The Natural Home: An Insider's Guide
By Monica Michael Willis and Emily Wolahan. Photographed by
William P. Steele
Use these easy tips and resources to improve indoor air quality and raise
the health quotient of your home.
Clean Air Is Fundamental to Good Health
Improving indoor air quality doesn't have to be difficult. The first step can
be as easy as opening the windows to get fresh air circulating. Other simple
steps in the right direction include installing exhaust vents in the kitchen
and all bathrooms and using them to expel cooking fumes and excess moisture.
Avoid storing unused pesticides in the house and minimize the use of air
fresheners and scented candles, which can cause irritation to the eyes, nose,
and throat. To inhibit mold growth, eliminate any standing water by cleaning
the water pans in air conditioners and refrigerators and tending to any
plumbing leaks. New shower curtains, draperies, and carpeting can emit
potentially harmful fumes, so it's a good idea to hang them on an outdoor
clothesline to air out for a day or so before installation. Look for rugs that
bear the Carpet and Rug Institute tag, an industry standard that identifies
products that meet low emission levels set for chemical "off-gassing."
When installing wall-to-wall carpeting, opt for tack strips rather than
adhesives, which can produce odors that may be irritating to asthmatics,
allergy sufferers, and chemical-sensitive individuals.
Scientists at NASA were among the first researchers to demonstrate that
ordinary potted plants absorb common household gases like formaldehyde,
ammonia, and benzene — thereby improving indoor air quality. In How to Grow
Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office (Penguin; 1997),
Dr. B. C. Wolverton explains the benefits of growing plants on your desktop or
windowsill, then outlines which species remove the most toxins and are the
easiest to maintain. At the top of his list: areca palm, bamboo palm, rubber
plant, and English ivy.
Cleaner indoor air can be as easy as opening the windows to get fresh air
Allergy sufferers should consider eliminating carpets, since they often
harbor dust mites, bacteria, and mold and trap pesticides and pollutants
tracked in from outdoors. To check your sensitivity to the chemicals used on a
new carpet, place a fresh-cut sample in a sealed glass jar, then set it in the
sunlight for a day. When 24 hours have elapsed, open the jar and smell the
carpet. If you can't live with the odor, reconsider your floor-covering
Safer Paints for Your Home
- Free of all synthetic ingredients, Livos's furniture oils, waxes, stains,
strippers, and linseed-oil-based paints are natural, nontoxic, and
biodegradable. Leftover products can safely be disposed of with regular
household garbage; livos.com.
- Available in 500 colors and finishes, Sherwin-Williams's Duration Home
water-based latex paints minimize the "fresh paint" smell and possess
fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — the gases that can cause
respiratory-tract irritation when new paint is applied;
Virtually odorless during application, Benjamin Moore's Pristine Eco-Spec
emits few VOCs and is quick drying, allowing a fresh-painted room to be put
back to use in roughly two hours; benjaminmoore.com.