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Breathe Easy: 5 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

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5 Simple Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality continued...

More Americans than ever before have kicked the habit, according to the CDC. But if you relapse, make sure you don’t smoke inside the house. "If you just can't quit, at least smoke outside," Landrigan says.

4. Test for radon.  Whether you have a new or old home, you could have a radon problem. This colorless, odorless gas significantly raises the risk of lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high. 

Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground and into your home through cracks and holes in the foundation. Drafty homes, airtight homes, homes with or without a basement -- any home can potentially have a radon problem. 

Granite countertops have also been linked to radon. While experts agree that most granite countertops emit some radon, the question is whether they do so at levels that can cause cancer. Testing is easy, inexpensive, and takes only a few minutes. If you discover a radon problem, there are simple ways to reduce levels of the gas that are not too costly. Even high radon levels can be reduced to acceptable levels. The Environmental Protection Agency offers a "Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction."

5. Smell good naturally. You may associate that lemony or piney scent with a clean kitchen or clean clothes.But synthetic fragrances in laundry products and air fresheners emit dozens of different chemicals into the air. You won’t find their names on the product labels. Conventional laundry detergents, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, and air fresheners in solid, spray, and oil form may all emit such gasses.

In one study, a plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including seven regulated as toxic or hazardous under U.S. federal laws. But these chemicals were not included on the label -- only the word "fragrance" is required to be listed. But the actual composition of the fragrance is considered a "trade secret."

Most fragrances are derived from petroleum products, and generally haven’t been tested to see if they have any significant adverse health effects in humans when they are inhaled. (Tests usually focus on whether a fragrance causes skin irritation.) Some that have been tested raise concern. Phthalates are a group of chemicals often used in fragrances and also used to soften plastics. Studies show that phthalates disrupt hormones in animals.What can you do? 

  • Look for fragrance-free or naturally-scented laundry products.
  • Switch to mild cleaners that don't include artificial fragrances.
  • Stop using aerosol sprays -- deodorants, hair sprays, carpet cleaners, furniture polish, and air fresheners.
  • Let in fresh air. Open windows so toxic chemicals don't build up in your home. What if you or your child has pollen allergies? Then keep rooms ventilated with a filtered air- conditioning system.
  • Use sliced lemons and baking soda to get a clean scent in the kitchen.
  • Bring nature indoors. Any room is prettier with a fern, spider plant, or aloe vera. It’s also healthier. NASA research shows that indoor plants like these act as living air purifiers -- the foliage and roots work in tandem to absorb chemical pollutants released by synthetic materials. If you have kids or pets, make sure the plants aren’t poisonous if ingested.
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Reviewed on January 08, 2009
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