By John Ward
The air quality in our homes has a direct impact on our overall health. Think about it: We spend an average of 90 percent of our day inside. So if every breath we take is filled with toxic pollutants, you can imagine the effect on our long-term health and well-being.
Air pollutants in homes enter through open windows and doors, on our clothes, and in the products we buy. Sometimes, they can even be produced in our homes.
Here are just a few ways pollutants can enter a home:
- Off-gassing of paints and furniture
- Exhaust from cars and other machines
- Mold in wet or water-damaged areas
- Cleaners, disinfectants, and chemical products
- Air fresheners, candles, and perfumes
- Radon penetration through basement walls
Unfortunately, we can’t live in a bubble, so we have to take steps to try and limit the presence of pollutants inside our homes. In addition to that, knowing what kinds of pollutants are most common in indoor living environments can help us monitor and control them.
Most indoor air contaminants can be classified into two categories: biological and chemical. In this blog, we’ll be going over the most common biological pollutants, as they include some of the most direct threats to human health. We’ll also suggest simple things that you can do to minimize the presence of these pollutants in your home, thereby lowering your risk of exposure and improving indoor air quality.
Biological pollutants refer to living organisms (or ones that were alive at some point in time). This includes bacteria, viruses, fungi (e.g. mold and mildew), enzymes, pollen, animal dander, and dust mites.
Often, these pollutants are so light and tiny that even a light breeze can make them airborne, where they can be easily inhaled by passers-by. While some biological pollutants (like dust and pollen) produce only mild allergies, others (like mold and bacteria)
can cause toxic reactions and serious disease.
Dander is composed of tiny flakes or bits of skin shed by cats, dogs, birds, rodents and other animals. Animal dander is very light compared to dust, it clings to fabrics and carpets very easily, and it can cause allergies in people who are sensitive.
Dander is not particularly hard to keep under control. The easiest way to reduce levels of dander in your home is to not keep any pets with fur in your home. Regular vacuuming of carpets and furniture as well as washing of fabrics, clothes and drapes with hot water (55°C or higher) at least once a week will help minimize dander levels in your home.
Dust mites are microscopic organisms that are actually relatives of spiders. They feed off of dead skin, hairs, flakes, food crumbs and dander. It’s the build-up of their fecal matter that is the biggest contributor to poor air quality.
Dust mites can be found almost anywhere (e.g. furniture, mattresses, pillows, bedding, and other fabrics), but lucky for us, they don’t live directly on the body, and they don’t bite or carry disease. So as unpleasant as they sound, dust mites are harmless, and they’re an important part of biological life and decomposition.
Keeping dust mites to a minimum is similar to controlling dander—regular cleaning and vacuuming is key. Remove dust by using a damp rag instead of dusting or dry sweeping. This keeps the dust from becoming airborne. Also, wash fabrics, (bedding, curtains, pillow covers, couch slips, clothing, shoes and jackets) in hot water at least once a week.
Pollen is yet another unavoidable element of nature. Not only does it contribute to dust mites and dander problems, but it’s also one of the most common causes of allergies. Pollen can be produced by a wide variety of plants and indoor levels get considerably worse in the spring and summer, when plants begin to blossom and bloom.
Because pollen is very light and can be easily dispersed, it’s extremely difficult to stop it from entering your home. However, there are ways to keep it to a minimum. Washing clothes you have worn outdoors as soon as possible and showering once you come inside will keep pollen from transferring from your body to your furniture.
In addition, home air filtration systems, such as the EZ Breathe, have proven extremely effective at reducing indoor pollen levels and improving allergies. Last but not least, if you are sensitive to pollen, house plants may not be for you!
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew are fungi that grow in damp, warm conditions. They feed off of dirt, dust, pollen, paper, wood, carpet, drywall, and any other organic materials. There are many different kinds of mold: some are toxic and should be avoided at all costs, while others are beneficial and can be used to create delicious cheeses, alcohol and even medicine.
Mold can be found virtually everywhere in nature, and its spores are constantly moving through the air with the wind. As such, mold can easily make its way into your home via open windows and doors, your clothing, shoes, food and pets.
Mold can also start to grow inside your home given the right conditions, namely moisture, a food source (any cellulose-rich material like wood, drywall, wallpaper and carpet) and the right temperature—hence why mold growth is so common in basements, bathrooms, and attics. And once it starts to grow, mold can spread quickly, releasing toxic spores into the air, which can irritate allergies, weaken your immune system, and cause an overall decline in health.
Because mold spreads so quickly and easily, it’s difficult to remove and clean effectively. First, the source of the moisture that started the mold growth must be repaired before any remediation work begins.
Second, when performing a proper mold removal, it is crucial to contain the area, protect yourself, and use powerful HEPA filters to clean the air as you work (so that the spores released during the cleaning process won’t contaminate other parts of the property). Any damp, water-damaged or contaminated materials must be disposed of appropriately. This includes drywall, ceiling tiles, non-structural wood and framing, flooring, and furniture that is beyond repair.
Finally, strong but safe cleaners must be used in the disinfection stage of the remediation. Many people falsely believe that bleach is the best option to kill mold, but this is a myth. Bleach is actually water-based and while it might whiten the area, it will not kill the roots of the mold. It could even worsen the problem by introducing more moisture into the area. A natural and effective way to kill mold is using pure vinegar; the high acidity of the vinegar will eat away at the mold, making it easier to remove.
For all of these reasons, big mold problems are best left in the hands of experienced professionals, who have access to industry-standard equipment like negative pressure machines (for proper containment), powerful HEPA vacuums (for the removal of even the smallest of particles) and ozone generators (for complete sanitation).
For more information about any of the contaminants listed above, or to find out how you can test your home for mold and mildew, contact certified experts and ask about professional air quality testing services.
Remember, minimizing pollutants in your home starts with keeping your home clean, ensuring proper ventilation, repairing structural problems promptly, and reducing moisture and humidity. If you take all of these steps, you are well on your way to maintaining proper indoor air quality, good health, and well-being.