GH Report Consumer news and product reviews
Get this: indoor air can have levels of some pollutants up to five times higher than outdoor air, according to scientific reports. So what are the culprits, and what can you do? Our experts have the lowdown….
1 OPEN A WINDOW
Sure, you don’t want your heating or cooling bill to go through the roof, but keeping your home airtight can lock in irritants, says consumer-science specialist Carolyn Forte. To help, open windows on nice days. Crack one as you make dinner to dilute cooking pollutants, and create a stronger cross draft by opening windows on opposite sides of the room.
2 LOSE THE LAMINATE
Installing new floors? Opt for prefinished solid wood or tile. Laminate is a potential source of formaldehyde (which may increase cancer risk if a person is exposed to very high levels) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), all of which give off harmful gases and can irritate airways and increase allergy symptoms.
3 SWAP THE DUSTER FOR A MICROFIBre CLOTH
Instead of sending particles into the air with a feather duster, use a microfibre cloth. The ultrafine fibres trap and hold dirt.
4 MONITOR HUMIDITY
Mould thrives in damp basements and bathrooms and can trigger breathing issues. Avoid problems by running the fan or opening a window when showering – and watching your home’s humidity (30% to 40% is ideal). If it’s over 40%, consider a dehumidifier, says energy research analyst Jen King.
5 TRY A SCENTFREE DETERGENT
Your clean laundry may have a dirty little secret. A study at The University of Melbourne in Australia on chemicals coming out of a tumble-dryer vent after clothes were cleaned with fragranced detergent and dryer sheets found dozens of VOCs, and hazardous pollutants. If a family member is sensitive to scent, try a fragrance-free product.
6 CHOOSE SPRAY BOTTLES
Some aerosol cleaners, personalcare products and deodorisers use VOCs (like butane, propane, isobutane) as propellants to release what’s inside. If you’re concerned, skip aerosols in favour of pump and trigger sprays, or opt for an alternate form, like a solid or a roll-on. For more info on ingredients, check company websites or resources like the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep ( www.ewg. org/skindeep) and global safety-science company UL’s healthy-product scoring tool, www.goodguide.com, which rates ingredients by their health hazards.
7 rethink your vacuum
Buy one that’s sealed and has a bag. They’re best at trapping dust instead of sending it back into the air. Look for one with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove at least 99,97% of ultrasmall particles that can cause health problems. Our experts recommend Miele. In tests, the vacuums clean like a dream and capture dust and dirt particles.
8 CLEAR THE AIR – LITERALLY
Nab dust, pollen and smoke from cooking or candles with an air purifier. Make sure it has the right clean-air delivery rate (CADR) for your room size (most list square footage on packaging or the website). Preferably look for one that draws in air from all sides and is easy to set up.
9 WASH BEFORE YOU WEAR
If your new shirt is made from wrinkle-free fabric, it may contain a low level of formaldehyde. Most people are not bothered at this level, but if you have sensitive skin, give it a spin in the machine before you wear it.
10 ADOPT HARD-WORKING HOUSE PLANTS
Certain plants are champs at filtering formaldehyde and VOCs from the air, says Dr Bill Wolverton, who has studied plant filtration for NASA. The mother of all fresh-air plants? The golden pothos, which thrives indoors in a hanging basket, in a pot or on a trellis. Go even greener by growing plants in pebbles or using a hydroculture method, which ‘increases airflow to roots and results in up to 50% more formaldehyde reduction than from potted plants,’ says Wolverton. Super-air-filtering plants that are hydro-friendly include palms, rubber plants, peace lilies and Alii ficuses. (They all grow well in soil too.)
11 to 16 COOK CLEANER!
RUN YOUR OWN HOOD… ‘Every time you cook, ultrafine particles, among other pollutants, are created,’ says Brett Singer, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US who has studied pollutants from cooking and how to reduce the hazard. Help get rid of them by turning on a vent hood fan that exhausts to the outside. …AND KEEP IT RUNNING Switch it on before preheating the oven or firing up the burners, and leave it running for a few minutes after you’re done.
CONSIDER AN ELECTRIC STOVE Gas burners emit nitrogen dioxide that can exceed acceptable clean-air standards when you cook a lot and don’t ventilate.
PUT IT ON THE BACK BURNER Tests done by the Berkeley Laboratory found that pollutants were extracted from the air at a higher rate by exhaust fans when food was cooked on back burners.
HEAT ON MEDIUM Cooking at high temperatures creates more air pollutants, so opt for medium- or low-heat techniques such as slow-cooking, baking, simmering and steaming on low.
AVOID FRYING FOODS Steaming, boiling, microwaving and sautéing at low heat instead of frying are not only beneficial for your heart health but also produce fewer particles that can get into the air than frying at high heat does.
17 SLAP ON A COAT OF LOW- OR NON-VOC PAINT
Expert testing shows that the results you get with these newer formulas are as high quality as with traditional options. When choosing your paint, seek one of these options. They have a lower environmental impact – without sacrificing performance or colour selection.
19 GET YOUR HOME TESTED FOR RADON
In Europe, the US and Canada, radon levels in homes are regularly tested, but this is less common in SA, despite studies showing high radon levels in some areas. Radon, a naturally occurring invisible and odourless radioactive gas – the leading cause of cancer in nonsmokers – travels through ground soil into your home’s air. It’s not always limited to a particular geographic area, so even if your neighbour’s radon level is low, that doesn’t mean your home is clear. All homes should be tested for radon at least once. Buy a testing kit online or at a home-improvement store (three- to seven-day tests are about R600) or hire a certified radon professional to administer tests.
20 COOK UP A HOME FRAGRANCE
‘Some scented products contain chemicals that can cause or aggravate asthma and allergies,’ says Dr Bill Pease, chief scientist at UL. For a natural alternative, turn to your spice rack or herb garden. Simmer citrus peels and cinnamon on the stove or arrange fresh herbs (mint, rosemary, lavender) in vases.
18 GAUGE THE GLUE
Some cabinetry and pressed-wood furniture may have been made with glue that has formaldehyde, though it’s used less now. Renovating? Ensure your new cabinets are clean-air friendly.
21 use vacuum attachments
Any soft surface will collect dust and pollen. Time to whip out your dusting and upholstery brushes and crevice tools to suck up dust from couch cushions, curtains and other items you can’t pop into the washing machine.
22 SEAL OFF ALLERGENS
The right mattress and pillow covers, like those available from Protect-A-Bed, not only prevent dust, pollen, pet dander and mites from settling into bedding, but also keep anything already trapped there from escaping into the air.