10 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

Bamboo PalmOne of the problems that we have had to solve at our house is the quality of the air during the winter months when the windows are rarely opened. My wife suffers terribly from poor air quality (not to mention the cost of trying to treat the conditions which result from it) so we needed to make some moves to improve the conditions. I’m sure that with winter now in full force that there are many others with their windows shut tight and the air inside their houses and apartments not circulating near as much as it does at other times of the year. Some studies have shown that air quality during the winter months is 1000% worse in homes than during other times of the year. For those seeking relief, here are the ten 10 steps that we made to improve the air quality of our home:

1. Bring In Some Nature: The first step we took was to bring in plants. When it comes to cleaning the air, plants are great friends. While numerous chemicals can contribute to poor air quality in the home, many of the chemicals that make us sick are the ones that plants thrive upon and they can quickly remove the chemicals from the air.

To get the best air cleaning potential from plants, you should have one for approximately every 10 square yards of floor space (more if you have high ceilings). You would therefore need two to three plants to help the air quality in the average sized US living room.

For those that lack a green thumb, there is nothing to worry about. Many of the popular indoor plants originated tropical forests where there was a lack of sunlight making them quite hardy. These types of plants are ideal for placing inside the home and will even thrive in dark corners.

According to Treehugger, the peace lily, bamboo palm, English ivy, mums, and gerbera daisies top the list of plants that will help improve your inside air quality. Best of all, these plants are easy to find and easy to care for.

2. Don’t Smoke Indoors: This tip seems to be a pretty obvious one, but can provide challenges for those who do have a smoker in the family or as in our case, have friends that come over on a regular basis that smoke. The best option is for anyone that smokes, to do so outside which is the rule we implemented. We converted a small area outside to a smoking area which keeps the indoor air free of smoke.

With cold winter weather, however, having everyone go outside may not be a plausible choice for some. If smoking outside the house isn’t possible, then smoking next to a ventilation fan (that pushes air outside the house), although not perfect, is better than letting people smoke anywhere in the house.

3. Circulate Air: One of the biggest problems we had with our indoor air quality in the winter was that fresh, outdoor air wasn’t being circulated through our house due to the windows always being closed. We solved this by opening up the windows when we take any short trips away from the home. This little step really helped to clear out the poor quality air and we would return to a fresh house (although a bit cold).

4. Take / Wipe Off Your Shoes: Having lived in Japan for a number of years where shoes aren’t allowed to be worn inside the house, I can attest to the amount of dirt, dust and other particles that shoes can drag all over the house. It’s amazing how much cleaner a house remains when shoes aren’t worn indoors and that equates into cleaner air indoors. If this is a habit you aren’t used to, it may take a bit of an adjustment at first, but once you get into the habit, you’ll never go back. If that seems too extreme, leave a damp rag at your entrance door and at least wipe down your shoes before entering the house.

5. Replace / Clean Furnace and Air Filters: This is one of those things that you are always told to do, but don’t realize how a big a difference it can make until you practice it with diligence. Once we made sure our furnace and air filters were all clean and changed on a regular basis, it helped the indoor air quality. It doesn’t take long for the filters to fill with dirt and grime and when they do, the air quality will deteriorate. This is also one area where you don’t necessarily want to scrimp on money and buy the cheapest filters – we found that while we could get filters that cost less money, they didn’t filter as well. We found that using a high efficiency particulate filter (HEPA) was best for us.

6. Use and Clean Ventilating Fans: This is a tricky one because leaving ventilating fans on all the time simply sucks out the warmed air in your house and your heating bill will be quite high. On the other hand, not using them to try and save on heating costs will affect the quality of the air in your house. Ventilation fans exist for a reason and that is to ventilate the areas where they exist. Remembering to turn them on and off and using them properly will help keep the air clean in the kitchen and bathrooms. While this wasn’t a problem with us, you also want to make sure that these vent to the outside of the house. We also found that it’s important to keep the ventilating fans clean and to replace any filters if they have them as this helps clear the air much better.

7. Use Safe Cleaning Products: I wasn’t convinced this would make much of a difference at first, but it actually did make a noticeable difference for my wife. All the cleaning products that come with warnings do so for a reason: they contain harmful chemicals and when they are used, those chemicals get into the air. We found that there are plenty of non toxic alternatives that you can make at home (here’s how) such as baking soda, washing soda and white vinegar & lemon juice that will work 90%+ of the time (and are also a lot less expensive).

During the times that you must use products that are toxic, make sure to ventilate the room where you’re using it well so that you can get the fumes out of the air as quickly as possible.

8. Vacuum And Dust: This is another area where we found it was worthwhile to invest and purchase a more expensive unit than going with less expensive vacuum cleaner model. We opted for a non bag model that doesn’t kick the fine dirt and dust that it picks up back into the house and when we change it made a big difference.

If you do have a vacuum cleaner with filter bags, then you want to change them regularly to help keep down the amount of particles thrown into the air. If you aren’t careful in this area, your indoor air can actually get worse after a vacuuming due to all the dust getting kicked back up into the air.

While it’s obvious to vacuum carpets, we found that doing regular vacuuming of other areas like fabric furniture was also important. Smaller hand held vacuums can be used to vacuum areas that a standard sized vacuum doesn’t perform well on such as drapes and curtains to help them stay dust free. We also found that we needed to dust on a regularly basis (weekly for us) to keep the dust and the microscopic “dust mites” that live in the dust to a minimum.

9. Store Toxic Compounds Outside: While we already stored most of the toxic compounds we had outside, we were surprised to find some in the back of storage closets inside the house. These toxic compounds you want to look for are such things as cleaners, paints, pesticides and solvents to name just a few. We now store them in a small shed completely separate from the house.

10. Pets: If you have pets like us, it makes keeping the air quality in good condition especially difficult. Shedding hair is always a problem, but with the better vacuuming and cleaning habits we adopted, this solved a lot of the problems. What we found was causing a lot of problems for us was cat litter. Again, we found by spending a bit more for better quality litter, we had less dust problems from it. In addition, we moved the cat litter to a separate room that we could shut off from the rest of the house (and added a cat door) which helped tremendously. If you have pets, look at taking steps to pinpoint what pet issues are contributing to the poor air quality and look for solutions that will work for your circumstances.

By implementing all of these, the air quality in our house has improved dramatically which has resulted in less money spent on over the counter relief medicine and trips to the doctor, not to mention making each day a lot more enjoyable.

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19 Responses to 10 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

  1. Pingback: Health » Blog Archive » Get Sick Less Often: Improve Air Quality Indoors

  2. justelise says:

    Just as an aside.. allergy sufferers and people with asthma should be careful about having plants in the house. They harbor dust/mites and other critters that can make allergy and asthma symptoms worse.

    In particularly dusty homes, vacuuming hardwood floors can also help.

  3. ktpupp says:

    #3 may not be a good idea in all climates. Up here in Michigan we’ve had temps hovering around 0F lately. When you open the door to come into the house, people in that room can start to see their breath in the time it takes to walk through the door… Leaving a window open when you leave would render the house un-livable pretty quickly.

  4. Victoria says:

    Fantastic article.. I use a ton of plants and notice a HUGE difference.. the more plants the better.

    more oxygen means more brain power

  5. Ivan Minic says:

    Taking off shoes… hm.. well… hm…

  6. Jarno says:

    Nice one. Although all of these (should) come out of common sense. Living in Finland, I’ve never understood the habit of NOT taking shoes off when indoors. Enough dust and other unwanted particles without dirty shoes to worry about :)

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  8. miranda says:

    People who are put off by the idea of taking off shoes need not walk around the house barefoot; I don’t wear my shoes in the house, but I do have a designated pair of “house shoes”. Whatever shoes I wear for this purpose will be more than just slippers, but they won’t be worn out of the house. Some people might be happy with Crocs; I’ve worn Speedo pool shoes with a molded support footbed, Lands End suede mules, and other kinds of supportive slip-on shoes.

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  13. Plants says:

    Putting a lot of plants in the house isn’t the best idea either. In the day time yes, they give off oxygen, but in the night, they breathe in the oxygen from the air (photosynthesis). If you ever visit East Asia you will see that noone ever brings plants in the house for this reason. They fear being closed up in a room with a lot of plants at night that the plants will take all the oxygen out of the air.

  14. Pingback: Plagued by Allergies? 10 Ways to Freshen The Indoor Air « give me nrg

  15. Jeremy says:

    Good sound advice! Just two comments. When it comes to introducing outside air into a home depending on the climate that you are situated in you can use either an ERV (energy recovery ventilator) or HRV (heat recovery ventilator) or which both basically serve the same purpose of bringing in outside air tempered to the indoor environment while ex-filtrating inside air creating a building that is under a slightly positive pressure but yet maintains good air circulation. An old adage that is still true when it comes to indoor air quality is the solution to pollution is dilution.

    The second item is I encourage you not to be in a hurry to run out and buy a higher efficiency air filter and slap it in an existing air-conditioning system. Sadly many air-conditioning systems have duct work that was designed to the minimum standards of acceptable airflow and while they may work well with the inexpensive blue throw away filters they will starve for air with higher efficiency pleated filters. Always consult with a good licensed air-conditioning contractor before restricting the flow of air across your system, or consider placing several portable HEPA cleaners around your home.

    I can also recommend one item for your list that is probably one of the most important items for people suffering from allergies to dust mites or mold. Control humidity!

    If humidity is To below 55% then neither or mold nor dust mites can grow which immediately reduces two of the major contributors to allergies within a sealed home.

    Great article I really loved it!

  16. candie says:

    You can also clean your airs at home using a air purifying system. I have been suffering from bad allergies for years now and it gets really bad during the spring season. So I try to stay indoors but it does not make any difference, being inside feels like I’m outside with the pollens.


  17. jeff edens says:

    IN AN OLDER HOUSE CHANGE OUT THE AIR DUCTS IN THE ATTIC AND REPLACE THE FILTERS WHERE NEEDED. I did this in my house and it is absolutely unbelievable the difference in the air that comes into the living part of my house, the best investment I COULD HAVE MADE, ITS NOT CHEAP BUT A GREAT INVESTMENT IN QUALITY OF LIFE INSIDE.

  18. jazlyn says:

    well,pets dun dirty ur enviroment or anything like that.unless we cut their hair and dun pick,vacum or sweep them up or we dun clean up their poo or wee when they have finished doing it..all those type of bad things that we should not do.y i know all this stuff??cause i have 4 pets in my house.2 dog,1 bird and 1 hamster..=)

  19. Thomas Heaney says:

    Refraining from wearing / using fragrances in the workplace is a huge benefit for employees suffering from asthma. Also understanding that sensitivities to chemicals can vary widely among individuals and co-workers is key. It is much better to promote understanding and voluntary compliance than to create a workrule / enforcement dynamic.

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