If you live in an inner city, it can be hard to believe the phrase “let’s go outside and get some fresh air.” But despite all the car exhaust, industrial fumes, and smog found in the urban outdoors, the air inside the average American home is still two to five times more polluted. This is especially troubling for city dwellers, who spend (on average) 90 percent more time inside than outside.
According to the EPA, “in the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities… In addition, people who may be exposed to indoor air pollutants for the longest periods of time are often those most susceptible to the effects of indoor air pollution. Such groups include the young, the elderly, and the chronically ill, especially those suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular disease.”
From cooking fumes to mold spores and the chemicals used in paints, carpets, and cleaning supplies, indoor air pollutants can have negative health effects on even the healthiest of people. This is especially true in newly constructed or remodeled buildings. In fact, the World Health Organization suggests that in upwards of 30 percent of cases, new structures may be the cause of a plethora of serious issues. Health complications caused by poor indoor air quality include respiratory issues, fatigue, insomnia, auto-immune disorders, and even cancer.
There are many factors that contribute to poor indoor air quality, but the most common ones are poorly designed ventilation systems and the presence of the aforementioned pollutants. This phenomenon, often referred to as “sick building syndrome,” is a common occurrence, and one in which a person can become ill just by spending too much time in a building.
Fear not! There are many ways to significantly improve the air quality inside your home or apartment. As the EPA explains, “All of us face a variety of risks to our health as we go about our day-to-day lives… [but] indoor air quality is one risk that you can do something about.” Here are some easy ways to clean up the air inside your place:
Companies such as Kenmore, Oreck, Honeywell, and Coway offer indoor air purifiers that can significantly improve a room’s air quality. As the Chicago Tribune puts it, “the best air purifiers use true high-efficiency particulate air (true HEPA) filters, which are proven to trap 99.7 percent of particles of 0.3 microns in size… True HEPA filters, as opposed to ‘HEPA-type’ filters, can trap most pollens, dust, and pet dander. Additionally, some air purifiers have carbon filters to remove tobacco and cooking smoke.”
Get a Houseplant (or Ten)
Did you know that a single houseplant can not only increase the oxygen content in a room, but it can also purify the air by filtering out volatile organic compounds (or VOCs)? In fact, the purifying effect that plants have on air is so profound that NASA recommends having as many as 15-18 houseplants in an 1,800 square-foot home. This means that if you live in a 900 square-foot apartment, you should have at least seven houseplants in it. It may seem like a lot, but when you consider the fact that plants are basically the lungs of the world, the idea of turning your apartment into FernGully may not seem like such a crazy idea. Luckily, NASA has provided a list of excellent air-purifying plants, the top ten being aloe vera, peace lilies, spider plants, English ivy, Boston ferns, heart leaf philodendrons, eucalyptus, African violets, Chinese evergreens, and chrysanthemums.
Change Your Air Filters Frequently
Make sure to change your air filters frequently and purchase high-quality ones that remove fungal spores, allergens, dust, and pet dander. It’s also important to inspect the area around your building’s air intake space for dust accumulation and mold. If this area is particularly dirty, it may be a sign that the structure has an old or improperly designed ventilation system. A good rule of thumb is to set an alarm and check your filter every couple of weeks. If your filter looks dirty, change it (even if it’s a three month filter and it’s only been two months). If your air filter is dirty, then so is your air.
Focus on Ventilation
Perhaps the easiest way to improve the air quality in your living space is to make sure that it’s adequately ventilated. This means taking measures to insure enough outdoor air is getting inside. Opening doors, windows, and attic fans is an excellent way to push air through a building.
Essential Oil Vaporizers
According to an article from Up-Nature.com, “[You] can use essential oils to prevent cold and flu viruses from settling in by eliminating the viruses in your home, office, and car and by strengthening your immune system with an all-natural boost.” Viruses are usually spread through the air, so by burning these oils in a vaporizer, you are essentially releasing a team of microscopic germ-fighting soldiers into the air around you. Essential oils like peppermint, lemon, frankincense, oregano, eucalyptus, tea tree, cinnamon, sandalwood, and thyme all have strong antiseptic and bactericidal properties, which make them excellent (and therapeutic) air quality improvers. An added bonus is the aromatic effect of essential oils, which will leave your apartment smelling as fresh as a spring morning.