6 Shocking Pollutants In Your Home

Shockingly, the air inside your home may be five times more polluted than what you breathe outdoors. It’s time to clear things up.

By Katherine Bowers, Women’s Health

All the major air pollutants (car exhaust, factory fumes, sidewalk smokers) are outside, right? Not so much. Indoor air may be the grimiest stuff our lungs filter each day. Studies show that things like candles, printers, and even shoes can fill your rooms with harmful contaminants, says Ted Myatt, Sc.D., an environmental scientist in Boston. But there’s no need to live in a tent in your backyard–just follow these easy steps to lighten the load on your respiratory system.

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The pollutant: Candles

Sure, they make for a cozy ambiance, but when you light one made from paraffin–as most candles are–you’re potentially harming your health. Researchers at South Carolina State University found that paraffin candles emit chemicals that are linked to liver damage, neurological problems, and leukemia. They can also release a black soot that, over time, may damage your lung and heart tissue, says Jeffrey May, an expert on indoor air quality and author of My House Is Killing Me: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma.

The solution: Choose cleaner mood lighting in the form of electric votives, or buy 100 percent soy candles, which can burn at a slower rate and emit less soot. If you can’t avoid burning paraffin, do so only occasionally and in a draft-free area. And cut out the heavily fragranced jar-style versions, says May; they produce more soot.

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The pollutant: Printers

Printers spit out more than just expense reports and flight confirmations–they also spray around lots of microparticles of ink, toner, and ozone, a lung irritant. A recent Australian study found that about one-third of printers are “high emitters,” which means they churn out as many harmful airborne particles as you’d find on a traffic-clogged street.

The solution: Set up your printer in a well-ventilated area and try to stand at least 10 feet away from it during a lengthy job (good advice for when you’re at the office too). And remember to print in black-and-white whenever you can, because color ink produces more noxious debris. To see if your printer is on the high-emitter list, visit the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health online at www.ilaqh.qut.edu.au.

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The pollutant: Dust

Those gray tumbleweeds rolling around along your baseboards and under your bed are packed with pollen and zillions of your dead skin cells. They’re also the first step in the food chain for dust mites and other insects (gross!) and a breeding ground for mold (grosser!). All that can spell a big headache, quite literally, for women prone to allergies, says May.

The solution: Sweep a vacuum with a high-energy particulate airborne (HEPA) filter over your floors once a week, and wipe all other surfaces with a clean, damp cloth (make sure you dampen it with water–many spray cleaners, especially those with added fragrance, contain lung-irritating chemicals). And once a month, run your bedding–pillows, comforters, quilts–through a hot dryer cycle; the high temperature will kill any dust mites.

The pollutant: Shoe Debris

When you stroll through your front door in your sneaks or stilettos, you’re likely dragging in some gnarly muck. Sidewalks and lawns can be littered with lead dust, paint flecks, fertilizers, and animal waste–all of which sticks to your shoes. In fact, 80 percent of our exposure to pesticides happens indoors, thanks to tracked-in contaminants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The solution: Dislodge clods of dirt or grass by rubbing your shoes over a durable outdoor mat (bristly coconut-husk types work best). Once inside, leave your kicks on a cloth mat by the front door.

The pollutant: Furniture

Pressed wood–also called particleboard or fiberboard–is actually little bits of wood held together by glues and resins. It’s cheap (think: affordable bookcases and tables), but it may also emit formaldehyde, a preservative and suspected carcinogen that can trigger rashes, nausea, or asthma attacks, according to the EPA.

The solution: Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate. “A cheap window-facing fan can clear a room’s air in minutes,” says May. Or consider opting for solid wood, especially for kitchen and bathroom items, since humidity amps up emissions. If you must go the pressed route, stick with plywood, which releases the fewest fumes.

The pollutant: Mold

Believe it or not, a little bit of mold can be beneficial: Outdoors, it helps organic stuff decompose, says indoor-air scientist Connie Morbach. “But when those mold spores are activated by indoor moisture, they can grow out of control,” she explains. Excess fungus can induce unpleasant symptoms like itchy eyes and breathing problems. And a few harmful strains can attack your immune system.

The solution: Indoor air that’s 30 to 50 percent humidity is comfortable for you but discouraging to mold (buy a $30 digital hygrometer at a hardware store to check your room levels). Spores love dark, damp corners, so once a week mop around your fridge, sinks, and toilets with a mild dish detergent or diluted hydrogen peroxide. Just be sure to dry everything thoroughly; mold can sprout in just 48 hours.

Related Links:
3 Ways to Kill Mold Naturally
The 7 Most Toxic Places to Live
5 Basics for Non-Toxic Cleaning


Sonia M

Good to know thanks for sharing

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn1 years ago

Many thanks to you !

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago


Raymond  Cornes
Ray C6 years ago

Very good report, and a true report, the times I use my Ventolin inside my property it was unbelieveable,
When going outside in the town very rear I have to use my Ventolin,
on Sundays, afternoon I always go into the Countryside of Barlaston in Stoke-on-Trent, feels if I could rule the world, never have use the said Ventolin, however, when returning home, I am Dead to the world, that much Fresh Air in one go, does indeed knock me out at Night.
I am a sever Asthmatic.

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

Shoes come off at the door. I only use candles in emergency cases, such as power outages, because they're less expensive than using up batteries on flashlights. The only other times I use candles are for birthdays and jack-o-lanterns.

heather g.
heather g6 years ago

That's excellent info - very informative. I need to move away from living alongside a road that has far too much air and noise pollution - my lungs tell me this... my whole body reacts against the noise pollution. So enough is enough !

Christa Deanne
Oceana Ellingson6 years ago

I didn't know many of those, thank you!

Jo Asprec
Jo Asprec6 years ago

Thanks, that was a revelation! now I will be more careful about candles, wood furniture, dust, mold. I don't use printers ... another reason not to use it.

Fran Baca
Fran B6 years ago

Woah, never knew that about printers. I will be relocating mine. Thank you so much for this article.

Maria S.
Maria S6 years ago

Thank you for the useful information. I didn't know about the furniture and printers.