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Green Home, Healthy Home: Indoor Air Quality

March 5, 2011

When I mention the words ‘air pollution,’ what immediately pops into mind? For most folks, it is an image of industrial smokestacks spewing clouds of  black smoke into the air, or maybe even a smog filled skyline over a city like New York. What most of us don’t think of is the invisible air inside our homes, schools, and workplaces – which, in fact, can be more toxic than the air we’re breathing outside!

Indoor air quality is super important because we spend the vast majority of our time inside.  Indoor air is more concentrated, and has little chance for escape. What does this translate into: unhealthy concentrations of pollutants that can irritate asthma, cause headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and much more serious health conditions.

Do not fear, Earth Becomes Me is here! I’ll share what I have learned with you, and give you the tools to improve the air quality in your home!

Possible Sources of Indoor Air Pollution & Healthier Alternatives:

  • Heating equipment and other appliances:  Furnaces, fireplaces, stoves, and other gas burning appliances can leak carbon monoxide, a toxic and potentially deadly gas. They can also emit nitrogen dioxide and other particulate matter (ex. ash from wood smoke) that can irritate the respiratory system.  If you use gas burning appliances – you should install carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home/building. You should also have furnaces & chimneys inspected and serviced every year to ensure they are working correctly. All stoves (gas burning or otherwise) should be well ventilated. Use a hood, and/or crack the windows when you cook.
  • Paint, paint strippers & adhesive removers:  These are full of VOCS and other chemicals that are just flat-out bad for you! Low VOC paints are easy to find these days, and are a healthier alternative. Milk paints are also available, but maybe not as easy to find. There are several online resources for milk paints. As always, make sure windows are opened, and you are not painting in poorly ventilated spaces. I do not recommend painting when children are present, and please give the space a day or more to “air out” before allowing children back in!
  • New carpet, and home furnishings: These release formaldehyde and other harmful VOCs. Pressed wood furnishings range from simple picture frames and artwork to your cabinets or counter tops. This is one good reason not to upgrade! Look for real wood products, or products that are formaldehyde-free. If you can’t avoid buying pressed wood furnishings, allow them to “air out” a bit by leaving them in the garage for a while.  As for carpets – there are some less toxic choices out there, but they are limited. You could also go with cork, bamboo or wood flooring. Wool rugs are expensive, but I’m told they last a lifetime. Also, see my Formaldehyde Faux Pas post for more info.
  • Cleaning Supplies: Conventional cleaning supplies are made with a host of toxic chemicals and VOCs, many of which pack some seriously unpleasant fumes. You can clean just about anything with baking soda, vinegar, and a few other household ingredients. I do (click here for some bathroom cleaning ideas)! Oh, and for God’s sake – please never, ever use oven cleaner again. That stuff will kill ya!
  • Air fresheners: To me, these along with candles and cleaning products) are the biggies! Why? Everyone wants to have a lovely smelling home! While I can respect that, I’d rather smell dirty feet than have a headache all the time. Almost every home I’ve been in for the past 10 years has used air freshening products and candles. Your basic Glade, Renuzit, and Febreeze air fresheners (plug-ins, solids and sprays) are filled with tons of horrible stuff, and nothing good. I’m talking formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, phthalates, and more! Trust me, you don’t want your kids breathing this stuff, and if you happen to have a child with asthma – you need to stop using them yesterday! See here for more info. The best way to keep your home smelling fresh is to get rid of stinky smell sources – Take out the trash often, keep the kitchen clean, bathe the dogs, etc… You can also deodorize by sprinkling baking soda in the bottoms of your trash cans, and on the carpets before vacuuming.
  • Candles (yes, I said candles): From their lead-containing wicks to  synthetic fragrances and soot releasing smoke, scented candles are pretty darn toxic! I know you think they smell good, but they are poisoning you. I happen to love candles! I love the warm glow and ambiance they create. The perfect alternative is to burn pure beeswax candles; they smell amazing and emit negative ions which actually purify the air. You might think they’re too expensive, but I promise you, they burn forever! I get my beeswax candles from the Hunter’s Honey Farm stand at the farmers market. They have an online store, and will ship your order.  Natural, unscented soy candles are another option, but watch out for synthetic fragrances and leaded wicks. Most soy candles you find in stores aren’t the healthy ones!

Other ideas for reducing indoor air toxicity:

  • Install ceiling fans to circulate air – this will prevent pollutants from concentrating in the air.
  • Open the windows! Ventilation makes a big difference, so even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes a day, crack a few windows and let some fresh air in.
  • Vacuum often with a HEPA filtered vacuum. Non-HEPA vacuums just stir toxin-containing particulate matter up into the air.
  • Change your air filters often! Every month is not too much.
  • Get some plants! Plants help to eradicate toxins. Click here for a great article, with some air cleaning plant suggestions.

Hopefully this will at least introduce you to the concept of indoor air quality, and what you can do to make it better. Unfortunately, our government allows companies to manufacture products using materials that can make us sick, and then keeps us in the dark so that we are unable to avoid them. The best we can do is to really take the time to educate ourselves about product safety, and then support the products that won’t hurt us!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Teresa Meyer permalink
    March 6, 2011 9:56 am

    Loved your post today! Keep up the good work.

  2. June 14, 2012 4:22 pm

    Thanks for the information, I always use soy candles in my home they don’t produce any soot, beeswax candles work very well also!

    • June 14, 2012 8:19 pm

      Soy is okay as long as it comes from a sustainable producer, but most soy comes from GMO seed, which isn’t a huge issue if you aren’t consuming it. I have no desire to support GMO anything. You also have to watch for soy candles that have been scented with “perfume” or “fragrance,” as you’re still burning irritant chemicals even though the soy is clean burning. Beeswax are my faves because they are not only clean burning, they clean the air around them. Plus, there is no beating the natural scent of a pure beeswax candle!

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