Fast Facts on Indoor Air Quality

Most of us spend the vast majority of each day indoors, where air quality can be 2-5 times worse than outside. Indoor air quality issues revolve around environmental contaminants such as allergens and airborne chemicals.

  • Chemicals that release fumes, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are in solvents, cleaning products, air fresheners, polishes, adhesives, paints, new carpeting and furniture. One study found that young kids in homes with high VOC levels were four times as likely to develop asthma.
  • Dust mites and other indoor allergens love pillows and mattresses, and we often hear the statistic that up to 10 percent of the weight of a two-year-old pillow is made up of dust mites, living and dead, and their droppings. Enclosing mattresses and pillows in allergen-proof covers can keep the mites at bay, as can washing sheets and blankets in hot water weekly. Dust mite populations can also be controlled by reducing indoor humidity to below 60 percent and removing carpets from the bedroom.
  • Stoves or heaters that burn gas, propane, kerosene, wood or charcoal produce carbon monoxide, and the gas can accumulate in poorly ventilated areas. Another dangerous source is from gasoline motors (such as cars or lawn mowers) that are running in enclosed spaces. Carbon monoxide is second only to heroin as a cause of death by poisoning in the US. A carbon monoxide detector is a simple tool that will give you peace of mind.
  • One six-inch houseplant per 100 square feet of living area can filter VOCs and vastly improve your indoor air quality. Bamboo palms, Chinese evergreens and English ivies are the three best in removing formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from indoor air.
  • Opening your windows to let polluted air out and fresh air in can noticeably improve indoor air quality.
  • Household chores can help with air quality: dust often, keep your ducts clean and forego chemical cleaning products and air fresheners. Also, use a HEPA-filtered vacuum at least twice a week (plus a HEPA air purifier in a the bedroom of a child with asthma), and keep your plumbing in good repair to avoid mold growth.
  • Keep the chemicals outside by taking your shoes off at the door to avoid tracking of contaminants, hanging dry-cleaned clothes outside before they make it to the closet and never smoking inside (better yet – take the pledge to never smoke!).


Published on: May 27, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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