7 Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

According to the EPA, scientific evidence indicates that indoor air can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other studies indicate that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. The math isn’t so great–for many people health risks may be greater due to indoor air pollution rather than outdoor pollution.

Ill effects may arise after just a single exposure as well as repeated exposure, and can run the range from irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. These effects are usually short-term and treatable–sometimes simply eliminating the exposure to the source of the pollution is treatment enough.

Other health effects can show up years after a single exposure as well as long or repeated periods of exposure. These effects, which include some respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer, can be severely debilitating or fatal. It is important to try to improve the indoor air quality in your home even if symptoms are not noticeable.

There are a number sources of air pollution that are more commonly known as others–many already know about the dangers of cleaning products and air fresheners. Here are seven sources of indoor air pollutions that may be less commonly known–adapted from Greenerchoices.org.

1.New carpet. Carpet materials can emit a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Tip: If you have carpet installed, ask for low-VOC, formaldehyde-free adhesives. Air out new carpeting for a few days before installing it. After it’s laid, keep windows open in the room and run a fan for two or three days.

2. Broken compact fluorescent lights. If they break, CFLs can emit mercury, a neurotoxin, in small amounts into the air. Carpets cannot be fully cleaned of mercury and vacuums should not be used to pick it up.

Tip: Don’t use CFLs in lamps that could easily tip, especially in homes with children or pregnant women. If a CFL breaks, open a window, shut off central air, clear the room for 15 minutes, and follow the EPA cleanup guide.

3. New electronics and other plastic products. Products made with polyvinyl chloride can emit phthalates, which have been linked to hormonal abnormalities and reproductive problems. Plastics can also release flame-retardant chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which have been linked to neurobehavioral changes in animal studies.

Tip: Ventilate space until the chemical odor dissipates. Vacuum around computers, printers, and televisions regularly.

4. Glues and adhesives. They can emit VOCs, such as acetone or methyl ethyl ketone, that can irritate the eyes and affect the nervous system. Rubber cement can contain n-hexane, a neurotoxin. Adhesives can emit toxic formaldehyde.

Tip: Look for water-based, formaldehyde-free glue. Work in a well-ventilated space and don’t get too close to your work.

5. Heating equipment (stoves, heaters, fireplaces, chimneys). Heating equipment, especially gas stoves, can produce carbon monoxide, which can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and even death if not ventilated properly. It can also emit nitrogen dioxide and particulates, which can cause respiratory problems and eye, nose, and throat inflammation.

Tip: Hire a professional to check that your boiler or furnace is working properly every year and keep chimneys and other heating equipment well-maintained. Install carbon-monoxide alarms and use a hood over kitchen stoves.

6. Paints and strippers. Latex paints are a big improvement over oil-based paints because they emit fewer chemical fumes. But as they dry, all paints can emit VOCs, which can cause headaches, nausea, or dizziness. Paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints can also contain methylene chloride, which is known to cause cancer in animals.

Tip: Use low-VOC paints. When applying paint, open windows or doors, ventilate the space with fans, and wear a respirator or mask. Pregnant women should avoid using paint strippers with methlyene chloride.

7. Upholstered furniture and pressed-wood products (hardwood plywood, wall paneling, particleboard, fiberboard). When new, many furniture and wood products can emit formaldehyde, a probable carcinogen that can also cause eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; and severe allergic reactions.

Tip: Increase ventilation, particularly after bringing new sources of formaldehyde into your home. Use exterior-grade pressed-wood products (they’re lower-emitting because they contain phenol resins, not urea resins). Look for formaldehyde-free furniture and wood products.

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Valentina R.
Valentina R.2 years ago

Thanks for sharing this useful tips.

James M.
James M.3 years ago

Indoor air pollution obviously comes from many sources in the home. Many people do not realize the potential hazards of showering in chlorinated water. Hot water actually increases the concentration of chlorine in water vapor in the shower. In addition, chlorine is absorbed into the human body through the skin. A simple solution to this problem is to install a shower filter. You may also notice the added benefit of having softer skin and hair.

Lynde T.
Lynde T.3 years ago

Moving into this new apartment was awful for me. It had all brand new carpet and a fresh paint job right before we moved in! The smell was nauseating and it was cool enough that we only had a few days where we could open the windows to air the place out.

New G.
New G.3 years ago

Thank you for the information.

Kthiruselvam K.
Thiru K Thiru K4 years ago

INDOOR POLLUTION has absolutely reached its heights. I know for sure, because as a RAINBOW Air Purifier salesperson, I have been going to all kinds of houses and meeting all types and sized families. The shocking truth is their ignorance (some do know but took everything for granted).
Irony is in the bedroom, the most fabric contained area of the house. Mattress cleaning eliminates all the dust, dead skin cells and dust mites.The shocking truth always is the invisible content of pollutes that are air borne within all homes. Primarily, architectural turn has reduced ventilation outlets. More people live within closed enclosures, with false opinion that outside air is dirty. Little do they realise that outdoor air is cleansed daily by mist, dew and rain. Indoor ill air has resulted in sick building syndromes everywhere, sinus and respiratory issues plus increased induced asthmatic complications. I have written an abundance to induce change of indoor living lifestyle at http://bedroomupkeep.blogspot.com.
It is time to check our indoor life pattern, products used indoors, and minimise fumes and sprays. Choice of eco friendly indoor fittings is important. Above all, VENTILATE the home. Use the early mornings and after a heavy down pour to keep all doors and windows open. Let the outside water washed air sweep through the house and flush out used and polluted air.
Change must come for healthier living and breathing.

Mark T.
Mark T.4 years ago

With regard to the stoves, there are around 3 billion people around the world who are being affected by the smoke generated from the stove, majority of these people live in slum/ rural areas, they can't afford or have access to gas or propane. Their everyday food depends on these stoves and women spend hours and have respiratory problems, burning eyes and coughing from this smoke. A new stove has been designed with the objective to generate low smoke and also carry the smoke out of home. Many women in India are already using it. Those who are interested to know more can visit this site http://www.lowsmokechulha.com/index.php?title=Main_Page

Lisa R.
Lisa R.4 years ago

It is scary what chemicals we are breathing in every day in our homes. Many of the chemicals listed here and the remediation steps are some of the more obvious ones, but what about the chemicals that aren't so obvious? Much like having an annual check-up by the doctor, we have found that first testing the air in our house helped us understand exactly what kinds of contamination we were dealing with and what we could do about it. Then we could focus on removing the offending sources. But this is all great information - thanks!

Valerie Kerry
Valerie Kerry4 years ago

Ive always thought that chemicals in cleaning products are really bad ! do not use them there is other ways and other things to use , which are much better

Lynn C.
Lynn C.4 years ago

@ Iona Kentwell, thank you for the Green Star and your own informative post. I'd never used eucalyptus oil for cleaning, so will give it a try. My standbys, like yours, are also vinegar and baking soda.

Iona Kentwell
Iona Kentwell4 years ago

The chemicals in new stuff are disgusting. Buy natural products, buy second hand encouraging reusing items and supporting charities at the same time. And always clean with natural products. Eucalyptus, lemon, orange and lavender oils are great as is bicarb of soda and white vinegar, hot water and sunlight. There is a lot you can do to get poisons out of your house.