Topic Overview

Exposure to indoor air pollutants can cause respiratory
problems, such as asthma attacks, or diseases, such as lung cancer. Pollutants include smoke, pet
dander,
radon, mold, cleaning products, and other chemicals.
You can create a healthier home by following the tips below.footnote 1

Reduce allergens

  • Groom pets often to reduce
    dander. Don’t allow them to sleep in the bedroom with anyone who has
    asthma or allergies. If possible, keep them off
    carpets and furniture.
  • Choose window coverings that are easy
    to clean, such as wood shades or blinds. Drapes are magnets for dust.
  • Check houseplants for mold. Repot or move them outside if the
    soil contains mold.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke in your
    home.
  • Eliminate carpeting and replace it with wood or tile
    flooring, if possible.
  • If the humidity level is more than 50% inside your house, dust
    mites and molds can be a problem. To control dust mites, get allergen-resistant
    covers for bedding. Wash sheets and blankets in hot water.
  • Use high-efficiency bags in your vacuum cleaner or
    install a central vacuum system in your home.
  • Don’t store firewood
    indoors. Drying green firewood can contain mold spores.
  • Keep trees
    and shrubs at least 3 ft (0.9 m) away from your house. Roots can provide an easy path for water into
    your basement or crawl space.
  • Keep bathrooms, kitchen, and
    basement-places where allergens are likely to grow-clean and dry.

Control moisture

  • Fix leaks and other sources of water intrusion,
    and remove water-damaged materials.
  • Make sure your
    clothes dryer vents to the outside.
  • Install and keep
    clean hood exhaust fans in your kitchen. Make sure bathroom vents exhaust air outdoors and not into basements, crawl spaces, or inside the
    house.
  • Make sure that exhaust fans don’t draw too much air out,
    creating a negative-pressure situation in which the pressure inside the house
    is lower than outside. Negative pressure can reverse the flow of combustion
    gases from furnaces, gas stoves, and water heaters, and draw water vapor and
    dangerous
    carbon monoxide or nitrogen dioxide into your home.
  • Caulk the interior and exterior of your home, especially around
    windows and vents.
  • If you’re building a new home, install a
    waterproofing system that keeps moisture away from your
    foundation.
  • Keep gutters and drains clean.
  • Remove any
    water-damaged carpet. Replace it, if possible, with wood or tile
    flooring.

Avoid heating problems

  • Make sure fuel-burning furnaces, hot water
    heaters, and gas ranges are checked every year to ensure air intake and exhaust
    systems are adequate. It is best to have your water heater and furnace outside
    of your home-for example, in your garage.
  • Do not use kerosene space
    heaters or unvented gas heaters as your primary source of
    heat.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Carbon
    monoxide is odorless and colorless. You may not notice it until you have
    health problems. If you see orange or sputtering flames in your gas furnace or
    stove, it may mean that you have a problem with carbon monoxide. Call a
    technician immediately.
  • Make sure wood stoves and fireplaces have
    tight-fitting doors. Check flues and chimneys for cracks that could allow fumes
    into your house.

Check household furnishings

  • Many furnishings contain formaldehyde and other
    organic compounds. When shopping for new furniture or cabinets, try to buy
    those that are made of solid hardwood, not particleboard, which usually has a
    wood-veneer finish. The wood veneer may be attached with glue that contains
    formaldehyde.
  • If someone living in your home has asthma, replace
    carpet with tile or wood flooring. If carpeting is necessary, use a product
    with a short nap, or use area rugs that can be cleaned regularly.
  • If you are remodeling, use gypsum board, plaster, or real wood
    for walls. Plastic or wood-fiber paneling may emit formaldehyde.
  • If your house was built
    before 1978, the woodwork or other
    surfaces may be covered with lead paint. You can have the paint
    tested for lead. Do not sand or strip off the lead paint. But you can cover
    surfaces with wallpaper or other building material. Call an expert
    if you have to remove lead paint.

Be careful with household products

  • Take care when using
    cleaning products, paints, solvents, and pesticides. Try not to use
    them inside the house. If you must use them inside, use a fan to
    blow strong odors and fumes out of your home. Be aware
    that paint can release trace gases for months after you apply it. Try to use
    paint without
    volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Use
    nontoxic glue to install flooring or
    carpet.
  • If you strip furniture inside, use
    products that do not contain methylene chloride. And make sure you have enough ventilation.
  • Do not mix cleaning products.
    Consider using natural cleaners, such as vinegar, lemon juice, boric acid, or
    baking soda.
  • Chemicals found in many air fresheners, toilet bowl
    cleaners, mothballs, and other deodorizing products may be harmful to the
    lungs.footnote 2 Use alternatives. For example, baking soda
    absorbs odors and can be used instead of an air freshener.
  • Don’t
    keep items you’re recycling-such as newspapers, rags, cans or bottles-inside
    your home. They can be sources of toxic vapors.
  • Install a radon monitor in your home on the lowest level that you regularly use.
  • Make sure sump basins
    are sealed and vented to the outdoors.

Improve air ventilation

  • Make sure your house gets an adequate
    supply of fresh air.
  • Place an air filter in your bedroom, and clean
    it every 3 months.
  • Air conditioning helps keep pollen and other
    allergens out of your home, but filters must be kept clean.
  • Change
    furnace and air conditioner filters every 2 to 3 months.
  • Use
    exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms to vent air outdoors.
  • Have
    older homes checked for asbestos insulation on furnaces and pipes. Make sure you
    use an inspector familiar with asbestos issues.
  • Clean humidifiers
    and dehumidifiers often.
  • Make sure outdoor fresh-air intake vents
    for ducted heating and air conditioning systems are located above ground and
    are upwind from sources of contaminated air, such as idling cars or
    trucks.
  • Have ducts for forced-air furnaces cleaned, if
    needed.
  • Make sure ducts are sealed to prevent air leakage and to
    keep contaminants from coming into your
    home.
  • Check that plumbing drains in your home
    have full water traps and are connected to a venting
    system. A sewer smell coming from a
    sink or water appliance is a sign of poor
    ventilation.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. American Lung Association (2004). Health House: Pollutants in Your Home. Available online: http://www.healthhouse.org/iaq/HomeAirPollutants.pdf.
  2. Elliott L, et al. (2006). Volatile organic compounds and pulmonary function in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114(8): 1210-1214.

Other Works Consulted

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2005). Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety. Available online: http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/Cit_Guide/citguide.pdf.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP – Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology

Current as ofMay 7, 2017