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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Breathe Easy: 5 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

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WebMD Feature provided in collaboration with Healthy Child Healthy World

We tend to think of air pollution as something outside -- smog, ozone, or haze hanging in the air, especially in summer. But the truth is, the air inside homes, offices, and other buildings can be more polluted than the air outside. The air inside your home may be polluted by lead (in house dust), formaldehyde, fire-retardants, radon, even volatile chemicals from fragrances used in conventional cleaners. Some pollutants are tracked into the home. Some arrive via a new mattress or furniture, carpet cleaners, or a coat of paint on the walls.

In that mix, you'll also find microscopic dust mites -- a major allergen -- plus mold and heaps of pet dander, says David Lang, MD, head of Allergy/Immunology at the Cleveland Clinic. "Even if you don't have pets, you've probably got pet dander," he tells WebMD. "It's become what we call a community allergen. Pet owners carry it around on their clothes and shed it throughout the day. You can't get away from it."

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Children, people with asthma, and the elderly may be especially sensitive to indoor pollutants, but other effects on health may appear years later, after repeated exposure.

Indoor allergens and irritants have become much more important in recent decades because we're spending more time indoors, Lang says. And because modern homes are airtight, these irritants can't easily escape. "We're all exposed to a greater degree than we were three or four decades ago," he says.

5 Simple Steps to Improve Indoor Air Quality

1. Keep your floors fresh.

  • Suck it up. Chemicals and allergens can accumulate in household dust for decades. By using a vacuum with a HEPA filter you can reduce concentrations of lead in your home. You can also get rid of other toxins, like brominated fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs) as well as allergens like pollen, pet dander, and dust mites.

Using a vacuum cleaner that has strong suction, rotating brushes, and a HEPA filter ensures that dust and dirt won’t get blown back out in the exhaust. In high traffic areas, vacuum the same spot several times. Don't forget walls, carpet edges, and upholstered furniture, where dust accumulates. For best results, vacuum two or more times each week and wash out your filter regularly.

  • Mop it up. Mopping picks up the dust that vacuuming leaves behind. You can skip the soaps and cleaners and just use plain water to capture any lingering dust or allergens. New microfiber mops (and dust cloths) reportedly capture more dust and dirt than traditional fibers and don’t require any cleaning solutions whatsoever.

  • Keep it out. Put a large floor mat at every door.People track in all sorts of chemicals via the dirt on their shoes. A door mat reduces the amount of dirt, pesticides, and other pollutants from getting into your home. If the mat is big enough, even those who don't wipe their shoes will leave most pollutants on the mat -- not the floors in your home.
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