Indoor air quality is one of those things that you hear talked about and probably up until about a year ago didn’t really care too much about. Now that we are spending so much time indoors, in the same room, doing the same things, day after day, indoor air quality feels a little bit more important.
That’s why I’m going to break down for you what causes poor air quality and what you can do about it. Let’s clean up the air in our homes!
Poor Indoor Air Quality Can Make You Sick
Indoor air pollutants, ranging from dust, mold, and allergens to pesticides, lead, and asbestos, can cause a host of health problems. Some of those include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; headaches, dizziness, and fatigue; sinus congestion, sneezing, and shortness of breath; and the more serious side effects of respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer (According to Health Canada and the US Environmental Protection Agency).
Many of the most common indoor air pollutants—dust mites, mold, pet dander, and tobacco smoke–can even trigger asthma attacks in asthmatics.
What Is Dust, Really?
Dust is a complex matrix of microscopic organic compounds. Basically, it’s hair, skin, bacteria, viruses, pollen, dust mites, and dust mite feces. Yes, feces. Dust mites can produce up to 20 fecal pellets in one day, which can remain airborne for about 30 minutes. Yuck!
Dust mites themselves, while they aren’t attractive to look at, are relatively harmless but it’s the dust mite feces that contain the allergens that so many people are allergic to. When you say, “I have a dust allergy”, you actually have a dust mite feces allergy. Yes, it’s as gross as it sounds.
Indoor Air Quality is About More Than Just Dust
When I talk about clean indoor air quality, I’m not only talking about dust mites and dust mite feces, and all of that other yucky stuff, but I’m also talking about VOCs–volatile organic compounds. These have a major impact on indoor air quality.
VOCs are gases that are given off by common household products, such as paint and varnish, cleaning and disinfecting products, drapes, fire retardant fabrics, insulation, plywood, particleboard and glue, perfume, hairspray, copiers and printers, and the list goes on.
The more that you’re in your home, the more indoor air quality really starts to matter. While it’s not something that you would visibly see or physically feel right away, it is something that over time can really affect your overall sense of well-being.
What’s Floating in Melissa’s Air
When the vacuum company Dyson found out I was interested in clean air quality, they helped me test out the areas of my home that can lead to poor air quality. They sent me some sample containers and instructed me to vacuum a couple of different spots in my home–my mattress and our main living area–with the Dyson V11 Outsize. I emptied the contents into the containers and shipped them off to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
They put the contents under a microscope and sent me back a detailed report that was, quite frankly, disgusting. They actually included a photo of a dust mite that was found in my sample container. It is so gross, but I do feel the urge to name it. Maybe, Bob?
Other findings: four dust mite legs, one insect egg, and body, one strand of cat hair–that impressed me since my cat sheds–a petal from a flower, plant leaves, and bread. As for dust: 5.08 grams of dust from our living room sample and 5.4 grams of dust from our mattress sample. These numbers surprised me, as we vacuum pretty regularly and had literally filmed our mattress cleaning video just a few weeks beforehand. We vacuumed our mattress and we used a mattress protector. I don’t know where this stuff comes from, but it’s there.
Don’t Make Your Bed Right Away
I’ve been telling you for years to make your bed as soon as you hop out of it, but it turns out I was wrong. I’ve since learned that to starve those icky microbes you actually want to allow your bedding to air out a little bit before you make the bed. For more on cleaning your mattress, fo
Mold and Bacteria
Moisture’s really good when you’re trying to bake a good cake or keep your skin looking young, but it’s actually quite detrimental to the indoor air quality of your home. Mold and fungi are types of microbes caused by high humidity levels. These airborne spores find their way into the home and grow with the aid of moisture, resulting in mold or mildew.
Frankly, it’s better for your skin anyway but you want to keep your humidity levels around 40 to 50 percent. Use a dehumidifier in the warm humid months and a humidifier in the cold dry months.
Cleaning Up Your Indoor Air Quality
Get Rid of Dust
Now that you have a good idea of what comprises indoor air quality, let’s talk about how you can make it as healthy indoors as possible. Dust is a key contributor to poor indoor air quality. Dusting regularly is key. I’m not a fan of sweeping because it kicks up the dust. So, if you are going to be cleaning a surface, whether it’s a floor or some upholstery, get a good quality vacuum with a HEPA filter that will actually remove these particles from the indoor air environment and shoot out clean air on the back end.
When you’re doing regular manual dusting make sure that you’re using something with grippy microfiber that’s actually sticky and attractive to dust instead of a cloth with a weave that doesn’t necessarily grab onto and hold dust.
If you’re a pet parent, and I am, it is so important that you clean regularly not only the soft surfaces, such as pet beds and their favorite blankets, but also hard surfaces where their fur and dander can land. I have a Siamese Himalayan cat who is gorgeous and sheds like crazy. I vacuum using a HEPA filter but we pet owners also need to groom our pets regularly.
If you think about it, by letting fresh air in, you’re also pushing out the indoor air pollutants and allergens. Be mindful, however, if you live in an area with busy roads or factories of the times a day when you’re opening your windows. You don’t want to be letting more air pollutants in than you are letting out.
Maintain Your HVAC System
The filter in your furnace has a dirty job – collecting airborne dust, hair, and other small particles. Be sure to replace or clean the filter every three months, even in the summer, if not sooner according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Also, don’t forget to vacuum vents and air returns, and keep furniture from blocking them so that they can easily exchange air.
Air purifiers have been around for a long time but over the past year, there’s definitely been an uptick in interest. The one that we’re currently running is the Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool. I love that it is self-cleaning. If you’ve ever had to disassemble a humidifier and clean it, you understand how annoying and gross that job can be. This one actually cleans itself. It’s pretty awesome.
Other cool features of the Dyson Pure Humidify+Cool: it automatically purifies your air, hygienically humidifies your air, cools the air, and it connects to the Dyson app. It has a sealed 360-degree filtration system, which means it combines an activated carbon filter to remove gases and odors, and a sealed HEPA filter to capture 99.97 percent of particle pollutants as small as 0.3 microns.
As always I believe in quality over price. If I’m investing in something, I want to make sure that it’s going to do the job it needs to do. You can certainly get less expensive air purifiers, but be sure to consider what they are capable of doing in comparison to some of the more expensive models. Obviously, the more expensive air purifiers come with plenty of bells and whistles, so you have to strike that balance between quality and price that works for your budget.
Finally, be mindful of the type of maintenance your air purifier will require. Make sure that you understand how to maintain it regularly so that it will do what it says it is going to do for you.
Say Goodbye to Bad Odors
One of the great side effects of having clean indoor air is that the air in your house won’t smell like anything. Bye-bye stinky smells. If a smelly house is an issue for you and you don’t have an indoor air purifier yet, you can check out this video: 11 Ways to Make Your Home Smell Amazing! which walks you through some great ways that you can make your home smell cleaner and fresher.
It’s All Worth It
Improving your indoor air quality will improve your health and overall feeling of wellness, and there is really nothing more important than that. When airborne irritants are removed, allergy and asthma sufferers often find relief from their symptoms. Even healthy people can find relief with cleaner air.