What causes bad indoor air quality?

When you hear about bad air quality you probably think about a city with an overcast of smog. The truth is, indoor air pollution is another problem itself. As a matter of fact, the quality of indoor air can be even worse than outdoor air. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside may be up to five times more polluted than the air outside. This may be hard to believe when we consider all of the toxic fumes coming from automobiles, factories, and ozone into the air we breathe.

How contaminants get into your home

Indoor air can be filled with multiple pollutants including pollen, dust, dander, cleaning solvents, formaldehyde, fungi, viruses, and much more. These tiny particles, some too small to see, make their way into your home’s air and into your lungs. Particles like dirt, dust, and pollen enter your home through open windows, doors, cracks, and chimneys. Bacteria and mold easily find their way into your home and constantly reproduce to stay alive. Pets are a common allergen source that causes bad indoor air quality from of their dander, hair and saliva. Pet dander is made up of microscopic particles that shed from the animal’s body. Other sources of contaminants include perfume, cleaning supplies, paints, and cooking fumes. These are all human induced contaminants that can be reduced by eliminating the source.

Poor Ventilation
A common problem, especially in newer homes is that they are tightly sealed to conserve energy. This causes a lack of airflow so fresh air cannot make its way inside. Without proper ventilation indoor air cannot circulate and becomes stale and stagnant. This means all of the contaminants floating around indoors have no way to escape. This causes allergic reactions, discomfort, and other health concerns.

High Humidity
Too much moisture in the air also creates an issue in indoor air quality. High humidity allows dust mites, mold, mildew, viruses and bacteria to breed. These tiny contaminants are released into the air and then into your lungs. High humidity can also promote household materials to release chemicals such as formaldehyde into the air as a pungent vapor. Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong smelling gas and is a strong irritant that affects the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.

Impacts of bad air

  • Your health – Pollen, dust, mold, bacteria, and pet dander can trigger allergies, asthma, or other respiratory problems. Bad indoor air can cause problems with those with allergies. They can increase symptoms and may even cause those without allergies to develop symptoms. Odors and chemical vapors can cause headaches, fatigue, and allergic reactions.
  • Your Comfort – Too much moisture or too little moisture can have a big impact on the way you feel. Humid air can cause sticky and moist air indoors making the temperature feel warmer than it really is. You may find yourself making the air conditioner work overtime in attempt to feel more comfortable. Moisture can promote the growth of mold and bacteria which will provoke allergic reactions.

Getting rid of bad air

Now that you have become more informed about indoor air quality, you can take action to get rid of the problem.

  • Keep your furnace, air conditioner, and humidifier well maintained. Keep humidity within 30%-60%
  • Use nontoxic paints, cleaning supplies and other household products when possible
  • Use furnishings that emit the smallest amount of chemical vapors
  • Do not allow smoking inside your home and make sure all gas appliances are properly vented
  • Wash bedding frequently to rid of dirt, dust, and other particles
  • Bathe pets and wash their bedding materials often
  • Use exhaust fans in the kitchen and the bathroom
  • Place an open box of baking soda on a surface to rid a room of smells
  • Avoid using scented products such as deodorant, and odor-masking air fresheners which will contain toxic chemicals an open box of baking soda on a surface to rid a room of smells

Air Purifiers

Air purifiers are intended to remove unwanted pollutants from the air to provide clean quality air. Pollutants that can affect air quality in a home fall into the following categories:

  1. Particulate matter: Includes dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander, tobacco smoke, particles generated from combustion appliances such as cooking stoves, and particles associated with tiny organisms such as dust mites, molds, bacteria, and viruses.
  2. Gaseous pollutants: come from combustion processes. Sources include gas cooking stoves, vehicle exhaust, and tobacco smoke. They also come from building materials, furnishings, and the use of products such as adhesives, paints, varnishes, cleaning products, and pesticides.

Both particulate and gaseous pollutants cannot be removed by a single air filter. Particulate matter is removed by High Efficiency Particulate Air filters. The HEPA filter is the most effective filter in removing 99.97% particulates 0.3 micron or larger. Gaseous pollutants are removed by using Activated Carbon filters. Carbon filters are designed to trap smoke, odors, chemicals, and gases from the air. Activated Carbon filters are rarely used alone to purify air, and are often used in conjunction with a HEPA filter to remove the larger air particulates. It is important to make sure the air purifier you are purchasing does not emit any ozone gas. This is a hazardous gas that can cause adverse health effects.

Air purifiers alone cannot solve bad indoor air problems. Removing pollutants at the source and stopping the problem before it begins is the most effective way of enjoying quality air. Air purifiers prevent old air from continuously circulating around the home and helps produce fresh contaminant free air.

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