Indoor Air Quality

As detailed in the Indoor Air Quality page in the Eco Issues section, polluted indoor air is a health risk, contributing to problems such as headaches, fatigue, dizziness, respiratory problems and eye, nose, throat and skin irritation.

Given that we spend about 90% of our time indoors, it makes sense to do all we can to improve the quality of the air we breathe. The following tips will help you to breathe easy at home:

  • Cleaning products, paints and varnishes, solvents and pesticide sprays can all contain ingredients that pollute indoor air. Choose products that have little or no indoor air polluting ingredients. Good Environmental Choice standards for many of these product categories set limits on the use of such ingredients, so look for Good Environmental Choice certified products.
  • Regular ventilation is important in ensuring good air quality indoors, provided your outdoor neighbourhood air is reasonably ‘fresh’. In particular, make sure you ventilate regularly after renovating or moving into a new home and when cleaning, particularly if the product’s instructions recommend it.
  • That ‘new’ smell - Remember that many new products off-gas formaldehyde and VOCs, particularly those made with plastics, solvents, adhesives and other treatments, such as electronic equipment, carpet, furniture and building and renovating materials as previously mentioned. Again, look for certified products that have limited off-gassing potential.
  • Fly screens for your windows and doors are useful so that you can let in the fresh air without the insects. Using fly spray after ventilating defeats the purpose.
  • Limit the clothing you buy that can only be drycleaned. Residue drycleaning solvent is an indoor air pollutant. When you do get a garment drycleaned, remove the plastic bag and allow the garden to air outside on the clothesline before returning it to your wardrobe. Alternatively, look for an alternative ‘eco’ drycleaner that uses alternative processes.
  • Pot plants are available that are able to remove small amounts of pollutants such as formaldehyde, n-hexane, benzene and/or trichloroethylene. Indoor air cleaning pot plants include aloe vera, happy plant (Dracaena varieties), peace lily (Spathiphyllum varieties), gerbera, chrysanthemum, kentia palm (Howea forsteriana), butterfly or golden cane palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), rubber plant, aspidistra and boston fern. As well as bringing some good feng shui, they can help make your home a little healthier.
  • Dust can make a home unhealthy for those whose respiratory systems are sensitive to it. Regular vacuuming with a high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter vacuum cleaner can help to improve indoor air quality, along with regular ventilation. Dust can be reduced by minimising exposed book cases, open shelving, soft furnishings and cuddly toys, all of which attract dust. Cupboards make a good alternative. Glass doors can convert a display shelf to an enclosed display cabinet.
  • Dust mites can make a home unhealthy for those with asthma triggered by dust mite faeces. Dust mites tend to live in bedding, carpet, soft toys, soft furnishings and curtains. Their numbers can be reduced by replacing carpet with cork, tiles or floorboards and by replacing plush curtains with blinds (note that blinds are typically less insulating than curtains, so you may wish to consider an additional pane of glazing). Dust mites don’t like temperature extremes, certain natural oils and sunlight. Keep dust mite numbers down in bedding by washing it regularly in hot water with a little eucalyptus oil and drying it on the line. Regular vacuuming with a HEPA filter cleaner will also help.