty Is the Air In Your Home?
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that people spend 90% of their time indoors, but that indoor air quality can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Indoor air pollution can threaten the health -- and the lives -- of everyone in your family.
The single most effective way to keep the air in your home healthy is to keep things out of your home that cause air pollution, including cigarette smoke, excess moisture and chemicals.
The second most important strategy is to ventilate to pull dangerous pollutants out of the house. Run the exhaust fans in your bathroom and kitchen. Open your windows. Make sure you have a good exhaust system in place for appliances and stoves.
Know the Deadly Three
Some indoor air pollutants can kill. Among the most dangerous are these three:
Carbon monoxide: 400 die and thousands are sickened annually.
Secondhand smoke: 7,500-15,000 children are hospitalized or sickened with respiratory tract infections, and older adults with cardiovascular or lung illness are at higher risk of health problems.
Radon gas: It's silent. It's odorless. It's found in many American homes, and it is the second biggest cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoke.
Don't Allow Smoking Indoors
Each year, second hand smoke sends 7,500-15,000 children aged 18 months or younger to the hospital. Hundreds of thousands of children will develop respiratory tract infections from second hand smoke this year. Older adults and people with lung and cardiovascular diseases are also at higher risks of respiratory problems from cigarette smoke exposure.
Never let anyone smoke inside your home. The Surgeon General states that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Ask smokers to take it outside to protect the health of you and your family.
Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of over 400 people each year and thousands of others become ill or seek medical attention after exposure to the odorless gas. Sometimes the early symptoms resemble the flu, but look for these differences: if more than one family member has symptoms -- even your pets -- and you feel better away from home, you may have a carbon monoxide problem. Carbon monoxide levels can rise very quickly in unventilated areas without anyone noticing the colorless, odorless, toxic gas.
Protect yourself by installing a carbon monoxide detector near your sleeping rooms. Also have all fuel burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician once a year to keep the deadly gas away from your home.
Don't Idle the Car (Or Run Other Fuel-Burning Engines) In the Garage
Carbon monoxide exposure can cause weakness, nausea, disorientation, unconsciousness and even death. Each year, hundreds of people become ill and die after carbon monoxide poisoning at home. Some 15,000 must go to the emergency room after exposure to the toxic gas.
Burning gas or other fuels indoors can produce dangerous levels of indoor air pollution and deadly carbon monoxide. Protect your health by turning off carbon-monoxide emitting motors in garages and sheds. Fumes from cars or lawnmowers left running in enclosed spaces, like attached garages, can endanger the health of you and your family. Malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances that emit carbon monoxide can cause life-threatening problems. Use only gas stoves and heaters indoors that vent directly to the outside air. Never use charcoal grills indoors. Never let anyone smoke indoors—cigarette smoke is another major source of carbon monoxide.
Test for Radon
Your home may be harboring a lethal, invisible killer -- radon. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer, period. Scientists estimate that radon causes thousands of deaths annually.
Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that occurs naturally in soil and rock and can only be detected through testing. Protect yourself and your family. Test your home for radon. Testing is easy and inexpensive and getting rid of radon may save your life.
Use Low-VOC Paints
Paints release trace amounts of gases for months after application -- even though they appear to be fully dried and the smell is gone. These gases are called VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, and can include highly toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
Use "low-VOC" paints, varnishes, waxes and other chemicals. If painting indoors, open windows and use exhaust fans to remove gases. Do not store open paint containers indoors.
Rain and high humidity can bring moisture indoors, creating dampness, mold and mildew -- big problems for healthy indoor air. Dampness alone -- not just mold -- is associated with higher risk of wheezing, coughing and asthma symptoms.
Check your roof, foundation and basement or crawlspace once a year to catch leaks or moisture problems and route water away from your home’s foundation. Fix problems as quickly as possible to prevent unhealthy dampness from entering your home.
Clean Your Air Conditioner and Dehumidifier
Asthma is the leading serious chronic illness of children in the U.S. Help keep asthma triggers away from your house by fixing leaks and drips as soon as they start. Standing water and high humidity encourage the growth of dust mites, mold and mildew -- some of the most common triggers that can worsen asthma. Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner when needed, and clean both regularly.
There Is No Such Thing as a "Hypoallergenic" Pet
Pet allergies can come from an animal’s saliva, urine, feces and dead skin cells, so no pet is “hypoallergenic.” If someone in your family has pet allergies, keep your pet outdoors. Moving your pet from indoors to out can help reduce exposure to these allergens. However, cat allergens can stay in place for 20 weeks or more.
If you must keep your pet indoors, keep it away from sleeping rooms. Clean floors and upholstered furniture frequently (two or more times a week) to reduce exposure to pet allergens indoors. Unfortunately, two often-recommended actions do not seem to work: neither washing pets nor using indoor air cleaning devices helps.
Kill the Dust Mites
Dust allergies are actually allergies to dust mites -- microscopic pests that need moisture to survive. Scientists have also concluded that breathing dust mite allergens can cause asthma in children. Dust mites feed on human skin and live in bedding, pillows, mattresses, stuffed toys, upholstery and carpets.
To fight dust mites in your home:
Keep humidity levels below 50% indoors. Use a dehumidifier if necessary.
Intensive vacuuming and steam cleaning of upholstered furniture may help.
Using dust-mite-resistant covers and washing your bedding in very hot water may help as part of a comprehensive approach, but don’t rely on those steps by themselves
Don't Disturb Asbestos -- Get Help
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can still be found in many older homes. Inhaling tiny asbestos fibers can increase the risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases. Pipe coverings, flooring, shingles and roofs are likely places to find asbestos.
Check asbestos-containing materials regularly for damage from tears, water or wear. Don't try to remove asbestos that is already in place; asbestos is best left undisturbed. If the material is damaged or you plan to remodel, protect your health by getting professional help.
Protect Kids From Bad Air On the Bus
Your child may be breathing high levels of dangerous pollution inside their school bus, including diesel exhaust, fine particles and carcinogens. Studies of air inside old diesel school buses found high levels of a wide list of pollutants, with consistently higher levels than outdoor air.
Protect children's health by advocating for the use of clean diesel school buses. While all buses emit pollution, buses with cleaner equipment installed can reduce the amount of pollution your child breathes.
Ventilate to Control Humidity
Properly ventilating your home is one of the best way s to protect and improve air quality.
High levels of moisture in your home increase dampness and the growth of mold, which not only damage your home but threaten health. Dampness and mold are linked to increased wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks in people with allergies. Normal daily household activities -- including cooking, washing and even breathing -- produce water vapor, so having adequate ventilation is essential to remove moisture from the air.
Try these dehumidifying tricks to keep the humidity in your home below 50%.
Install and run exhaust fans in bathrooms to remove unhealthy moisture and odors from your home.
Make sure that vents exhaust air outdoors and not into other parts of your home.
Remove any mold damage or growth and fix all leaks.
Beware Dry Cleaning Chemicals
Dry cleaning solvents are strong chemicals, and can be toxic to breathe. Let dry cleaned items air outdoors before bringing them inside. Hanging them on an outdoor clothesline will prevent many of these chemicals from entering your home.
Be Wary of Old Lead Paint
Keeping the air clean within the walls of your home starts with the walls themselves.
Lead-based paints can still be found in homes built before 1978. Any peeling, chipping or chalking of lead-based paint can increase the risk of unhealthy lead exposure. Young children risk delays in mental development, lower IQ and behavioral problems from inhaling lead paint dust. Some of those damages can be permanent.
Remodeling that requires sanding, scraping or removing walls will release paint dust into your living space. However, you can reduce the risk if you take the proper steps. The Environmental Protection Agency offers these six recommendations:
Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may contain lead.
Do not remove lead paint yourself.
Do not bring lead dust into the home.
If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.
Get professional help for peeling paint or remodeling if your home was built before 1978. Older homes likely have lead-based paint on the walls, doors and trim. Inhaling the lead paint dust can be harmful to your health and professionals can help you stay safe.
Vent Your Wood Stove (Or Better, Shut It Off)
Fireplaces and wood or gas stoves in your home can produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particle pollution, as well as other toxic air pollutants.
Use a fireplace or wood stove only if you must have it for heat. If you must use a wood or gas stove or fireplace, make certain it is fully vented to the outside. Wood stoves should meet State of Washington emission standards, which require cleaner-burning stoves.
Formaldehyde is a nearly colorless gas found in many home products. Disinfectants, adhesive or bonding agents, insecticides, urea formaldehyde foam insulation and particle board may all contain formaldehyde. It is a carcinogen and can cause health problems that include coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, skin rashes and asthma-like symptoms. People with asthma may be more sensitive to formaldehyde.
Keep formaldehyde away from your home by choosing wood panel products that are not made with urea formaldehyde glues, lumber or materials. Cigarette smoke is also a major source of indoor formaldehyde -- another reason to ban smoking from your home.
To Avoid Pesticides (and Pests) Learn These 3 Letters: IPM
Pesticides used to curb household pests can allow harmful chemicals into your home and may cause added health dangers to children and pets. Still, some pests can trigger allergic reactions and worsen asthma.
Practice integrated pest management to keep your home free of pests and harmful chemicals alike. Integrated pest management includes simple things like blocking holes and keeping food in tightly sealed containers. Cover your trash cans and keep your floors and counter free of crumbs. Use bait traps if necessary to catch pests. Only use chemicals as a last resort and get professional help.
Avoid Toxic Products
Consumer products can produce harmful air pollution indoors. Hair and nail products, cleaning products, art and hobby supplies and other common products can increase the levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Some of the VOCs in these products include substances linked to cancer, headaches, eye and throat irritation and worsened asthma.
Look for products which are marked “low VOCs” and be sure to open windows and use exhaust fans when using these products.
4 Simple Steps to Avoid Colds
4 Simple Steps to Avoid Colds
Touching your own eyes, nose or mouth with germy hands is the most common way to catch a cold. Make these habits to decrease your chances of getting sick:
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water to help you stay healthy during the cold season.
Wash frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, phones and light switches.
If you have a cold, stay home and rest.
Sneeze into your elbow, not your hands to reduce your chance of spreading the viruses.
Eliminate Asthma Triggers
If you or someone you live with has asthma, you know that most homes contain a wide assortment of irritants and allergens that can trigger dangerous attacks. Take a comprehensive approach to identify and fix problems in order to maintain a healthy home. Studies show that doing just one or two things -- like using mattress covers alone -- won’t make much of a difference. Make sure you ban smoking from your home, keep the humidity level below 50% and regularly look around your home for problem areas or the specific trigger that causes problems.
Ventilate Your Kitchen
Cooking can be a big source of indoor air pollution, especially if you have a gas stove. Scientists who measured indoor air quality found that cooking a single meal on a gas stove can produce levels of nitrogen dioxide that the EPA considers unsafe to breathe. Nitrogen dioxide can worsen asthma and increase your risk of respiratory infection.
Ventilate your kitchen stove directly outside or open a kitchen window when you cook. Keeping exhaust -- including cooking odors and particles -- outside of your home prevents dangerous fumes and particles from harming you or your family.
Ventilate the Bathroom
Bathroom fans can help reduce the level of moisture in your home and prevent the growth of mold. Make sure to use them whenever possible. If you are building a home or remodeling, install a fan with a separate timer that can continue to remove moisture after you turn out the light.
A little common sense goes a long way. If a bathroom smells like mold or you can see water spots, you need to reduce the moisture level of your home. Always start by identifying the source of household problems, and then find the simplest step to fix it. Taking small steps to improve the air quality of your home can have tremendous results.
Know the Limitations of Air Purifiers
Air cleaning devices can help reduce some of the tiniest airborne particles, and as part of a comprehensive strategy, may help reduce indoor air pollution.
However, they have limits. For example, they aren't effective against gases or humidity. Larger, heavier particles -- including many allergens -- fall too quickly out of the air to be effectively removed this way.
If you chose to use an air cleaning device, make sure that it does not produce ozone -- either intentionally or as a byproduct.
Don't Install Carpets
Avoid using carpet whenever possible. Carpet traps unhealthy particles -- including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi -- and vacuuming can make them airborne.
If you do have carpets, use a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) vacuum cleaner to ensure better air quality.
Hard surface flooring, like wood, tile or cork can be readily cleaned by damp mopping.
"Fighting for Air"
Most people don't think of the American Lung Association when they think of environmental groups, but the ALA works actively to educate the public, and lobby Congress, about a range of pollution issues, including the smog and other pollutants generated by smokestacks and tailpipes. It also has taken the green message to the mainstream by educating people about how to improve indoor air quality, which the Environmental Protection Agency warns can be as much a five-times more unhealthy than outdoor air.