How To Detox Your Home & Improve Indoor Air Quality?

Have you noticed that you or your kids get frequent cold in UAE? Even doctors mention that many patients suffer respiratory problems in UAE because of air quality. Though we see lush green landscapes around UAE, let’s not forget this is a vast empty desert so fine sand particles & dust is present in the air almost all the time during the year. Now add air pollution from transport, a few industries, and emissions from landfills to it and the air gets contaminated very quickly. Plus the air-conditioned environment everywhere in UAE, where the same air is recirculated with little fresh air added to it makes it even more vulnerable to indoor air quality. So when the cold and flu viruses enter the air, within no time it’s spread in residents of UAE.

In most places on the earth, it’s easy to control air quality with the help of forests. But unfortunately, with lack of freshwater resources and natural soil, it’s unsustainable in UAE to plant random trees and create the forests to improve air quality. Whereas planting saline tolerant mangroves or local species or using gray water for landscaping can be still great options. We all can contribute to improving quality of air around us and try to reduce the air pollution of the city we are living in by opting for public transport, reducing waste going to landfill as landfill creates many harmful gas emissions like methane.

Why worry about Indoor Air Quality?

We spend almost 1/3rd of life sleeping, add the other times you spend at home cooking & eating meals, spending time with family, entertaining guests etc. To have a healthy life it’s critical to maintain clean air at home. Especially in UAE, where we spend many months in a concealed air-conditioned environment so indoor air quality of our home (and also offices) is one of the prime factors for healthy living. The poor indoor air quality affects adversely on human health more than poor outdoor air quality. The poor indoor air quality can cause coughing, eye-throat-nose irritation, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, respiratory problems. Sometimes buildings develope ‘sick building syndrome’ because of improper ventilation, chemical or biological contamination where the occupants face even measure health issues. Here are some signs to know if you are living in a ‘sick building’, you suffer frequently from a cough, fever, muscle aches or even pneumonia or recovery from common cold and cough is prolonged.

What can you do to improve the indoor air quality of your home?

Ways Of Detoxing Your Home & Improving Indoor Air Quality

1. House Plants and Indoor Air Quality

The indoor plants can help to improve indoor air quality by absorbing a few toxins including VOCs and even particulate pollutants. Some of the most effective houseplants in terms of purifying air are aloe vera, Boston fern, English ivy, snake plant, bamboo etc. Aloe vera is very good at absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen or English Ivy is good at removing formaldehyde, benzene from the air.

But don’t be under impression that you can depend only on these houseplants as a solution to the problem of indoor air quality. Because a few or smaller plants can not really efficiently clean your indoor air, you need larger size and quantity of these plants to effectively remove impurities from the indoor air.  But if you increase the number of plants to get an adequate purifying effect, it will increase humidity significantly inside your home. What does that mean for a UAE household? Your home will consume even more electricity to air- condition during summer months and this added humidity can even cause mold, which is not good for indoor air quality.

I would still recommend keeping a few houseplants as they will definitely be helpful to improve air quality and also to add positive psychological effects to your home with some greenery indoors but read further to know some important tips if you want to solve the problem of Indoor Air Quality.

2. Toxins from Air fresheners, Fragrances & Candles

How many of you use air fresheners and scented candles to improve the air quality of your home? But do you know that air fresheners and candles actually affect adversely on indoor air quality? The artificial air refreshers contained dangerous phthalates and release toxic gases into the air. When you burn candles, it creates soot which adds to particulate pollutants. Allergens, formaldehyde, VOCs are some more hazardous toxins present in artificial air fresheners or fragrances which you should worry about. These can affect if used regularly to develop allergies, asthma or on lungs. These toxins can also affect adversely on fertility, hormones or on the fetus during pregnancy, or in the worst case can be a cause of cancer.

 

How to avoid toxin air fresheners?

If you want your home to smell good why not to make your own natural air fresheners. Read our tried & tested DIY recipe by clicking here. You can safely use natural bamboo activated charcoal air freshener to remove odor in any corner of your bedroom or wardrobe. Using coffee beans, spices is another great options, you can just keep the bowl filled with coffee beans or spices in toilets etc.

3. VOCs in Paints

If you are painting your walls or even doing a small painting or correction job for your furniture opt for a ‘low VOC’ paint. The VOCs are emitted over a long time. For example, after painting, you can recognize VOCs as some kind of the chemical smell for a certain period of time.

What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds are gases emitted (that is called off-gassing) over a time and affect adversely on human health. VOCs are found in paints, varnishes, wax, solutions, glues, adhesives, printing etc. Some of the commonly known VOCs are formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, polyurethane etc. Long-term exposure to VOCs can lead to damage to the liver, kidneys, central nervous system, and cancer. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, loss of coordination, headache, fatigue etc.

How to avoid VOCs?

Go for low VOC options in paints, solvents, glues etc. Make sure to off-gas newly painted walls, furniture etc by opening windows and exposing to fresh air. If possible avoid using VOC containing products altogether.

4. Toxic Furniture & Furnishings

Most of the furniture which is mainly made of cardboard, MDF, pressboard, particleboard, plywood are high in formaldehyde and it’s off-gassed indoors over a period of time. Plastic furniture made out of PVC is high in VOCs. The glues, paints, fillers, varnishes, stains, lacquers applied on furniture are high in VOCs. So your couch, chairs, dining table, desk, bedroom set, book rack or any furniture piece at your home can emit toxins and reduce indoor air quality in your home.

How to avoid toxic furniture?

Go for solid wood furniture which has lower formaldehyde and VOCs. Or go for any other furniture which is second hand and the toxins are already off-gassed plus buying second hand is more sustainable and money saving. Always read the material page on furniture specifications to avoid above-listed material. If the furniture is made using low VOC paint, furnishings then it’s better. If you don’t have any other option then at least try to off-gas your new furniture piece in outdoors for a while and then bring them indoors.

5. Toxic Linen, Rugs, Bedding & Upholstery

Not just furniture but the curtains, rugs, bedding, linen, upholstery and even your shower curtain can be the cause of air pollution in your home. All of them can either emit harmful gases, VOCs or particulates like fibers and pollutes the air. The curtains, quilts, linen made out of synthetic micro-fibers will have VOCs in them and the loose tiny fibers of synthetic material will suspend in the air and can be inhaled which can cause respiratory disease if inhaled over a long time. The backing of carpet generally contains polyvinyl chloride or polyurethane which emits formaldehyde, vinyl acetate, butylated hydroxytoluene. The filling of mattress, cushions, and upholstery is generally flame-retardant foam, now these flame retardant chemicals off-gas and affects human health including developmental delays in children, reproductive difficulty, cancer etc.

So basically we end up buying all these products to make our home comfortable, cozy and beautiful without thinking how will they decrease air quality and potentially harm us.

How to avoid toxic Linen/ Rugs & Textile furnishings?

Firstly avoid using too many textiles at home, even if they look great they need to be kept clean to reduce particulate suspension in air occurring because of fibers and dust in them. So less is more for rugs & fabric furnishings. Choose only natural fibers for your upholstery, linen, rugs & all sorts of fabrics at home. Go for cotton, wool rather than any synthetic material. Clean all the fabrics on regular basis with nontoxic cleaners. Avoid dry cleaning of the fabrics as the dry cleaning solvent will off-gas at least 2 weeks or more after you remove the plastic cover from the dry-cleaned clothes. Lastly always wash any new fabrics before start using them at home as the fabrics are often finished with chemicals like formaldehyde, bromines which will keep on off-gassing.

Another great natural way of removing harmful toxins from carpet or mattress is using baking soda. Sprinkle the baking soda liberally on mattress or rug, dry brush it into the fibers, let it sit for a while and vacuum the carpet or mattress. Repeat the procedure if the chemical smell ( VOCs) are not removed at first go.

6. Dust, Dirt & Suspended Particulates In Air

It’s almost impossible to avoid dust penetration in any UAE household because of the fine dust and sand always present in this desert country. So naturally, the presence of dust mites at our home is very much possible if we don’t take actions. Here are some things can be done to keep dust, dirt, dust mites and even some bacteria from entering our homes.

Door Mat

Keep doormat at the entrance of your home. These doormats help to reduce dust, dirt and other particles traveling to your home via shoes, so it’s essential for every household. Even the green buildings need to have mats or grids at the building entrance to reduce particulate pollution & improve indoor air quality according to different sustainable development standards like LEED. Just remember to clean up this mat once in a while and you will see how much dust and dirt it accumulates.

No Shoe Policy

This one is my favorite not because culturally we don’t wear shoes at home but I have experienced how clean the home can remain if you don’t wear shoes at home. The shoes do not just bring dust, dirt and other particulate pollutants but also bring home bacterias, so the no shoe policy at home can significantly improve the indoor air quality of your home plus babies and toddlers at home can crawl anywhere safely.

Regular Cleaning

Regular cleaning & dusting is another very essential part of not just keep your home clean but also improving air quality. Instead of brushing the floor better to use vacuum cleaning for thorough cleaning. Regularly changing linen, bedding, and other textile and cleaning them is also very important. Once in a while, you need to do deep cleaning of house which should also include mattress cleaning

7. Toxic Cleaning products

Unfortunately many cleaning products we use at home are toxic and they expose us to harmful chemicals and VOCs. So after cleaning when you smell lots of chemicals and think that home is clean but the fact is that smell represent emitted VOCs.

So opt for soft, natural cleaners with less or no chemicals. Baking soda, vinegar are some of the best and most effective cleaners you can use anywhere at home, which won’t harm your health. Another option is using lemon peels, read here some ideas.

I would also like to include the pest control products in this list as the spray types are one of the very harmful chemicals for air quality. Recently I did preventive pest control at my home with The healthy Home who use organic natural pest control products like citronella essential oils. You can read more about them and their other services like Eco-friendly mattress cleaning in this post.

 

8. Smoking & Fossil Fuel Burning

Now it’s common sense that you shouldn’t smoke indoors but in UAE you will find people who dare to cover smoke detectors and smoke cigarettes or Shisha indoors. Basically, smoking produces particulate matter, carbon monoxide, tar, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde etc and that’s why you can smell a particular smell on curtains or clothes where indoor smoking is done. Once these pollutants enter air conditioning, it can pollute entire airway system so people around you and in next apartment suffer passive smoking. Direct smoking can cause lung cancer, heart problems, adverse effects on the fetus in pregnant woman and many other irritant effects. But even the regular exposure to secondhand passive smoke can cause similar health risks. According to New South Wales Cancer Institute non-smoker who lives with a smoker have 20-30% higher chances of developing lung cancer, 40% more chances of developing heart diseases, second-hand smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals, with 69 cancer-causing chemicals.

Fossil fuel burning like a charcoal grill, wood & coal burning produces carbon monoxide which can be poisonous and soot which can penetrate deep into lungs.

So the best solution is to avoid smoking or fossil fuel burning in places where the ventilation is not designed for smoking. That is the reason there are dedicated smoking rooms or the best way to go outdoors. Remember smoking in staircases which are again ventilated with same ventilation system of the building is not a solution.

9. Other Particulate Pollutants From Hobby

Many people like to opt for do it yourself project to refurbish or up cycle some old items at home, which is a really sustainable way of reusing things. But remember when you are applying paints, cutting wood, drilling or any such activities which are creating any sort of air pollution, you have to do it outdoors or open windows to off-gas things like new paint or joined things with glue etc and clean up immediately after you finish. Also possibly switch off air conditioning while doing these activities to stop pollutants entering from ventilation system and get recirculated in the air again. Read here a post about natural paints and colors for your kids.

10. Mold & Fungus

Mold and fungus are another culprits which can spoil indoor air and can cause sickness and disease. Mold and fungus are caused because of high humidity in the indoor air. So plumbing leakage, drying clothes indoors, water stained false ceiling, humidity loving houseplants are some of the main causes of developing mold and fungi.

So the solution is to remove the sources of humidity and treat the mold or fungus. Better to use professionals to remove mold otherwise it can re-occur. Painting on mold and fungus on a wall or false ceiling will not solve the problem, you need to remove it completely. Also, remember to switch off air conditioning when you are keeping open the doors and windows to outdoors during high humidity. Otherwise, it causes condensation whether you can see it or not and that leads to mold formation.

Mold on false ceiling

11. Ventilation Know How

  • Clean & replace A/C filters regularly. Do not hesitate to spend money on A/C filter maintenance, it’s for your family’s health!
  • You can invest in a good air purifier but effectively removing air pollution source is equally important.
  • To remove pollution from indoor air, High-Frequency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters are efficient.

Hope this really long article gave you helpful tips on how to improve the indoor air quality of your home and make your home healthy!

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4 Comments on "How To Detox Your Home & Improve Indoor Air Quality?"

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While Indoor Bamboo Plants are also known as fortune plants, we are keeping them at home too as it provides natural fresh air. Thank you for sharing some more practical and helpful tips 🙂

Such an informative post Amruta full of such useful and practical advice. I particularly learnt something from the natural room freshener, great tips!

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Meet Amruta

Hi, I am Amruta, Thank you for visiting my blog!

I am a Sustainability Professional. I have worked on many green building projects in the

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