Indoor air is cleaner than outside air, isn’t it? After all, you can close the windows and keep out the traffic fumes and other nasties...
Unfortunately, as with so much of air pollution, it’s not that straightforward, and there’s art as well as science in keeping the air in your home as healthy as possible. Because indoor air pollution doesn’t just come from outside, the home makes its own as well. Lots of it.
Nitrogen dioxide, mostly from traffic, can be a major indoor problem, especially if you live in a large town or city, or near a busy road. Other pollutants, including ozone and pollen, come in through the small gaps found in all homes, as well as through doors and windows.
You can limit, but not entirely stop, the amount of these pollutants by keeping doors and windows closed at times of higher pollution – for example during rush hours or high pollen counts.
Managing indoor air quality requires a combination of purification and some common sense habits
But you need to ventilate your house to let out humid air and the indoor air pollution produced by both you and your home. We all produce humidity and carbon dioxide just though breathing. Letting humidity build up is a recipe for damp, mould and ill-health, as well as damage to the inside of your home. An increase in carbon dioxide leads to tiredness, headaches, and reduced attention and productivity.
We create further pollution for ourselves. Cleaning products, cooking fumes, perfumes, aerosols, air ‘fresheners’ – all produce both particulate and gaseous pollutants that damage our health – even when they smell nice. On top of this the very things that our home is made of – painted walls, wallpaper, flooring, furniture – give off VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) – a vast range of gases including many known to cause serious health effects, such as formaldehyde, benzene, acetone and ethanol. But the biggest source of indoor air pollution is wood-burners. That lovely, homely smell is actually a toxic combination of chemicals and soot particles, often in massive concentrations. It's like leaving a truck engine running in your living room.
And then there’s dust. Not actually mostly dead human skin, but a bit. And lots of dead insect parts, faeces, clothing fragments and outdoor pollution mixed together. Once it’s settled no air purifier can remove it, but walk on it, or near it, or turn over in bed, and clouds of microscopic particles fill the air and, if you’re lucky, settle again before you’ve breathed too much in.
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