Air pollution in the Home: Is it really a problem?

There is no doubt that there is air pollution in the home. There are numerous studies which have measured the pollution, from brominated and organophosphorus flame retardants , through particulate matter (similar to the stuff that diesel cars spread) from wood stoves and cooking, to good old house dust (which often contains all the pollutants, anyway).

A Which study earlier this year also found volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are found in ordinary household products such as air fresheners, cleaning, DIY and personal hygiene products, as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) .

So is it really a problem? Some pollutants, like simple pollen or dust allergens might cause immediate effects in susceptible people, whilst others may have longer term effects which are extremely difficult to quantify, with some commentators and websites indicating that pollutants may be carcinogenic. A 2016 report by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) (which covered both indoor and outdoor pollution) claimed that air pollution in the UK is contributing to over 40,00 deaths in the UK and called for action by the government.

What can I do to help?
But what can we do about it in our own homes? There are a number of home indoor air quality monitors available to help you understand exactly what is present in your home. They usually cost somewhere over £100 so maybe the best thing is just to do your best to keep your home environment as pollutant free as possible. And there are some easy and inexpensive ways to do this.

1. Clean floors. Keep your floors as clean as possible. Use a vacuum cleaner with a Hepa filter, otherwise you could just be spreading the pollutants around! The Hepa Filter helps to keep them inside the cleaner. If you have hard floors (which are good as they retain fewer pollutants: carpets grab them and hold them in their fibres releasing them as you walk over them), then mop them after you vacuum. Use a microfibre mop which enables you to use water on its own. Cleaning fluids often contain more pollutants. You might be getting your floor clean but you are adding to the pollution!
2. Clean surfaces. Use a microfibre duster or damp duster to ensure you are keeping all the dust on the duster instead of spreading it around.
3. Door Mats. Putting large door mats by all entrances to your house helps to get tiny pollutant particles off people’s feet as they enter your house. Many people have a no shoes policy inside their house, too.
4. Keep the humidity down. If you keep humidity down to 30-50% this can help keep dust mites, mould sores and other allergens under control.
a. Avoid drying clothes indoors, but if you do dry indoors, keep the door to the rest of the house shut and the window of the drying room open.
b. Open your window (and/or use an extractor fan) when cooking, bathing or running the dishwasher.
c. Don’t overwater houseplants.
d. Fix that annoying little leak! Although it might be small it is creating moisture, and mould loves moisture.
e. If you use a dehumidifier, remember to empty the drip tray.
5. Ban smoking in the house. Second hand cigarette smoke is incredibly damaging for anyone – buts especially children – who ingest it. If you haven’t given up yet, do it outside.
6. Unpopular as this might be, think twice about the wood burner! Or at least reduce its use. It seems like such a natural and sustainable way of heating your home. And nothing looks as good as a living fire. But wood burners create particulates, just like diesel cars do, but both inside and outside your home.
7. Applying a drug free allergen barrier such as - Haymax, will trap some of the airborne particles before they get into your body.
8. You could also try using an air purifier but be careful – there are lots on the market and some are better than others. Maybe check out the Which report before buying….

1 Environ Res. 2017 Oct;158:789-797. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.07.035. Epub 2017 Jul 27.

Brominated and organophosphorus flame retardants in body wipes and house dust, and an estimation of house dust hand-loadings in Dutch toddlers.

Sugeng EJ1, Leonards PEG2, van de Bor M2.

2 Read more: - Which?

3 Clin Med (Lond). 2017 Feb;17(1):8-12. doi: 10.7861/clinmedicine.17-1-8.

'Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution' - a call for action.

About Max Wiseberg
Max Wiseberg is an expert in airborne allergies (including hay fever and dust, pet and mould allergies) and is a hay fever sufferer himself. He regularly writes in the press, for publications including Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Sun, Sunday Mirror, Running Fitness, Health Food Business, The Practicing Midwife, Pharmacy magazines and Your Healthy Living and has appeared on BBC radio, many local radio stations, as well as The Chrissy B Show, Fitness TV and the Holiday & Cruise channel.