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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Cleaning, Cavorting Raise Indoor Air Pollution

Household Hint: Open Windows While Cleaning, Dancing Indoors
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March 11, 2004 -- Cleaning your house increases indoor air pollution.

That doesn't sound right. But a new study by environmental engineer Andrea Ferro, PhD, and colleagues suggests that normal household tasks kick up dangerous dust particles.

Ferro's team placed particle detectors in a Redwood, Calif. house. It wasn't a dirty house: A professional cleaning service visited once a week. And it wasn't full of dust collectors. There weren't any cloth-upholstered furnishings, and the hardwood floors were covered only by thin area rugs.

But the researchers found that normal cleaning activities -- dry dusting, vacuuming, making the bed, folding clothes, and folding blankets -- sent significant amounts of small-particle pollution into the air. So did normal activities such as simply walking around the house and sitting on the furniture.

"The result that was most surprising to me was that just walking around can resuspend almost as much dust as vacuuming," Ferro says in a news release.

Dirty Dancing

Even having fun upped indoor air pollution. The worst offender in this category: solo dancing on a rug.

"Probably that's best described as solo salsa," Ferro says. "Luckily, I did not take any videotape."

The good news was that dancing on a bare wood floor had much less effect on the air.

Cut Air Pollution at Home

The serious side of the study is that people spend 90% of their time indoors. Indoor air quality is important to health yet often is worse than outdoor air. Ferro has some advice.

"One study estimates that about two-thirds of household dust is tracked in from outdoors," she says. "Therefore, leaving shoes at the door can make a big difference in reducing the particle reservoir on the floor."

Other tips:

  • Leave windows open when cleaning. Other ways to air out the house: Turn on ventilation fans or an air conditioner.

  • Always increase ventilation when cooking -- especially frying.

  • Keep the house well aired when painting or doing other home-repair tasks.

  • Limit the use of toxic household products such as pesticides.

  • Install non-carpet flooring.

Ferro's report appears in the March 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology. She led the study while earning her doctoral degree at Stanford University. Ferro is now at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.

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