In the chilly days of winter and early spring, we tend to spend more time indoors, shutting doors and windows against the frosty chill. Unfortunately, we donít realize that the air in our homes is constantly under attack, and without the stabilization and freshness of outside ventilation in winter, it becomes, not only stuffy and stale, but downright dangerous. Many unnoticeable factors contribute to this toxic air.
Consider a quiet room with peaceful music playing, soft candlelight, and fragrance soothing the air. Sound inviting? Unfortunately, candles, especially if they are scented, release toxic soot, carcinogens, and even lead (from wire wicks), that flood the air with enough pollution to ruin computers and furnishings, as well as affect breathing. For people with asthma, lung, or heart disease, the damage is even more pronounced. Fragrance oil candles and container candles donít burn cleanly and are even more dangerous than open-flame candles. If you must burn candles, choose unscented candles with no petroleum products and wire-free wicks. For aromatherapy, choose diffusers and enjoy cleaner air.
Another unsuspected source of air pollution is the family pet. Pet dander (skin flakes) is a nearly invisible pollution that your pet releases as it grooms, releasing dander and proteins from saliva into the air. Bathe your pet frequently, using dander-reducing shampoo and follow up with an anti-dander spray. Dust home surfaces and vacuum frequently. Use a vacuum that does not release dust back into the air. It is wise to wear a dust mask when cleaning. A clean pet and a dust-free home will help both pet and family to be healthier.
Speaking of dust, it contains another invisible pollutant that invades every home . . . microscopic bugs called dust mites. Feasting on shed human and animal skin cells, these fecal-producing dust mites thrive in warm and humid places like beds, furniture, and carpets. Allergies and asthma testing proves that 80% of patients test positive for dust mites. To make your home safer from these unwelcome guests, vacuum and dust thoroughly, weekly, with a vacuum that filters dust and does not allow it back into the air. Using hot-water washing and high-heat drying, launder all bedding weekly. Donít forget to launder stuffed toys as well, and avoid non-washable stuffed toys. Use anti-allergen covers on bedding, even box springs, and place high-efficiency, low-pressure air filters in heating units and air conditioners. Dehumidify the air, including closets and cabinets, to between 30-50%.
Another benefit to dehumidifying the home is that lower humidity helps control yet another elusive air pollutant--mold. Flourishing in humid spots like damp basements, refrigerator drip pans, air conditioners, garbage pails, shower stalls, and closets, mold is a common allergic trigger. At least once a quarter, clean drip pans to prevent the refrigerator condenser fan from blowing mold spores into the air. Eradicate visible mold with non-toxic cleaning products, and use HEPA filters in air and heat systems. Use exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom, and open windows on low-humidity days to refresh household air.
Besides the kitchen drip pan, other home furnishings contribute to unsafe air. Dust and clean heating units and oil burners, checking for foreign objects in heating elements. Avoid kerosene space heaters. Keep chimneys clean and steam-clean carpets. Even new carpets and upholstered furniture pose a danger from out-gassing (gases released from heat), as does painting, solvents, sealants, etc. Be sure to obtain good ventilation when using these products. Be aware that ventilation brings its own set of problems, one of which is pollen. Install filter screens over windows to avoid as much pollen as possible from entering your home.
In addition to cleaning, ventilating, and filtering, there is another, much more pleasant, way to clean the air in your home--houseplants. Not only do they contribute to the humidity balance and oxygen level of the home, but they clean pollutants, gasses, and toxins out of the air. A plant for every 10 square yards of floor space will both cleanse and beautify your home. Plants should be away from drafts and placed in appropriate lighting for their requirements. Ten of the most effective at ridding the air of off-gassed chemicals and contributing to humidity levels are: Areca palm, reed palm, dwarf date palm, Boston fern, Janet Craig Dracaena, English ivy, Australian sword fern, peace lily, rubber plant, and weeping fig. Some of these can even survive in dark corners, as they originated in shady tropical forests.
Taking these safety precautions and adding houseplants to assist you in the ongoing battle against toxic air in your home will help you protect your family and add to their comfort. As you and your family snuggle in on these chilly days, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you will be breathing safer, fresher air.
Copyright 2006 Dr. Eileen Silva