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How Indoor Air Pollution Works

Solutions to Indoor Air Pollution
Opening the windows can improve indoor air quality.
Opening the windows can improve indoor air quality.
Jack Wild/Getty Images

If you suspect your living space is polluted, don't despair. You can easily implement several solutions. If you're unsure of whether your home has a problem, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you suffer from any of the symptoms listed on the previous page when in your home, but feel better soon after leaving?
  • Are many of the potential sources of indoor air pollution found in your home?
  • Is the air in your house poorly ventilated, humid, or smelly and stuffy?

Answering "yes" to these questions doesn't necessarily mean you have indoor air pollution, but it's a good indication. An easy experiment is to try some of the solutions for indoor air pollution listed on this page and see if you notice a difference.

As you might expect, one of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce indoor air pollution is to attack the problem at its source. Some sources, like those that contain asbestos, can simply be sealed to prevent exposure, while others, like pesticides, you may want to eliminate.

Some polluting sources like a gas-cooking stove or fuel-burning space heater may not be feasible for you to remove, but you can minimize your risk by always operating those devices according to the manufacturer's directions and being sure to ventilate well.

In fact, as you learned on the first page, ventilation is helpful at decreasing all indoor pollutants. Since most heating and cooling systems simply recirculate air rather than bring in fresh air, you'll want to open windows and doors when the weather is nice, operate window or attic fans, and run bathroom and kitchen fans that exhaust outdoors. You especially want to follow these steps when you're using items with potentially harmful chemicals like paints.

Increasing ventilation does have one caveat. If you live in a place with high outdoor humidity or high concentrations of outdoor pollutants, increased ventilation may actually worsen indoor air pollution. If the outdoor air you're pulling in is filtered to remove harmful particles, you have little to worry about. If it's not, you may want to settle on moderate ventilation rates.

Aside from ventilation, you can minimize the biological contaminants in your home by maintaining a humidity level of 30 to 50 percent. Higher levels encourage dust mites and mold growth. Keeping carpets clean and dry, and simply maintaining a clean house also discourage biological contaminants.

If you're worried about the potential harm from household cleaners, you have two options. The first is to carefully follow the instructions on the label, use them in well-ventilated areas, and store and dispose of them safely. The second is to pick a product that is made with benign ingredients. If you're unsure, read the label: If a product doesn't list its ingredients or has any "warnings," it's probably not safe.

The sources of indoor air pollution are many and varied, but so are the solutions. To learn more about this topic, be sure to look into the links on the following page.