Is your home toxic? Here's how to reduce indoor air pollution
PUBLISHED: 07:15 04 September 2018
Time to carry out some air quality control checks? Breathe more easily at home with these tips, writes Abi Jackson.
Outdoor air pollution in UK towns and cities is a key concern right now, but what about the quality of the environment inside our homes?
Our safe havens can harbour potentially harmful toxins and poor air quality too - and while there’s no need to panic, it’s a good idea to be aware of how these things can impact our health, and steps we can take to prevent this.
Here are some of the key points to factor in when it comes to indoor air pollution in your home...
What is ‘Toxic Home Syndrome’?
The idea that our homes can make us ill is far from claptrap (ask anybody with a lung condition, like asthma for instance, and things like indoor air quality can be extremely important) and there’s even a term for it: Toxic Home Syndrome.
“Toxic Home Syndrome occurs when individuals and families are exposed to a potent mix of airborne pollutants within the home, arising from poor ventilation, causing respiratory and skin diseases to occur more frequently,” explains Southampton University professor of allergy and respiratory medicine Peter Howarth, speaking on behalf of BEAMA’s My Health My Home campaign (myhealthmyhome.com).
Things like mould, damp and condensation play a big part in Toxic Home Syndrome. Symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, headaches and respiratory problems, while young children and the elderly, or people with pre-existing health problems, are often most at risk. In more serious cases, indoor air pollution could even contribute to major illnesses including cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.
How can you avoid a ‘Toxic Home’ making you ill?
There’s lots more information on the My Health My Home campaign website. Meanwhile, here are Professor Howarth’s five top tips for avoiding Toxic Home Syndrome...
1. Clean your air: Make sure you have adequate ventilation in your home to take out the pollutants and moisture that can build up. All sorts of household products including candles and cleaners contain potentially dangerous pollutants, and if these aren’t removed through ventilation, they simply build up in your home.
2. Choose wooden flooring: Carpets harbour dirt, dust mites, pet hair, fungus and other potentially harmful particles that can aggravate the lungs. Swapping carpet for wooden flooring makes it easier to keep clean.
3. Go green when you clean: Use eco cleaning products which have fewer toxins and pollutants in them. Non-eco household cleaners can release formaldehyde when they come in to contact with the air, a substance linked to cancer.
4. Change your shower curtain regularly: This will help reduce mould growth which releases spores and toxins into the air. These can cause or exacerbate respiratory and skin conditions such as asthma and eczema.
5. Cut the moisture: Shut the bathroom door when showering, wipe down wet surfaces, put on your extractor fan and cover your pans when cooking. Excessive moisture allows dust mites and mould to thrive, can aid bacterial growth and affect the survival of viruses.
Watch what you burn indoors
A ‘real’ fire, as opposed to modern central heating, might seem like an appealing style statement, but what you burn indoors could contribute to toxic air.
“They may look beautiful as a statement feature in your living room, but wood burning stoves, particularly older models, are contributing to the air pollution problem. So much so, the UK Government is considering banning them altogether,” says Jayson Branch, creative director at bespoke radiator company, Castrads (castrads.com). “As an alternative, consider a timeless cast iron radiator which won’t leave you compromising on luxury. Both the clean industrial and heavily ornate models make a striking statement in contemporary and traditional interiors.”
Consider your candle choices too. “Candles are wonderful when you’re trying to unwind. However, though they look harmless, many scented candles use paraffin wax, which gives off the toxic carcinogens benzene and toluene when burned,” says Branch. “Opt for candles using only natural waxes like soy, rapeseed, plant and beeswax, to make your relaxation all the more satisfying.”
Harness some plant power
As well as looking good and nurturing a sense of calm, certain house plants could even help clean up the air in your home. Homebase’s new Air So Pure range (from £4-£10 each, Homebase.co.uk) features plants with especially good air-purifying qualities, helping ‘reduce air pollutants by up to 80 per cent’.
“Introducing plants into your home not only creates a fresh look, but it’s also a cost-effective way to naturally boost oxygen levels, improve humidity in your home and enhance your overall wellbeing,” says Homebase greenlife buyer, Gillian Bush.
The plant pros at Dobbies Garden Centres (dobbies.com) have three top suggestions for enhancing the health of your home:
1. Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis): One of the best plants when it comes to removing formaldehyde from the air. It’s non-toxic so is a great addition to any house, and the feathery ferns look beautiful spilling out of hanging or elevated pots.
2. Aloe Vera: Already well known for its health benefits, but one of Aloe Vera’s lesser known benefits is how well it can remove benzene and formaldehyde from the air.
3. Spider Plants (Chlorophytum): Popular houseplants and great for eliminating significant amounts of formaldehyde, xylene, toluene and ammonia from the air.