We’re all concerned about the air our kids breathe when they’re outside. But what about the air INSIDE our homes? Is it as clean as we assume it is?
According to researchers at the University of Colorado, it’s not. In an experiment called HOMEChem (House Observations of Microbial and Environmental Chemistry) that was reported on in The New Yorker, the scientists spent all of June 2018, monitoring the indoor air quality of a 1,200 sq. ft. manufactured home. Using special sensors and monitors, they discovered that the air inside our homes is at times more polluted than what’s outside, even compared to cities like Los Angeles!
In part, indoor air is dirtier because of consumer products like cleansers and personal care products that contain “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs). VOCs are a broad group of toxic gases that can “form a chemical soup around us,” reports IndoorChem.com.
From bleach to hair spray to air fresheners and even some shampoos and body lotions, when we apply these products in our bathrooms, kitchens, or living rooms, they leave behind noxious, but invisible chemical droplets. When we inhale the chemicals, they can make us sick, triggering asthma attacks, headaches, nausea, and flu-like symptoms that can lead to more serious illnesses when exposure is long-term.
Consumer products aren’t the only culprits. According to the experiment’s results, using appliances like toasters and gas-burning stoves and ovens can have a negative impact as well, especially when they come in direct contact with food.
For example, a toaster that burns bread that gets caught in its coils can raise airborne particle levels “far higher than expected,” said Marina Vance, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder, who helped conduct the study. Charring or searing meat also takes its toll on indoor air quality, as does making a stir fry over high heat. Even boiling water over a gas flame can cause indoor air pollution to spike.
In addition, the air worsens when cooking is followed by cleaning, especially if the cleansers are bleach-based. For example, stir frying food in teriyaki sauce generates a lot of smoke and splatters. Cleaning up afterwards with a bleach-based product causes temporary spikes of chloramines, a class of chemicals that are known to inflame human airway membranes. Nitryl chloride, a compound often found in coastal smog, was also produced when a floor was mopped up using bleach-based cleansers after a gas burner had ignited.
3 Ways To Make Indoor Air Cleaner
1. Replace bleach-based cleaning products with those made from safer ingredients.
For counter tops, walls, cabinets, and floors, use a washcloth dipped in warm water and some unscented liquid soap, rather than a spray-on. If you must use a spray, like for windows, turn your head away to avoid inhaling the atomized particles. As much as possible, keep a window cracked open when cleaning, and turn on a fan to help move air out of your house.
2. Swap conventional personal care products with unscented, non-aerosol versions.
In other words, switch from spray cans to pump bottles that deliver a thicker lotion rather than an airy spray. That means roll-on deodorants, soap bars, and conditioning creams you can rub into your hair rather than spray on. Also, beware of nail polish and nail polish remover, both of which contain noxious VOCs.
3. In the kitchen, keep toasters clean of crumbs.
If you regularly toast bagels, get a toaster with wide enough slats to accommodate a bagel’s width. Better yet, use a toaster oven, which will keep your food away from the heat source. Keep both the toaster and the toaster oven set at a medium level so it won’t burn your food.