Air pollution is a really hot topic at the moment, especially with major urbanised cities such as London, Beijing or New York. The chances are that the phrase immediately conjures up an image of car exhaust fumes, smog and smoking chimneys, however household air pollution, or indoor air pollution, is also starting to become a real problem, affecting millions of people worldwide.
What is indoor air pollution?
When we talk about indoor air pollution we often refer to the air quality in your own home, which can have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing. According to some sources, indoor air pollution can be up to five times more toxic than outdoor air pollution and can have significant consequences for our health.
"The World Health Organisation have concluded that 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are found in household cleaning products"1
Now this might seem very bleak and alarming but hold on a minute, remember that the WHO are a global organisation so they do take third world countries into consideration too, and unfortunately, such dwellings are often poorly ventilated and rely on old cooking methods that we don’t really use anymore.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore that many of our cleaning products do contain carcinogens, however, there are ways to measure indoor air quality and in places such as hospitals or factories, these tests should be carried out routinely. You can use a VOC sensor which can measure volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, or you could install a carbon dioxide meter to track the CO2 within your own home.
What causes indoor air pollution?
We’ve already briefly mentioned a few of the main culprits but the list of possible causes is extremely expansive so I’ve decided to focus on the ‘big three.’ Let’s take a more in-depth look at the everyday pollutants present within your own home.
Tobacco smoke: I’ll start with the most obvious cause. I probably don’t need to lecture you about why smoking is so dangerous, you’re probably already aware of all the hazards whether you choose to smoke or not. How does this affect the air quality in your home though?
Well the smoke emitted from cigarettes is often inhaled by other people – we call this second-hand smoke. Bystanders inhale thousands of chemicals this way, including carcinogens and tiny microns known as PM 2.5.
PM2.5 can make its way into your lungs and your blood, making you vulnerable to heart disease, strokes and cancer.2 Normally PM2.5 is found outdoors thanks to cars, factories and wildfires but now it can also live on in your home, clinging to your curtains and absorbing into your furniture.
Because who really can be bothered going outside to breathe in car exhaust fumes when you can do it from the comfort of your own sofa?
Mould: We’ve all been there, whether you’ve experienced it in your student flat or discovered an outbreak in your house. Mould loves damp environments, normally manifesting in your bathroom and slowly trying to get a foothold throughout your home – but how can it affect your indoor air quality?
Well microbial pollution is a significant factor involved with indoor air pollution, referring to everything from bacteria to pollen. Mould is really the king when it comes to microbial pollution though, as it can produce allergens and toxic substances, which can then enter your body when you inhale mould spores.
You may start sneezing or break out in a skin rash; some people are more vulnerable to the side-effects of mould than others - namely children, the elderly or those with existing respiratory or skin problems such as asthma or eczema.
Volatile Organic Compounds: One of the biggest causes of indoor air pollution, volatile organic compounds or VOCs, are usually emitted as a gas by chemical liquids and exist in hundreds of domestic products, from paint-strippers to disinfectants.
Formaldehyde is considered to be a VOC and it’s present in almost everything, from carpets to cleaning products to nail polish remover to embalming fluid! You inhale this VOC on a daily basis but over time it can seriously affect your health as formaldehyde is considered to be a carcinogen, although short-term symptoms can include headaches, throat and eye irritation and dizziness.
Is some of this starting to sound a bit familiar? Think of scrubbing your toilet bowl with bleach (which surprise, surprise, often contains chemicals that act very similar to formaldehyde!).
What you can do to improve the air quality in your home
Making sure there’s a steady flow of fresh air cascading through your home can do wonders so make sure you ventilate your home on a regular basis – air con does not count!
Your heating and cooling systems do not circulate fresh air into your home and can in fact contribute towards domestic air pollution. If you are going to use your air con, make sure you clean it properly first! Extractor fans can be very useful in your bathroom and kitchen so make sure these are fully operational as well.
Get rid of the source
If tobacco smoke is responsible for poor air quality in your home then I’m afraid it has got to go. I know it can be a difficult habit to quit but there is plenty of support out there to help and guide you along this path – for more information check out this link to the NHS’s stop smoking campaign! The benefits will definitely outweigh any short-term hardships!
However, if you live with someone that smokes it can be slightly more difficult. You may feel uneasy about pressuring them into quitting – the chances are they already know that what they are doing is dangerous so your words might not make much of a difference. If you can’t or don’t feel comfortable encouraging them to quit, at least try to persuade them to take their cigarettes outside.
After-all, it is your home too!
What about mould?
Mould and mildew can be difficult to tackle - usually they are caused by excess moisture which can result from a number of issues from leaking pipes to damaged roofs. Try to determine what is really causing the mould and fix that problem first. If condensation is causing the issue then try opening more windows in your home or make sure you use the extractor fan when cooking or taking a shower!
If you’ve resolved the underlying cause then you can move on to tackling the mould itself. If your mould has been caused by raw sewage of contaminated water DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE IT YOURSELF! The same goes if the patch of mould exceeds a metre in length or width!
However, if you’re confident this is not the case then you will need a bucket of soapy water. That’s it really – wipe the mould off your walls and then dry them thoroughly. Dispose of the cloth afterwards and make sure you have some windows open throughout to keep your home ventilated.
Swap your cleaning products
Your cleaning products are unfortunately loaded with nasty chemicals that can seriously lower the air quality in your home. But how are you supposed to clean your house without using bleach or multi-purpose spray?
Well surprisingly, there are quite a few alternatives. You could try using natural ingredients such as lemon juice and bicarbonate soda to create your own cleaning products, but the quickest and easiest option would be to simply switch to a more natural, eco-friendly brand. Our pick of the crop here at Jan de Vries would definitely be Ecover.
Ecover offer a gentler cleaning experience, one that’s free from phosphates and kinder for the environment. Their cleaning products instead use plant-based ingredients and never contain any unnecessary chemicals. Great for sensitive skin, you’re less likely to find yourself reeling from any toxic emissions. Ecover is also extremely affordable and 100% cruelty free! An added bonus in our books!
They also recently launched a new range of products called ZERO – no fragrances or colours and completely approved by Allergy UK. Definitely a great option – I personally can’t get enough of their ZERO Washing up Liquid as it’s exceptionally gentle and well-suited for delicate skin!