How to improve indoor air quality in your home

With winter on the horizon, homeowners are pre-paring their homes for a season with far more time spent indoors. Unlike the other seasons of the year, when homeowners can comfortably air out their homes by opening windows, cool autumns and cold winters offer no such opportunities to let nature improve indoor air quality.

Such a reality can make a home feel stuffy and uncomfortable as winter drags on. But that pales in comparison to the health risks presented by poor indoor air quality. Radon, volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners and lead from house dust are just a few of the many sources of indoor air pollution commonly found in homes, and these pollutants can be especially harmful in winter, when many people spend more time indoors thanks to chilly weather.

While you might not be able to change the weather so you can open windows in fall and winter, you can take steps to improve indoor air quality in your home.

• Clean the floors regularly. Dirty floors take their toll on a home’s indoor air quality. Dust that’s allowed to settle on floors may contain harmful chemicals and allergens that can lead to respiratory problems and unhealthy conditions. Clean your floors at least once per week during the winter months, ideally with a vacuum that’s equipped with a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter is important because it can prevent dust and dirt from being blown back out of the vacuum in the exhaust. After you have vacuumed, mop the floors as well, as even the most effective vacuums leave potentially harmful dust particles behind. A once-over with a mop and some hot water can remove any lingering dust left behind by the vacuum.

• Place a floor mat near every entrance. Autumn and winter rains make for a messy time of year, and it’s easy to bring in the great outdoors when you enter your home during cold weather seasons. Dirt that sticks to your shoes may contain potentially harmful chemicals, so place a floor mat near any door where people routinely enter your home and politely ask that all who enter wipe off or even remove their shoes before moving about the house.

• Choose naturally scented laundry products. Everyone wants their freshly cleaned clothes to smell good, but the price you pay when using laundry products that employ synthetic fragrances may be far steeper than you realize. Such synthetic fragrances emit dozens of chemicals into the air, so choose naturally scented detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets when possible.

• Avoid plug-in air fresheners. Unless otherwise noted on the packaging, plug-in air fresheners likely contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which contain a variety of chemicals that can negatively impact both short- and long-term health. Instead of plugging in an air freshener to improve a home’s interior aroma, slice fresh lemons and leave them out in the kitchen and keep fresh indoor plants in living areas. Studies from NASA have shown that indoor plants naturally purify indoor air by absorbing materials released by synthetic materials.

As winter gets set to return, homeowners can employ several simple strategies to improve indoor air quality in their homes.