According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors – and that stat was before the pandemic. The EPA also notes that the concentration of certain pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors, directly impacting air quality.
“In times like these, while many of us are spending more time working or attending virtual classes from home, the air quality of our homes is even more important,” says Jotham Hatch, a certified expert in indoor home health, and VP of training at Chem-Dry. Chem-Dry has a national partnership with the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) to raise awareness and provide education on the importance of indoor air quality in maintaining the health and safety of homes and businesses.
Below are some of the effects of poor indoor air quality and ways to improve it.
“Poor indoor air quality can lead to unwanted and preventable illnesses – especially with cold and flu season in full swing in the midst of a global pandemic,” Hatch says. “The quality of the air in your home actually makes a significant impact on the overall health of homeowners and their families.”
According to the EPA, typical pollutants include carbon monoxide, tobacco smoke, pet dander, molds, radon, lead, asbestos, pesticides, ozone, and volatile organic compounds.
“As dirt and dust particles are brought into the home, they settle on surfaces like couches, carpets, ceiling fans and blinds, and are continuously stirred up and recirculated as people move throughout their homes on a daily basis,” Hatch explains. And he says it’s vital to keep these areas clean to maintain maximum health.
Focus on ventilation
Your home’s ventilation plays a vital role in ensuring its level of health. “Proper roof ventilation in the attic can prevent mold and similar growth from forming, and it ensures clean air is circulated throughout,” says Eamon Lynch, director of warranty service at Power Home Remodeling.
And Lynch says ventilation is especially important for anyone with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or allergies. “You also want to inspect your home’s exhaust vents – the stove range hood, bathroom fans, etc. – to make sure any exhaust is completely leaving your home,” he explains. Another effective, old-fashioned way to get fresh air into your home is to open the windows.
Cross ventilation is yet another option to bring in fresh air. “I recommend opening windows on opposite sides of a room to help fresh air enter and push out old, stale air,” Lynch says. “One thing I’d keep top of mind is the season; during pollination season, keep your windows closed so that allergens aren’t able to enter as easily.”
Switch out your HVAC filter
In a pandemic, we’ve all been spending more time at home. As a result, our HVAC systems aren’t getting a break because we’re using them around the clock to stay comfortable. “It can be easy to forget, but switching out older filters is important for air quality — and I’d increase the frequency the more time you spend at home,” Lynch says. Location also plays a role. In hot places – like Texas – HVACs have to work a lot harder, so it’s easy more important to pay attention to your filter.
“Even though your vents should be free of dirt and dust if the system filter is clean, it can still be helpful to dust in between the vent slats with a rag or dusting wand,” he recommends. “Since vents are made of metal, condensation can form when you blast the AC.”
But why is that so important? “This condensation can draw in the tiniest, microscopic dust particles, which could impact your overall air quality,” Lynch explains.
Also, don’t forget your stove range filter. “Chances are likely that you’re spending more time cooking at home, which can contribute to your indoor air pollution,” he says. “If you find yourself cooking more often, prioritize cleaning your stove range filters more regularly.” Lynch recommends wiping them down with warm soapy water on a monthly basis to prevent any grease or oil buildup.
Mind your floors
Vacuuming is an easy way to clean your home. However, Lynch says it may not be the best option for air quality.
“As your vacuum sucks up dirt and dust particles into the vacuum bag, a small, almost undetectable amount gets spread into the air,” he says. “When cleaning your home, I recommend choosing to sweep or mop because it’s better at trapping dander, dirt, and dust.”
However, if you’re like most of us, it’s hard to give up the convenience of vacuuming. Hatch says carpet is probably the largest filter in the home. “Vacuuming the carpet with a vacuum that has a certified microfiltration system helps pull allergens on the surface out of it,” he explains.
In fact, Hatch even recommends vacuuming upholstered furniture, area rugs, and mattresses on a regular schedule. “As pollutants get trapped in the fibers of these surfaces, frequent vacuuming combined with regular professional cleaning will drastically reduce allergens caused by pet dander, pollen, dust mites, etc.”
Hatch recommends vacuuming twice a week – more often if you have pets. “I also recommend frequent professional deep cleaning of the carpet, area rugs, upholstery, and mattresses – every 6 – 12 months, depending on the traffic,” he says.
In addition, Hatch says you should clean and dust hard surfaces, including countertops, furniture, tile and stone, hardwood, luxury vinyl, and linoleum floors at least 3 times a week – and more often if you have pets.