Posted by on Feb 20, 2011 | Comments Off on Air

When the topic of air pollution comes up, we tend to think of crowded cities with lots of traffic and smoke-stack factories.  What we rarely consider is the fact that indoor air pollution is by far, a much bigger problem. Couple that with the fact that most people living in industrialized societies spend about 90% of their time indoors, and it becomes a topic worthy of consideration.



A partial list…..

~ cleaning products
~ dry cleaned clothing
~ permanent press or “no-wrinkle” clothing & sheets
~ vinyl shower curtains
~ mattresses & pillows
~ moth repellents and other pest control substances
~ dust and dust mites
~ scented candles and incense
~ air “fresheners” (sprays, plug ins, or those hung on rear-view mirrors)
~ perfumes and cosmetics
~ aerosol sprays
~ over watered plants (and other moist areas)
~ hobby supplies
~ plastic toys
~ permanent markers
~ wall to wall carpeting
~ paints and paint strippers
~ varnishes/stains/wood treatments
~ pressed wood products (particle board, plywood)
~ caulking compounds
~ synthetic furniture (held together with various glues and resins)
~ chlorinated tap water
~ fire places
~ gas stoves
~ central heating/cooling systems
~ people (chemicals released during human respiration)

We often hear people say…..”Ahhh, I love that new car smell.” While getting a new car is definitely something to be excited about, that “new” smell (also associated with new carpet, newly painted walls, new home, remodeled room etc.) is actually the out gassing of the chemical solutions used to treat or produce the item at hand.


A few key terms:

OUT GASSING (or “off gassing”) is when the compounds that make up a material (hold it together or coat it) release potentially dangerous fumes into the air. With all the different materials that go into building a home and various products, this is important to be aware of.

VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUND (VOCs) are chemicals that easily turn into gases and contaminate our air. Some of these chemicals cause developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Some can cause cancer in animals. Some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Although some VOCs are very noticeable (as in the new car smell), most VOCs have no visible characteristics, smell or taste.


What can I do to reduce indoor air pollution in my home?


The first step is to reduce or eliminate items within the home that are problematic.

Here are a few places to start:

~ Use natural, non-toxic cleaning products. This includes dishwashing detergent, laundry detergent, surface cleaners, carpet shampoo, floor cleaners, etc… One thing in particular I can suggest is a steam mop. I’ve had one for about 2 years now & love it. This is a lightweight mop that’s plugged in [somewhat like the swiffer] and only needs water (to generate steam). No soap is required. The steam not only cleans the floors, but sanitizes too. They’re about $100 (got mine at bed bath & beyond) and come with several reusable mop pads. The cleaning pads velcro on & can be machine washed as needed. It’s great because after the initial investment, there’s nothing more to buy – no soap – no replacement pads, and I love knowing my floors are actually sanitized every time I use it. BB&B also sells a smaller, hand-held version for countertops & other surfaces – again, sanitizing with only water. I especially like the small one for the inside of the kitchen garbage can, which inevitably ends up stinking to high heavens. In any case, they do a very thorough job and are extremely cost-effective. For my laundry, dishwasher, kitchen counters, and bathrooms I use one product called “Thieves Household Cleaner” (click HERE for more info).

~ Try to use clothing that can be machine washed. If this is impossible (need to wear suits often), let your dry cleaning air out outside if possible (first remove the plastic bag), before bringing them into your home. Some larger cities actually have dry cleaning business that are supposedly non-toxic (I know there are some in NYC), though I believe there is some controversy as to just how non-toxic they are.

~ Do not purchase wrinkle-free, easy care, stain resistant, or permanent press clothing or bedding. “Finishing” is the final processing step for many conventional cotton garments to create easy care clothing that is soft, wrinkle-resistant, stain and odor resistant, fireproof, mothproof, and anti-static. Chemicals often used for finishing include formaldehyde, caustic soda, sulfuric acid, bromines, urea resins, sulfonamides, and halogens. Residual chemical traces on the fabric can cause burning eyes, nose, and throat, as well as difficulties with sleep, concentration, and memory and they can increase susceptibility to cancer. Always wash new clothes or bedding (unless made from organic cotton) first before wearing or putting on the bed. If you already have wrinkle-free, easy care (etc) items, chances are the chemicals have been greatly reduced or eliminated from repeated washings, so not necessary to replace older items. It will be newer items that are most problematic.

~ Use a non-toxic shower curtain (or shower curtain liner) or install glass doors. According to researchers at the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, shower curtains they tested that were made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), contained high concentrations of 108 different chemicals that are linked to liver damage as well as damage to the central nervous, respiratory and reproductive systems. Seems like a high price to pay to keep water off the bathroom floor.

~ Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, a dirt sensor and a light that lets you know when all the particles from a patch of carpet are vacuumed. HEPA is a type of filter that can trap a large amount of very small particles that other vacuum cleaners would simply recirculate back into the air of your home. Personally, I have a Kenmore (Sears brand) which has all the above mentioned features. It does a great job. The only downside is that it’s pretty heavy when I have to carry it up & down the stairs.

~ When it’s time to replace your mattress (or sooner if you’d prefer), consider a wool or natural latex-rubber mattress. Almost all others are treated with fire retardants and other chemicals that are really not in our best interest to snuggle up with at night. The same goes for most pillows, and of course, they’re much easier to replace than a mattress. I used to use (& love) a contour memory foam pillow. After realizing this type of pillow off gasses chemicals, I tried a few types of natural pillows and found an organic buckwheat hull pillow the closest in comfort, and in fact, it is the best pillow I’ve ever owned. I absolutely love it. I had thought that the natural latex/rubber contour pillow would be the one, as [on the internet] it looked very similar to my old memory foam. It was, however, way too soft for me. (Hope this info saves someone a bit of trial & error!)

~ If you use candles, use natural beeswax or soy based candles.

~ Get rid of any existing “air fresheners” – as in reality, they only contribute to the amount of breathable toxic compounds within your home. Use therapeutic grade essential oils instead.  Ditto for perfumes (use essential oils). (click HERE for basic info on essential oils or HERE for specific essential oil recommendations).

~ If remodeling or building, find a contractor knowledgable about eco-friendly, non-toxic building materials (they do exist – both the contractors and the materials).

~ When installing carpet… Jute, wool, cotton and other natural fibers typically don’t need flame retardants. Petrochemical (synthetic) products usually do.

~ Don’t over water your plants or leave wet towels/clothing lying around as this encourages mold and bacterial growth that become airborne.

~ Leave shoes at the door, as there are a great many toxins tracked in via the shoes that end up in our carpets, and ultimately in the air. If you’ve got a little one crawling around the floor, this is especially important.

~ Polish your nails (or remove polish) outside (weather permitting).  Also, keep in mind, there are many non-toxic nail polishes out there.  If you use polish, I highly recommend seeking them out.

~ Have your air ducts cleaned out occasionally.

~ Have your fireplace flue cleaned out regularly (to ensure the smoke is going out the chimney, and not leaking into your home).

~ Check that your gas or wood stove is set and working properly (not leaking unnecessary fumes).

~ The list of VOCs in children’s toys is unfortunately, rather extensive, and includes PVC, phthalates, lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, bromine, antimony, chromium, tin, xylene, toluene, and bisphenol-A. Your safest bet is to purchase toys made of solid wood (either unfinished or with a non-toxic finish), organic cotton, wool, or hemp. In regard to plastic toys, the best bet is to look for items without any polyvinyl chloride (PVC), phthalates, or BPA. [Phthalates? Between 80-90% of all phthalates are used to soften PVC plastic products (make them soft & pliable). Phthalates have been found in human urine, blood, and breast milk. Some phthalates have been linked to reproductive problems including shorter pregnancy duration and premature breast development in girls, sperm damage and impaired reproductive development in males]. Just because a set of plastic teething rings are specifically made for a baby, don’t assume that guarantees they’re safe (you’d think it would) (it should!) (sadly, it doesn’t).

***These informational posts are not meant to scare anyone. Please use the information – not to worry about what you did or didn’t do yesterday – but to empower yourself to make informed decisions in the future. Heaven only knows what my children chewed, sucked, inhaled & swallowed when they were tots & I was clueless. Keep in mind too, you may be past your baby rearing years, but your neighbor, cousin, or friend may not be.



Part of the problem is that over the years, as we’ve gotten better & better at insulating our homes, our indoor air quality has gotten worse & worse. I know it’s more cost-effective to be sealed up completely, but those drafty, little cracks & crevices actually serve a purpose when it comes to the air we breathe.

~ Open the windows! Try to air out the house everyday if possible, even in the winter. If you use AC during the day in the summer, it’s best to sleep with the windows open if possible. In the winter, you can either sleep with the windows open just a tiny crack, or simply open the windows up wide each day for just a few minutes to get at least a few, big gusts of fresh air blowing through the house. While you’re vacuuming is a great time to open the windows (if not already open).

~  Use ventilation fans in bathrooms when showering to prevent a damp, humid environment (which encourages mold & bacteria growth).



~ Plants – Having plants in the home is an easy way to help keep the air clean.  I have a great book entitled “How To Grow Fresh Air” that discusses (among other things) the 50 best houseplants for this purpose.  To name a few, palm type plants, rubber trees, english ivy, boston fern, peace lily, and gerbera daisy are great choices.  However, when recently searching around for more supporting research, I found that at this point, the EPA (environmental protection agency) kind of poo-poos the air cleaning ability of plants.  They do, in fact, help to some extent, it’s just questionable as to how much. Personally, I like having plants in my home regardless, and I know at the very least they do play a small part in cleaning the air.

~ Essential Oils – Therapeutic grade essential oils are highly effective air purifiers (I use them regularly in my home).  For basic information on essential oils – click HERE.  For specific essential oil recommendations – click HERE.

~ Air filters – There are so many air filters on the market, ranging from small table top models to giant $1,000 units.  I don’t have any personal experience with them.  Please feel free to comment if you’d like to share any information.  Thanks  =)


Symptoms associated with sick building syndrome

~ Allergies
~ Asthma
~ Eye, nose, and throat irritations
~ Fatigue
~ Headache
~ Nervous-system disorders
~ Respiratory congestion
~ Sinus congestion
~ Lethargy
~ Dry throat
~ Dry itchy eyes
~ frequent colds and coughs
~ Itchy skin
~ Rashes
~ Tightness in the chest
~ Shortness of breath
~ nose bleeds

“Sick building syndrome” is usually associated with office/work buildings, but your own home can become a source.

If you’re having a problem at the office, here are a few things you can try…  If the sun is hitting the veneer on wooden furniture, it might be causing a gas to be emitted and that might be the cause of your symptoms.  Simply moving the furniture around might help (if possible position it away from the sun).  Open a window if possible, keep a few plants around, and bring in a room spray with an air purifying essential oil (thieves or purification would work well) (unless you think the scent will bother others around you).  A really nice smelling room spray for the office (that most everyone around you would like) is a combination of lavender and grapefruit (equal parts) diluted in water.  The lavender has antiseptic qualities & creates a calm, tranquil atmosphere.  The grapefruit oil will stop you from falling asleep on your paperwork, boosts concentration & freshens stale air.  Using about 8 drops of essential oil to 2 & 1/2 cups of water works well.


Becoming sick after a long airplane flight is pretty common. This is a great example of how a perfectly sealed up environment, lacking fresh air, with the same stale air circulating over & over can cause problems.



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