Asbestos is a mineral fiber that can still be found in many older homes. Inhaling tiny asbestos fibers can increase the risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases. Pipe coverings, flooring, shingles and roofs are likely places to find asbestos.
Check asbestos-containing materials regularly for damage from tears, water or wear. Don’t try to remove asbestos that is already in place; asbestos is best left undisturbed. If the material is damaged or you plan to remodel, protect your health by getting professional help.
Properly ventilating your home is one of the best ways to protect and improve air quality.
High levels of moisture in your home increase dampness and the growth of mold, which not only damage your home but threaten health. Dampness and mold are linked to increased wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks in people with allergies. Normal daily household activities — including cooking, washing and even breathing — produce water vapor, so having adequate ventilation is essential to remove moisture from the air.
Try these dehumidifying tricks to keep the humidity in your home below 50%:
- Install and run exhaust fans in bathrooms to remove unhealthy moisture and odors from your home.
- Make sure that vents exhaust air outdoors and not into other parts of your home.
- Remove any mold damage or growth and fix all leaks.
Dry cleaning solvents are strong chemicals, and can be toxic to breathe. Let dry cleaned items air outdoors before bringing them inside. Hanging them on an outdoor clothesline will prevent many of these chemicals from entering your home.
Keeping the air clean within the walls of your home starts with the walls themselves.
Lead-based paints can still be found in homes built before 1978. Any peeling, chipping or chalking of lead-based paint can increase the risk of unhealthy lead exposure. Young children risk delays in mental development, lower IQ and behavioral problems from inhaling lead paint dust. Some of those damages can be permanent.
Remodeling that requires sanding, scraping or removing walls will release paint dust into your living space. However, you can reduce the risk if you take the proper steps. The Environmental Protection Agency offers these six recommendations:
- Keep areas where children play as dust-free and clean as possible.
- Leave lead-based paint undisturbed if it is in good condition; do not sand or burn off paint that may
- contain lead.
- Do not remove lead paint yourself.
- Do not bring lead dust into the home.
- If your work or hobby involves lead, change clothes and use doormats before entering your home.
- Eat a balanced diet, rich in calcium and iron.
Get professional help for peeling paint or remodeling if your home was built before 1978. Older homes likely have lead-based paint on the walls, doors and trim. Inhaling the lead paint dust can be harmful to your health and professionals can help you stay safe.
Fireplaces and wood or gas stoves in your home can produce carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and fine particle pollution, as well as other toxic air pollutants.
Use a fireplace or wood stove only if you must have it for heat. If you must use a wood or gas stove or fireplace, make certain it is fully vented to the outside.
Formaldehyde is a nearly colorless gas found in many home products. Disinfectants, adhesive or bonding agents, insecticides, urea formaldehyde foam insulation and particle board may all contain formaldehyde. It is a carcinogen and can cause health problems that include coughing, eye, nose, and throat irritation, skin rashes and asthma-like symptoms. People with asthma may be more sensitive to formaldehyde.
Keep formaldehyde away from your home by choosing wood panel products that are not made with urea formaldehyde glues, lumber or materials. Cigarette smoke is also a major source of indoor formaldehyde — another reason to ban smoking from your home.
Pesticides used to curb household pests can allow harmful chemicals into your home and may cause added health dangers to children and pets. Still, some pests can trigger allergic reactions and worsen asthma.
Practice integrated pest management to keep your home free of pests and harmful chemicals alike. Integrated pest management includes simple things like blocking holes and keeping food in tightly sealed containers. Cover your trash cans and keep your floors and counter free of crumbs. Use bait traps if necessary to catch pests. Only use chemicals as a last resort and get professional help.
Consumer products can produce harmful air pollution indoors. Hair and nail products, cleaning products, art and hobby supplies and other common products can increase the levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. Some of the VOCs in these products include substances linked to cancer, headaches, eye and throat irritation and worsened asthma.
Look for products which are marked “low VOCs” and be sure to open windows and use exhaust fans when using these products.
If you or someone you live with has asthma, you know that most homes contain a wide assortment of irritants and allergens that can trigger dangerous attacks. Take a comprehensive approach to identify and fix problems in order to maintain a healthy home. Studies show that doing just one or two things — like using mattress covers alone — won’t make much of a difference. Make sure you ban smoking from your home, keep the humidity level below 50% and regularly look around your home for problem areas or the specific trigger that causes problems.
Cooking can be a big source of indoor air pollution, especially if you have a gas stove. Scientists who measured indoor air quality found that cooking a single meal on a gas stove can produce levels of nitrogen dioxide that the EPA considers unsafe to breathe. Nitrogen dioxide can worsen asthma and increase your risk of respiratory infection.
Ventilate your kitchen stove directly outside or open a kitchen window when you cook. Keeping exhaust — including cooking odors and particles — outside of your home prevents dangerous fumes and particles from harming you.
Avoid using carpet whenever possible. Carpet traps unhealthy particles — including chemicals, dust mites, pet dander, dirt and fungi — and vacuuming can make them airborne.
If you do have carpets, use a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) vacuum cleaner to ensure better air quality.
Hard surface flooring, like wood, tile or cork can be readily cleaned by damp mopping.