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 circulating.
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 choice.