Our homes offer us a cozy, sacred space to breathe out each day's stresses and breathe in a familiar comfort. When we surrender to those end-of-the-day deep, indoor breaths, however, we may be inhaling more than we'd wish for. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air inside of our homes is often several times more contaminated than the air outside of our homes.
When we begin factoring in all of the components that go into creating our modern homes, this shouldn't be surprising. Furniture, cabinets, carpets, cleaners, smoke, adhesives and mold are just a few things on the list of common household "goods" that contribute to the air we breathe.
It's best and most effective to be mindful of what we build and furnish our living spaces with — opting for low- or no-emission building materials, paints, stains, furniture and flooring products.
For those of us living in a home that we didn't design, however, below are nine natural and low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality.
1. Bring in plants.
Plants are so amazing. Most people are aware that plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen ... but, plants also absorb toxic elements in the air, including formaldehyde and benzene, and transform them into harmless materials.
2. Open the windows.
Getting fresh air into your home, even if it's just a couple of windows on opposite sides of the home for some cross ventilation during the colder months, can dramatically reduce indoor air pollution.
3. Regularly change your furnace and air conditioning filters.
Especially after stretches when your furnace or air conditioner is sitting idle, it's important to change the filter, as it's likely collected all sorts of "goodies" that are best not cycled back into the home space.
4. Avoid toxic cleaning products and air fresheners.
It's never a sound idea to replace dirt on the surfaces in your home with chemically laden cleaning products. Water usually works just as well, and has the added benefits of being both free and safe! If you need a little extra cleaning power, consider steam — there are many handheld steamers on the market these days that are very effective at melting away even the most devoted of messes.
Similarly, most air fresheners lining the shelves of our local markets are impressively packed with chemicals. If you want to change the smell of your home, essential oils are a great, versatile option.
5. Be mindful about the use of candles.
Paraffin wax candles are petroleum based; aside from their toxic fumes, most commercially sold candles are artificially scented, containing many different chemicals. Instead, look for cleaner-burning soy-based or beeswax-based candles with a cotton wick scented with essential oils.
6. Don't smoke indoors.
A no-brainer. Enough written.
7. Vacuum regularly.
On hard floor surfaces, sweep with a reusable microfiber pad to trap dust and dirt and, on soft surfaces, with a good vacuum that has a built-in filter.
8. Use clay paint.
This might be my favorite. Clay paint can contribute to better air quality in a number of ways. First, clay is nontoxic and hypoallergenic, making it ideal for those with chemical sensitivities. One of the reasons clay is so revered for internal cleansing is that it has the ability to absorb toxins — and can do so from the air, as well.
Clay is also mold resistant, and it releases negative ions into the air — which may naturally alleviate depression.
9. Remove your shoes.
I was introduced to this practice in my third year of college. My neighbors, who had just moved back to the country, were avidly shoeless around their abode. It only took a couple of dinner visits to their apartment for my roommate and me to fully latch on to this practice, which felt (and feels) so right.
I've made a diligent habit of slipping off my shoes at the front door ever since. When you begin thinking about where your shoes have been during an average day, it just makes sense.