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Not Your Usual Suspects: 5 Indoor Air Pollutants That Might Surprise You

As a society, America has become the indoor nation. The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, and 65% of that time is at home. Besides the obvious lack of time spent communing with nature, we’ve also come to realize that all this time indoors, often with windows closed, has created a challenge with indoor air quality.

Talk about air pollution and most Americans think of smokestacks, lines of cars stuck in freeway traffic, or dark clouds billowing from oil refineries. The fact is that most indoor and outdoor sources of pollution are from chemical-based products used in nearly every home in America. Most people are aware that paints, glues, dry cleaning, tobacco smoke and household cleaners contain chemicals that cause indoor air pollution and therefore try to limit their exposure.

What many people do not realize is that an assortment of other pollutant types and sources may play a larger role in respiratory issues that can progress into disease. As indoor air quality assessors, ESG visits hundreds of homes and offices every year and we see many of the same pollutants. The following list highlights five of the most common indoor pollutants that elicit an “Oh my gosh” response from the occupants when one of our assessors shows them how much their air quality is affected:

1)   Air fresheners – typically the plug-in variety that heat up oil or wax, releasing fragrance in the form of tiny particles of chemicals and soot. Get rid of all of air fresheners, including sprays.

2)   Upholstered furniture – unless covered in leather, these soft pieces become the home for millions of dust mites and their food (mold & skin fragments). The fire retardants added by manufacturers are also very nasty. Transition to leather upholstery as you can. You’ll sit (and breathe) more comfortably. Place allergen covers over mattresses and replace bed pillows annually.

3)   Stuffed animals and other children’s toys – soft, cuddly toys become havens for all kinds of things you don’t want in your home and especially next to your children’s faces while they sleep. Keep them clean and store in plastic tubs where they are less likely to become nesting grounds for bugs.

4)   Live houseplants – we’ve all heard about the benefits of potted plants. Yes, that philodendron reduces the level of formaldehyde, but the soil in which it grows can become rich with mold and bacteria. We like potted plants, but please re-pot them with sterile soil annually.

5)   Vacuum cleaners – if you’re vacuum is not equipped with a sealed HEPA filter, chances are it’s spewing a lot of the pollutants sucked out of the carpet back into the air for your family to breathe. That does not make any sense at all, so be sure your vacuum is one of the many brands that come with a sealed HEPA system.