Clean the most polluted air, indoor air


As the weather turns colder, most of us are closing windows and doors, and sealing ourselves inside our homes.

There’s nothing wrong with that—in theory.

In practice, however, this time of year always makes me nervous.

That’s because the air quality indoors tends to be horrible.

In fact, the worst pollution is routinely found, not next to factories or industrial wastelands, but inside of homes.

Causes Of Indoor Air Pollution

New furniture is treated with all sorts of chemicals which are released into the air for a long time.

Cleaning agents often contain toxic ingredients, which—even when safely used and stored—have an effect on your body (even if you don’t realize it).

Make-up is often much worse for you than you’d think. Many products contain harmful chemicals, which go completely unregulated and unmentioned, and get absorbed into your skin whenever you “put your face on”.

The list goes on and on. Below, I’ll give you five of the worst products you should do your best to avoid.

But before tackling that, here are three steps you can take to make your space safer.

Three Steps To Cleaner Air

  1. Keep your windows open as much as possible. As the days grow colder, this becomes more difficult, so think about .
  2. Invest in an air purifier. They are exceptionally affordable these days—even more so when weighed against the possible costs of later health issues.
  3. Always follow instructions to the letter.

Something like a can of paint thinner might have seemingly-nonsensical instructions.

That’s because they know things about their chemicals that you don’t.

The greatest problems arise when consumers are unaware of the risks of handling certain chemicals. So, close adherence to the instructions will help you avoid the worst effects of exposure to household chemicals.

But the above steps are the barest of precautions. To make a large difference, you should try to keep as many harmful chemicals out of your house as possible.

The Environmental Working Group has come up with extremely helpful lists of harmful chemicals and healthy, clean alternatives that work just as well. When in doubt, consult those lists.

And below, I’m highlighting the five most common—and most dangerous—household goods you should eliminate from your cabinets post-haste.

Five Household Hazards To Get Rid Of ASAP

1) Paint Strippers. More specifically, the methylene-chloride contained in most of them. In the wrong conditions, methylene-chloride is extremely dangerous. In fact, it’s responsible for dozens of deaths since the 1940s—causing asphyxiation and heart failure.

It’s banned in the European Union. But it’s perfectly legal in the US.

If you’re doing any housework that requires stripping paint, check the ingredients for (somewhat) safer alternatives: benzyl alcohol, soy, or dibasic esters. Make sure your workspace is very well-ventilated. Wear a mask.

And, once you’ve finished your project, get rid of any spare paint stripper immediately. Contact your local waste services to find out the best way to dispose of these very harmful chemicals.

Alternately, try sanding to remove paint. You’ll need to deal with dust, but you can use the technique in a closed space like a bathroom.

2) Air Fresheners. We all like pleasant odors.

But not at this cost.

Petrochemical air fresheners—which is almost all commercially-available ones, from plug-ins to aerosols—have been linked to heart problems, respiratory problems, reproductive problems, birth defects, diabetes, and breast cancer.

Instead, you’d do better cleaning up the source of the offending odor instead.

And if you’re thinking about incense, be aware that some studies find it could be as bad as second-hand smoke for your lungs. Better to clean more often.

3) Household Cleaners. Speaking of cleaning, many household cleaners contain very dangerous chemicals like ammonia and bleach. Over time, exposure to these chemicals can damage your kidneys, liver, and lungs. Even some cleaners marketed as “green” still contain plenty of nastiness.

However, did you know that cleaning with vinegar and baking soda does just as good a job, at a fraction of the cost? It’s true.

You won’t be making any money for Dow Chemicals. But you’ll certainly be helping out your air quality and health.

4) Chemical Insecticides and Herbicides. Where to begin with these? Suffice it to say, anything designed to kill probably isn’t great for you either. Starting with problems like skin irritation, insecticides and herbicides can attack you in much more serious ways. They can even interfere with your nervous system.

But once again, common household objects can do the same job. Vinegar is an effective weed-killer, and peppermint castile soap repels insects.

5) Perfumes and scented soaps. Indeed, you can include most anything scented in this category—including fabric softeners and “unscented” detergents, which usually contain a masking agent.

Almost all chemically-produced scents are petroleum-based, and have been linked to cancer, birth defects, and lung, brain, and nerve damage.

It’s worth it to pay a few extra dollars for the organic version of whatever scented product you want to use.

This is just a small sampling of the dangerous chemicals most of us have in our homes. Eliminating them all is a tall task.

But by removing the worst offenders from your cabinets, and setting up air purifiers in important rooms, you can help reduce indoor air pollution drastically. As our windows close and heat comes on, that’s more important than ever.



Last Updated: June 23, 2021
Originally Published: October 16, 2015