Do You Know What’s Polluting Your Home?

You probably know quite a bit about outdoor air pollution. We hear air quality ratings on the news. We read about reducing CFCs. We know about problems with smog, ozone, and acid rain. We know it’s bad for our health to breathe bad air. But what about indoor pollution? The kind of air pollution that exists inside our own homes?

Indoor pollution is not a minor problem relegated to a few unlucky homeowners. In fact, unbeknownst to you, indoor pollution may be a real problem in your house. The EPA reports that indoor pollution levels are generally around 2-5 times — and often more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels. Given that many of us spend as much as 90% of our time indoors, indoor pollution is a serious concern.

Your home is an active, enclosed system. What you bring into that system affects everything within it – including you and your family. Increases in the number of cases of asthma, allergies, and chemical sensitivity are only a few examples of the effects that indoor pollution has. Why has this problem mushroomed so rapidly? In is, in part, the result of companies constantly trying to reduce the cost of household products — which has, in turn, led to increased use of cheap synthetics and chemicals in the manufacture of those products. These goods are then marketed to unsuspecting consumers who bring those products into their homes. The combined output of these items creates what we refer to as a “chemical cocktail” — many toxins which, when mixed together, combine to create new, more toxic compounds.

There are many components to indoor pollution. Some pollutants are “intermittent pollutants,” such as malfunctioning stoves or personal care products. Others are “continuous pollutants,” such as building materials and plug-in air fresheners.

The toxins that pollute our homes come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t necessarily smell bad or toxic. In fact, most of them don’t emit any smell at all. And that’s one thing that makes them so dangerous.

Common indoor pollutants include:

  • Carpeting and manufactured wood flooring
  • Household construction products (such as joint compound)
  • Paint
  • Household cleaners
  • Air fresheners
  • Dry cleaning
  • Wallpaper
  • Window coverings (plastic mini-blinds, or shutters made from chemically treated lumber)
  • Furniture containing press board or particle board
  • Salt-treated lumber
  • Plastics (including toys, dinnerware, etc)
  • Bedding/Mattresses (these are commonly treated with chemical flame retardant, formaldehyde, and a myriad of other chemicals)
  • Personal care products
  • Radon
  • Molds/mildew
  • Second hand smoke (this can come from smokers, fireplace, or candles)
  • Damaged chimney flues
  • Malfunctioning appliances
  • Hobby materials such as glue, solvents, etc.
  • Household pesticides
  • EMFs (Electro Magnetic Fields surround all live electric wires and appliances – this includes electric blankets)
  • Misused ozone generators (if not used properly, these can potentially have negative health consequences)
  • Carbon monoxide

So how do you know if your home is suffering from unhealthy levels of indoor pollution? You may think there’s no problem because you don’t feel like anything is affecting your system. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t, in fact, a problem. To help you figure out if you do have too much indoor pollution in your home, here’s a checklist of things to look out for:

  • Unusual and noticeable odors; stale or stuffy air
  • Noticeable lack of air movement
  • Dirty or faulty central heating and/or air conditioning equipment
  • Damaged chimney flues
  • If you have headaches or a feeling of nausea when home, but feel better when you leave the house
  • Unvented fossil fuel appliances
  • Excessive humidity (check for condensation on windows)
  • Moldy window frames, walls, floor boards
  • Tightly constructed or remodeled homes (typically use synthetic materials and not breathable)
  • Health reaction after a remodeling job or after moving into a newly-constructed home (eg, flu symptoms, persistent sore throat, cough, headache, cold symptoms)
  • Hobby materials stored inside the house such as glues, solvents, etc.
  • Weatherizing materials
  • New furniture (many contain formaldehyde, pressboard, and other chemicals that outgas)
  • Generally feeling healthier outside the home

Take extra care to notice if children have any symptoms. Their systems tend to be less resistant than those of adults, and they may be more susceptible to developing allergies or asthma. In fact, indoor pollution is a significant culprit when it comes to children with asthma, so removing inside pollutants may dramatically improve a child’s health.


Now that you have identified what can cause indoor pollution, what can you do to improve the air inside your house? Plenty! Check out our list of simple things you can do to clean up the air in your home — and clean up your health, too.

  1. Open windows whenever possible – even if it is just for a few hours. This allows toxins to escape and fresh air to circulate.
  2. Add houseplants – they help filter the air and add a sense of life to any home.
  3. Switch to natural household cleaners (click here). They tend to be better for those with asthma and are much safer for you and the environment.
  4. Purchase a bagless vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
  5. Only burn natural, soy or beeswax based candles with metal free wicks. Ones with essential oils are less likely to irritate lungs than those with fragrance oils.
  6. Opt for carpet-free floors such as solid wood, natural linoleum, or tiles. According to Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home (ISBN 0-87477-859-X) says that synthetic carpet is made from a complex blend of as many as 120 chemicals that can emit many hazardous chemicals. They include pesticides (act as antimicrobials), neurotoxic solvents (such as toluene and xylene) and the potent carcinogen benzene. Formaldehyde is also a commonly emitted from carpets according to reports by the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Symptoms of a reaction include burning eyes, memory problems, chills and fever, sore throats, joint pain, chest tightness and difficulty concentrating to name a few. Check with your local carpet dealer for natural wool or cotton carpets. If you have kids or pets, consider natural hardwood or natural linoleum.
  7. Consider using natural linens and mattresses when purchasing new bedding (click here). Some good materials to check out include organic cotton and natural, untreated wool. By buying natural bedding, you’ll avoid chemicals like formaldehyde, and you’ll sleep better, too. Wool helps wick moisture away from your body, prevents you from being too hot, and provides for deeper, more restful sleep.
  8. Buy clothing made from natural fibers. By this, we mean organic cotton. There are many styles available, and organic cotton is a much cleaner option than many other fabrics — including conventionally grown cotton (which accounts for 25% of the world’s pesticide use).
  9. Choose a safe, less toxic paint such as Safecoat�. Did you know that mercury was used as a fungicide in both paint and joint compound until as recently as 1989? Old paint may also contain lead, so beware if you are stripping older paint or if you’re dealing with peeling paint.
  10. Create an indoor fountain. While this doesn’t have a direct impact on removing toxins, it does help to create a calm space that is good for the soul. Place the fountain in a room that doesn’t have any electronics (no TV, stereo, or phone), and you’ll temporarily reduce your exposure to EMFs, while simultaneously increasing your sense of calm.
  11. Avoid scheduled pest treatments. Sometimes treating for pests in unavoidable, but try to treat your home as little as possible. And make sure you investigate exactly what is being used when you do need to spray.

These are just a few of the things that you can do to create a healthier home. Other easy changes you can make include using essential oil-based air fresheners, and doing your best to replace things with natural fibers and solid wood. Sometimes these items cost a bit more, but the savings in air quality is priceless.