Clearing Household Pollutants

To beat the heat and keep allergies at bay, we often seal ourselves inside our comfy, climate-controlled homes, not realizing that the air in there may not be much better. According to the EPA, indoor air pollution levels are typically at least twice as high as levels outside.

While closing doors and windows limits the amount of dust and pollen wafting in from outside, it can also seal in biological irritants and hazardous chemicals from household products and furnishings. A study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that controlling indoor allergens could cut childhood asthma cases by about 65 percent. Other contaminants have been linked to dizziness, nausea, developmental disorders, even cancer.

We spend about 90 percent of our time indoors, so eliminating the most egregious and common culprits is a good idea. Follow these easy solutions to give your home a breath of fresh air.


Combustion Gases
Most of us forget that our gas stoves actually produce open flames, and wherever there's an open flame, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide can build up.

Where They Lurk
Kitchen, living room (if you have a fireplace), furnace room or basement

How to Avoid Them
Make sure your gas appliances are properly adjusted -- a blue flame is best. If the flame has a lot of yellow or orange, a sign of higher pollutant levels, ask the gas company to tweak the setting. If you are buying new, opt for a model with a pilotless ignition, which doesn't have a continuously burning pilot light.

Dust Mites
They aren't deadly, but these allergens may be responsible for that early-morning stuffy nose and those itchy, red-rimmed eyes.

Where They Lurk
Bedrooms, carpets, sofas, linens

How to Avoid Them
Encase pillows and mattresses with tightly woven anti-dust-mite covers (look for "allergen protector" or "asthma-friendly" on the label). They trap mites inside, where they die off, and prevent new mites from entering the pillow. All carpets, even natural fiber ones, attract dust mites -- so vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which traps tiny particles in a very fine mesh to prevent them from recirculating, or opt for wood flooring.

PBDEs (Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers or Flame Retardants)
Animal research has shown links to thyroid, liver, neurological, and immune disorders. Europe has already banned the use of certain formulations of PBDEs.

Where They Lurk
Mattresses, upholstery, electronics

How to Avoid Them
Look for mattresses made from wool, a natural fire retardant, or add a natural feather bed as a protective layer. When buying electronics, opt for ones made by manufacturers such as Apple, Dell, and Sony, which are phasing out certain PBDEs. When shopping for furniture, Ikea is a safe bet; the chain has stopped using the versions of these chemicals that Europe has banned.


Considered a volatile organic compound (VOC), formaldehyde emits toxic gases that can cause nausea and dizziness and, in severe cases, may harm the liver and kidneys.

Where It Lurks
Adhesives in furniture, flooring, cabinetry

How to Avoid It
Buying solid wood furniture and flooring instead of particleboard products may help you avoid this VOC. But because it's in such a wide range of products, it's always a good idea to keep your home well-ventilated. Using a sealant on particleboard floors and cabinets may help prevent gases from releasing.

One of the worst allergy offenders, mold causes itchy eyes, runny noses, asthma and other respiratory disorders.

Where It Lives
The fridge, washing machine, shower walls -- anywhere there's water

How to Avoid It
Beating mold means controlling indoor moisture levels, which can be measured with an inexpensive humidity meter available at many hardware stores, says EPA spokesman Dave Ryan. Empty the drip trays beneath your refrigerator and dehumidifier regularly. To prevent mold from invading your washing machine, run a cycle once a week with 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide and no clothes, and keep the room warm and dry.

Considered semivolatile organic compounds by the EPA, these can cause respiratory and skin irritation, coughing, and dizziness. Over the long term, they've been linked to central nervous system damage.

Where They Lurk
Floors, plants, pets, bottoms of shoes

How to Avoid Them
Take another look at what you spray on pets and plants to ward off pests. Be sure to apply flea powder and liquid pesticides (for plants or pets) outdoors and use more natural choices. Removing shoes indoors can help cut down on the amount of lawn fertilizer tracked inside.


Pet Dander and Pollen
These allergens can spark symptoms that range from morning congestion to sneezing and wheezing. Recent research suggests that pollen may also affect children's ability to concentrate.

Where They Lurk
Carpets, cushions, bedding, windowsills

How to Avoid Them
Consider banning Fido from the bedroom. Most of our time at home is spent in that room, so we're especially susceptible to allergens there. Clean carpets, floors, and furniture using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. You might also want to replace air filters in heating and air-conditioning systems with tighter-weave ones that trap even the smallest particles. Look for one with a Minimum Effectiveness Rating Value of at least 8.

Used to make plastics more flexible and durable, they release gases associated with reproductive and developmental problems.

Where They Lurk
Plastic toys, shower curtains, shampoos, lotions, nail polish

How to Avoid Them
Pinpointing which toys or shampoos contain phthalates can be tricky; labels don't always list them. You can try to avoid them in beauty products by buying USDA-certified organic products. Vow to limit the plastic that makes its way into your home.

Text by Autumn Spanne

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