THE HAZARDS & WHAT YOU CAN DO
Indoor air can be up to 10 times more polluted than that outdoors, even when taking into account pollutants in towns and cities. At least 9,000 deaths in the UK every year are attributed to indoor air pollution. Sources of polluted air include smoking, faulty boilers, gas cookers and heaters, as well as chemicals from new furniture, air fresheners and cleaning products. Whatever the weather, open windows regularly and, if you are prone to allergies, invest in an air purifier. Try Homedics Totalclean Air Purifier AP25, £149.99.
Who can resist a candle? But choose beeswax or soy versions, which are non-toxic when burned. To keep things even more natural in the home, try reed diffusers instead of air fresheners, as some contain harmful phthalates. One study linked these chemicals to diseases such as breast cancer, as well as male infertility. Alternatively, air the room often. Soft furnishings such as cushions and carpets harbour dust mites, which can cause skin irritation, wheezing and a runny nose. Swap carpets for wooden floors if you can and dust with a damp rag to avoid stirring up mites.
Wood smoke from wood-burning stoves produces gases and microscopic particles that can reach deep into the lungs and possibly other organs. Open fires are worse, but both cause more air pollution than gas, electricity or oil.
Dust mites love a nice, warm, human bed, and since we spend a third of our time slumbering, we’re likely to be inhaling plenty of dust mite allergens. It’s impossible to rid your home of all mites, but you can reduce them by avoiding wool blankets and using cotton sheets and duvet covers that can be washed at 60°C. Dust mites hate dry and cold air, so try to air the house whenever possible.
Humble house plants can absorb toxins and cleanse the air, according to a study by NASA. Try aloe vera, spider plants and peace lilies, which increase oxygen by absorbing harmful toxins, including carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Peace lilies can improve indoor air quality by 60%.
‘Indoor air can be up to 10 times more polluted than that outdoors’
Mould spores from damp areas – such as bathrooms and kitchens – and even left-over food can inflame the airways, causing nasal congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and throat irritation. Levels rise in the autumn, especially during wet, mild weather. Ventilate the house frequently and clean mould from surfaces. Don’t dry washing on or above radiators, as this can increase moisture levels by 30%, creating the perfect breeding ground.
Wet towels raise humidity levels, which causes mould.
(See Household Mould, below.)
To prevent mould, open the window and dry shower curtains after showering or bathing, and wash shower curtains every month. To remove mould stains, soak curtains in a weak bleach solution, then rinse thoroughly.
Be wary of using bleach without ventilation. A study linked its use to a 32% higher risk of getting lung disease.
House dust mites are found in all UK homes and live mostly where they find moisture from our breath and bodies (see Bedroom, left). We become allergic to them when we suffer a hypersensitive reaction to proteins in their excrement. Symptoms include respiratory passage problems similar to hay fever and asthma. An allergy can also aggravate eczema, causing facial eczema that can be difficult to treat.
Many everyday cleaning products, such as oven cleaners, polish and air fresheners, contain VOCS (volatile organic compounds), which can cause asthma and other breathing problems. Switch to products containing natural ingredients, such as Tincture All Purpose Cleaner, £7.50, John Lewis & Partners.
Mould accumulates on fridges. Clean them well, especially around the seals, and allow to dry. Food that goes mouldy isn’t only bad to eat, but releases mould spores into the air. Check foods that go mouldy quickly, such as bread and fruit, and dispose of them if necessary.
Frying foods with gas produces higher levels of fumes than cooking with an electric hob, according to research. Cooking fumes have been linked to lung cancer, as well as cancers of the bladder and cervix. Always use an extractor fan and open windows where possible.
For pet lovers, there’s nothing nicer than cuddling up with a beloved cat or dog, but dander (dead skin cells) from your pet can cause nasal congestion, sneezing, asthma and itchy eyes. Research also suggests that you could catch a nasty dose of norovirus (winter vomiting bug) from your dog. Bathe dogs frequently, wash pet bedding
often and vacuum carpets daily.