One 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.