Air pollution at home - causes and solutions

Indoor air may not always be the best for you -  we've all experienced the acrid smell of commercial cleaning products either at home or the office. These irritate our respiratory system, and so do the rest of these indoor air pollution sources:

(design: Dwell Interior Design)

  1. Cigarette smoke - second-hand smoke affects people other than the smoker, and is particularly hazardous to young children and the elderly. The combination of gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide and microscopic particulates makes second-hand smoke dangerous in an indoor environment.
  2. Mould and allergens - in a high-humidity climate, if moisture build-up isn't removed speedily, in as short a time as 40 hours, mould can propagate. While a moderate amount of mould is harmless to most, those with sensitive respiratory systems could develop allergic reactions to high concentrations. 
  3. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) - a commonplace in homes, these pollutants are emitted over a long period of time from common household items such as paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furniture. Long-term exposure to VOCs has been linked to leukaemia, central nervous system damage, and kidney failure.
  4. Carbon monoxide (CO) - it is not only emitted from cigarettes, major highways or an attached garage or car shelter also means there is a high level of CO in your home. CO is also emitted from heating equipment.

So what's the solution? There are a few ways you can get rid of these pollutants in your home. These include:

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Houseplants - which can reduce VOCs such as benzene, xylene, and formaldehyde. However, the efficacy of indoor plants to remove VOCs isn't constant. Nevertheless, here are some plants you should try out.

Mechanical air filters (HEPA) or particulate filters - these rely on mechanical separation and are the most common form of air-filtration devices in households. They capture large airborne particles such as dust, pollen, mould spores, dust mites and cockroach allergens. However, these larger particles tend to settle onto carpets and furniture rather quickly, so removal can be impossible. Check out these three air purifiers.

Ionisers (electronic air-cleaners) - ionisers use electrostatic attraction to trap particles; charged ions are dispersed into the air and attach to airborne particles, charging the latter so they attach to surfaces such as the floor. However, this means your floor will be more dusty. Be careful to purchase ionisers that do not generate ozone, which is a lung irritant.

Activated carbon (gas-phase air filters) - these removes gaseous pollutants - specific ones - by absorbing them effectively. However, none are expected to remove all the gaseous pollutants in the air. Further, they are overloaded quickly, requiring frequent replacement.

Biological filtration devices - these rely on biological processes that capture and degrade pollutants in the removal of certain indoor air contaminants. Apart from removing dust and odour, gadgets such as the Botanicaire air-purifier also target toxic VOCs.

In a holistic sense, you can also:

Reduce the number of pollution sources - buy water-based adhesives and paints with zero or near-zero levels of VOCs

Choose cleaners made of natural ingredients - high concentrations of chemicals such as ammonia and chlorine damage your tiles and furniture, and they pollute the air. Make cleaners yourself - here's how. Here are eight clever ways to clean your house with lemons.

Ensure your house is well-ventilated - natural ventilation from windows, doors, and other openings help ensure a constant flow of cleaner outdoor air in exchange for polluted indoor air (unless there's a haze outside, of course!). For areas where there is a higher potential for indoor air pollutants to accumulate, such as washroom and laundry areas, exhaust fans can be used to accelerate the exchange of indoor and outdoor air.