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7 Common Indoor Air Pollutants and How To Remove Them

The best air cleaning strategy is to prevent toxins ever entering the house, but if that's not an option, here's plan B.

ACCORDING TO THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, the average American spends 90% of her time inside. Studies have also shown that indoor air pollution is generally 2 to 5 times worse than pollution outdoors, and can even be 100 times worse. In fact, indoor air quality is considered one of the top five environmental risks to health.

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Removing Pollutants From Your Home

Asbestos

Typically, asbestos is not hazardous to human health unless it is disturbed or damaged. Vinyl floor tiles, adhesives, exterior roofing and siding, heat-resistant fabrics, certain types of insulation and oil/coal furnace gaskets are typical sources of asbestos within the home.

The EPA recommends leaving suspected asbestos-containing materials alone. In no way should you damage, repair, destroy or touch asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos professionals are trained and accredited to deal with the repair and removal of asbestos-containing materials and should be contacted if such materials need to be disturbed.

Biological Pollutants

Of the six, removing biological pollutants from your home air is perhaps the easiest. First, make it a point to control the moisture level in your home. Keeping your home clean will do a great deal to reduce and remove indoor biological pollutants including animal dander, dust mites, mold and dust.

Another option is to purchase an indoor air cleaning device. Many air purifiers will remove most biological pollutants from the air. If you have an existing central heating and air system, simply upgrading your filter to a filter rated at MERV 13 or better will remove 90% of most biological pollutants. Another option is to use a HEPA air filter, which will remove 99% of biological pollutants from the air.

Formaldehyde

Generally, formaldehyde exposure occurs through breathing in the gas. Formaldehyde release rates depend on heat and humidity within the home. It can be found in many particle or press-board type composite wood products, building materials, insulation, household products, fertilizers and cigarette smoke. Products made with formaldehyde can take years to completely off-gas.

The best way to reduce exposure to formaldehyde is to purchase products that do not contain formaldehyde. If it's too late for that, using an air conditioner or humidifier can help maintain a moderate temperature and humidity in the home, which can slow the release of formaldehyde.

It's important to Increase ventilation in the home—particularly after purchasing a product that contains formaldehyde. Most existing air purifiers will not remove formaldehyde from the home. Some building products, such as kitchen cabinets, can offgass formaldehyde for months or even years. If this is your problem, your may need to  "encapsulate" the formaldehyde. Choose a vapor barrier paint and coat the entire exposed surface.inside the cabinets.

Pesticides

75-80% of Americans use at least one pesticide in their home a year. In many homes, up to a dozen types of pesticides have been found. Pesticides include products that control insects, rodents, termites or microbes. As with most pollutants, the best way to prevent exposure is to reduce or eliminate the use of them. Try using non-chemical pest control methods. Try to ventilate when using a pesticide, and prevent children from touching, playing or eating pesticides or pesticide-exposed surfaces.

If you have an existing central heating and air system, upgrading your filter to a filter rated at MERV 16 or better will remove 95% of dust from insecticides. Another option is an activated carbon air purifier, which will remove gasses from pesticides from the air.

Radon

The EPA suggests you should always test your home for radon and address radon problems if your radon level is 4 pCi/L or higher. You cannot see radon, thus it's presence can only be determined through testing. Radon levels in the home are especially of concern if someone in the home is a smoker.

According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, most common air cleaning devices do not effectively remove radon from your home. However, radon reduction systems can reduce levels of radon in the home by 99%. The primary way to reduce radon is with a vent pipe and fan system that extends into the basement, typically below the slab. It  should be installed by a qualified contractor to ensure the problem is appropriately addressed.Test after installation.

Tobacco Smoke

Tobacco smoke is dangerous for everyone's health—but especially for children. Tobacco smoke, even second hand, contains more than 250 dangerous chemicals and 70 carcinogens. The negative effects of tobacco smoke can linger in a building long after smokers have left it. A study in 2010 found that 2 months after smokers had left their home, repainted it and installed new carpet, toxins found in tobacco smoke were found within the home.

The best way to eliminate the risk of tobacco smoke from your home is to not smoke in or around your home or car. Cleaning the air or airing out the building does not completely remove smoke from your home. If you smoke or have a home where smoking was a concern, thoroughly wash all walls and ceilings, and washable fabrics with detergent and hot water, remove all non-washable fabric surfaces or carpeting from the home and replace all venting filters within the home.

VOCs

Like many indoor air pollutants, the best way to reduce exposure is to remove or not use products that emit VOCs. Reduce exposure by increasing ventilation when working with VOC emitting products. If you wear dry-cleaned clothing, ensure the clothing does not have a chemical smell—consider switching to an environmentally friendly dry cleaner.

If you rent a home that may have a significant number of VOC emitting products with it, or was recently repainted, consider purchasing an activated carbon air purifier for your home. These filters are the only type of commercial filter that can remove VOCs from the air in a closed room.