Scary fact: Pollution levels inside our homes can be up to five times higher than those outdoors, thanks to a combination of household chemicals, cooking odors, mold, and allergens all congregating together in one confined space. So at a time when we're more health-conscious and eco-conscious than ever, it pays to give careful thought to the products that we use to build, furnish, and clean our homes, and how we can minimize our exposure to toxins.
Whether you suffer from allergies or asthma, or just want to limit your exposure to unnecessary chemicals, here are some simple and effective changes you can make today to create a healthy home.
1. Deal with dust.
Most of the dust in our homes comes from outside (dirt, pollen, smoke particles), while the rest is made up of indoor matter like carpet fluff, clothing fibers, and pet hair. Dust mites are little critters invisible to the eye that feed on this debris, and they can aggravate allergies, asthma, and eczema. Get rid of the dust and you'll get rid of the mites.
2. Wipe your feet.
You can prevent pollutants from being tracked into your home by simply encouraging people to wipe their shoes on a doormat — place one at every entrance as a reminder — or do one better and ask them to remove their footwear before they enter.
3. Freshen up your bed.
If you think you have a dust mite problem, wash all your bedding in hot water and leave it to dry in the sun. You can drag your mattress and pillows out to air on a hot day, too. Vacuum your mattress thoroughly, then cover it with "a good-quality, washable mattress protector and correctly fitting sheets to keep it fresh and free of stains," says John Cassisi, general manager of product for Australian mattress company Snooze. As a guide, aim to wash your sheets weekly, replace old pillows every two years, and buy a new mattress every seven to eight years.
3. Vacuum properly.
Look for a bagless vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter that traps fine dust particles and stops them from being released back into the air. Attachments for cleaning furniture, curtains, ceilings, and skirting boards are also a plus. As a general rule, aim to vacuum carpets and rugs twice a week, or more often if you have pets.
4. Minimize mold.
Mold is a type of fungi that grows in damp and poorly ventilated areas — in particular, bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. Inhaling mold spores can trigger nasal congestion and cause wheezing, coughing, and throat irritation. To eliminate mold growth, you need to control the source of the moisture.
Health Tip: Always wear gloves and a mask when removing mold, and if it covers a large area, call in the experts.
5. Reduce dampness.
Wipe up spills when they occur and ensure rugs and carpets can adequately dry. Hang up wet towels and squeegees, and towel-dry tiles and floors immediately after showering. Make an effort to regularly clean bathroom scum, which mold feeds on.
6. Fix leaks and spills.
Dripping taps aren't just annoying to listen to; over time, they can become a breeding ground for mold spores. The same goes for leaking pipes and toilets.
When the weather permits, open up your doors and windows to create good airflow. And don't forget to switch on extraction fans when cooking, showering, or using the dryer.
8. Clear the air.
We spend a good portion of our lives indoors where household fumes can accumulate. Poor indoor air quality can cause mild headaches or tiredness, along with more severe asthmatic and allergic reactions.
9. Invest in an air-purifier.
As the name suggests, these portable devices extract odors, chemical vapors, and pollutants from the air in our homes. Some also help keep germs at bay! Halim Saliman, general manager for marketing at Sharp Australia, explains, "[An air] purifier helps suppress airborne viruses, while humidifiers makes it difficult for the germs to grow and spread."
10. Eliminate chemicals.
Cleaning with chemicals presents a whole host of problems. They can emit hazardous odors and leave a residue behind on food-prep surfaces, plus there is the risk of having dangerous products around young children and pets. Instead, consider natural, plant-based products.
11. Be wary of VOCS.
Volatile organic compounds (or VOCS) are chemicals found in many household products including paint, carpet, flooring, and furniture. When released into the air, they can cause headaches, dizziness, and may even lead to chronic health problems.
"The most well-known VOC is formaldehyde, which is found in natural wood, along with glues, lacquers, and even some foods," explains Kendall Waller, national product manager for Quick-Step. As such, it's important to assess the chemical emissions of products when renovating and decorating. Rubber, laminate, and cork are all low-VOC flooring choices, while many paint companies have low-VOC ranges that are low-odor, allergy-friendly, and environmentally friendly.
Avoid soft furnishings that are labelled "stain-resistant," "UV-resistant," or "flame-retardant," as they can contain harmful substances.
12. Be careful with candles.
While lighting a scented candle has practically become a global pastime (thank you, hygge), not all candles are created equal. "Parafin wax emits toxic fumes and can have adverse health effects if inhaled on a regular basis," says Claire Barnes, general manager from ECOYA. Thankfully, there are some great natural wax alternatives, such as soy and beeswax. Added bonus: These candles emit less soot and burn for longer!
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This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love.