The ABCs of Healthy Indoor Air

People spend about 90% of their time indoors where air quality can be 2-5 times worse than outside. If your home is like most, the indoor air is polluted with dust mites, allergens, formaldehyde, volatile organic chemicals, phthalates, and a large number of other chemicals from the pesticides, cleaners, personal care products, electronics, and furniture you bring into your home. Makes you want to hold your breath, but there are simpler ways to clear the air. Here’s a whole alphabet of easy steps.

Avoid pesticides. Find safer solutions at

Buy natural personal care products (especially avoiding those with fragrance listed in the ingredients). Visit to find the healthiest options.

Clean without chemicals. Find homemade recipes and safer products at

Dust often. Use a rag moistened with water or a microfiber cloth (especially windowsills and door jambs if your house was built before 1978 and televisions and electronics which can release toxic flame retardants.)

Eliminate wall-to-wall carpeting if at all possible and replace with washable rugs. Carpets are virtual magnets for allergens and other contaminants.

Forgo fragrances and artificial air fresheners. Some just cover odors and others actually numb your nose so you can’t smell the offending smell.

Grow plants, which act as natural air purifiers. The most effective ones, based on studies by NASA scientists, include heartleaf philodendron, elephant ear philodendron, English ivy, spider plant, Warneck dracaena, weeping fig, golden pothos, peace lily, Chinese evergreen, and bamboo or reed palm.

Hang dry-cleaned clothes outside or in a well-ventilated area before bringing them inside.

Install a carbon monoxide alarm. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas that can cause flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and even death. Learn more at

Just say no to pressed woods and particleboard. These types of wood are often glued together using formaldehyde resins.

Keep your ducts clean. Annually (especially before any season that requires you to keep your home closed up), hire someone to come in and vacuum out your ductwork.

Leave shoes at the door. Lead dust, pesticides, gasoline and more can be tracked inside on the bottom of your shoes.

Maintain a healthy level of humidity. Aim for levels of 30-50%, using a moisture detector (hygrometer). Air that’s too humid promotes mold growth. Air that’s too dry makes you more susceptible to illness.

Neutralize odors with white vinegar. Put four parts water and one part vinegar in a spray bottle. Use in trash cans, the refrigerator, or other areas with odors. Vinegar will naturally deodorize and within a few minutes, the vinegar smell will dissipate as well.

Open windows to let polluted air out and fresh air in. Even just a few minutes a day can noticeably improve your indoor air.

Paint using low or no-VOC options.

Quit smoking. At the very least, take it outside.

Repair leaky plumbing to avoid mold growth.

Sprinkle baking soda on rugs and carpets before vacuuming to naturally absorb odors.

Test for radon. Radon is another invisible, odorless gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Visit to learn how to protect your family.

Use an exhaust fan (or open a window) when bathing and cooking to keep humidity levels down.

Vacuum at least twice a week with a HEPA filtered vacuum.

Wash new clothes, bedding and drapes twice before using.

eXamine combustion appliances annually. Gas stoves, heaters, and other appliances that burn fuel should be checked regularly by a professional to ensure they are burning correctly and not releasing too many contaminants into your air.

Your nose knows. If something smells “new” or perfume-y, it is likely releasing chemicals.

Zzzzzz. Sleep peacefully knowing you’re whole family is breathing easier.

Published on: August 25, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Christopher Gavigan
Christopher Gavigan is Chief Executive Officer of Healthy Child Healthy World. For more than a decade, he has dedicated himself to improving the lives of children and families. He holds degrees in environmental science and geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and has extensive graduate training in child psychology and education.
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