Say “air quality” to most people and they think of outdoor particles and pollutants, like ozone, pollen, and smoke-belching factories. But the truth is, indoor air is two to five times dirtier than the air outside, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, thanks to all the dust, dander, and air-borne bacteria floating through our homes. And that’s on a good day!
When high humidity allows mold spores to thrive, or during a major remodel—when off-gassing from building materials fills the air with toxic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—indoor pollution can be many times worse. Add in the fact that people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors (even without any stay-at-home pandemic orders in place), and you see why indoor air quality is such an important part of any home wellness strategy.
To help you clear the air, we called on the home pros at the Good Housekeeping Institute, as well as industry partners at York Heating and Cooling—many of whose products are backed by the Good Housekeeping Seal—and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), to weigh in on the topic. Their advice includes steps you can take right away, plus things to consider with your next home improvement project.
Get serious about vacuuming
We know, it’s a drag. But vacuuming is one of the best ways to reduce airborne allergens, according to AAFA, especially if your vacuum is equipped with a HEPA filter, which captures even the finest contaminants (a sealed vacuum with a HEPA filter is even better). Once a week should do the trick in many homes, though pet owners probably need to vacuum every few days, especially during shedding season. PSA: Don’t forget to replace or wash HEPA filters, as recommended by the manufacturer, so they stay working as they should.
To reduce how often you need to lug out the full-size vacuum, consider investing in a robot vacuum for supplemental removal of surface debris while you’re out doing other stuff. These options earned top marks in our tough pet hair test.
Dr. John McKeon, a former ER doctor and CEO/Founder of Allergy Standards, an international standards and certification body, also stresses the importance of deep steam cleaning at least once a year. “A carpet’s weight can triple over its life from the build-up of allergens and debris,” he says. “Short of switching to hardwood floors, regular steam cleaning is the best treatment.”
Quick Fix: Don’t forget the welcome mat. Encouraging family and guests to brush off their shoes will help keep pollutants from entering your home in the first place. Or go one better and instate a no-shoes policy.
Allergen-proof your bedding
When it comes to indoor air quality, chances are your bedroom needs some work. For starters, are you washing sheets and pillowcases weekly in hot water (130°F if possible)? That’s critical for killing dust mites (a hot dryer cycle does this, too). Other bedding, like pillows and comforters, should be washed every one to two months or more often, if needed. While the bed is stripped, take a minute to vacuum the mattress. To remove odors, vacuum first, then sprinkle baking soda on it, work the product in with a soft brush, let it set for a few hours to deodorize, and vacuum again. Our pros also recommend using woven covers for the mattress and pillows to prevent dust mites and animal dander from accumulating.
Quick Fix: If you are a severe allergy sufferer, make sure to regularly clean all of your bedding — not only the sheets and pillowcases, but pillows and comforters, too.
Bring in fresh air
Homes in the U.S. are built pretty airtight, which is great for energy efficiency. But for indoor air quality, not so much, which makes exhaust fans essential. Every full bathroom in your home should be equipped with a bathroom fan; be sure to run it for at least 15 minutes after showering. In the kitchen, a vented range hood is best for sucking away smoke and fumes.
If your home uses forced-air heating and/or cooling, you can integrate a whole-home air cleaner that can help capture harmful toxins as it circles through the system, like York’s Affinity Series Whole-Home Media Cleaner.
Quick Fix: Regularly crack a window. It’s the easiest way to bring in fresh air, and it doesn’t cost a thing!
Control the humidity
Keeping your home’s humidity between 30 and 50 percent will minimize moisture-loving dust mites and mold. Obviously, outdoor humidity surges in the summer, so that’s the time to deploy dehumidifiers to dry out the air. This dehumidifier was a top pick in our latest tests, maintaining optimal humidity levels in large spaces.
Quick Fix: Promote air flow throughout the home by leaving doors between rooms open.
Cut out the toxins
A lot of people pollute the air in their home without even realizing it. Watch out for the “cozy culprits” as Dr. McKeon calls them, which refers to things like scented candles and air fresheners that may contain irritants, like fragrance compounds that are not necessarily listed on ingredient lists.
Many home improvement materials, from paint to flooring to insulation, can also contain harmful pollutants, including formaldehyde and VOCs. The AAFA has a certification process designed to help homeowners find products that meet minimum thresholds for airborne irritants.
Quick Fix: Many surfaces can be cleaned — and many stains can be removed — with pantry staples like baking soda and vinegar. Look for cleaners with minimal ingredients and those labeled free of perfumes, dyes, and other irritants.
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