15 Causes of Indoor Air Pollution and What You Can Do About Them

indoor air pollution dust on a floor vent in a home

When you think of air pollution, you probably think of smoky air, drifts of yellow pollen, factories blowing particulates out of chimney stacks. In other words, air pollution is something that occurs outside your house.

But indoor air pollution is oftentimes dirtier than the air quality outside. Homes built after 1990 are typically well-insulated, so less air is moving in and out, allowing air pollutants to stay inside longer. And since many people spend as much if not more time indoors as out (according to one study, people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors on average), indoor air pollution poses at best an annoyance to sinus sufferers, and at worst a potential health hazard, especially to those with respiratory issues. 

Let’s take a look at:

Top 15 Common Causes of Indoor Air Pollution

1. Dust

The inside of your house is full of dust. We’re not saying your house is dirty. The common perception is that dust equals dirt, and although dirt contributes to dust, dust is more than just dirt. Household items such as televisions and furniture, as well as the various cleaning products you use to remove dirt and food particles, shed chemicals that end up as dust. You breathe this dust, particularly during times of extreme cold or heat when windows are closed, which is a particular problem for allergy sufferers, not to mention those with respiratory conditions. It is particularly a concern if you have small children, since they crawl and play on the floor and frequently put their hands in their mouths. Exposure to dust and the toxins it contains could have harmful effects on developing bodies.

2. Household Cleaning Products, Paints, and Solvents

Many cleaning products and indoor paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can cause headaches, skin irritation, and throat irritation.

3. Building Materials

VOCs not only exist in products you use inside the home, but the house itself. Lacquer, glue, and plywood can all emit VOCs for years after installation.

4. Pet Dander

You may think your significant other is making up an allergy so you can’t have a cat or a dog. But, actually, pet dander from animal hair and dry skin can cause respiratory irritation.

5. Insecticides, Herbicides, and Pesticides

While used primarily outside, vapors from these chemicals can still drift into your house ventilation. These products typically contain arsenic which is harmful to the endocrine system and a possible source of cancer.

6. Chlorine By-Products

Chloramines and trihalomethanes form when chlorine reacts with organic matter (skin, hair, bacteria). Breathing these chlorine by-products can irritate and even damage your lungs.

7. Fragrances, Perfumes, and Deodorizers

Fragrances, perfumes, and deodorizers contain highly volatile and semi-volatile chemicals capable of causing skin irritation, allergic reactions, cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders, and reproductive disorders.

8. Dry-Cleaned Clothes

The process of dry cleaning employs trichloroethylene and perchloroethylene, both toxic substances known to cause cancer.

9. Tobacco Smoke

By now we all know the harmful effects of tobacco smoke. For those who choose to continue smoking, and smoke indoors, secondhand smoke is considered almost as dangerous. Not to mention how it contributes to the premature yellowing of walls, floors, and furniture. It is also a primary source of formaldehyde

10. Formaldehyde in Carpets, Flooring, Upholstery, and Fabrics

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas with a noticeable pungent smell that is also contained in a variety of household wood products and fabrics. There are small amounts of formaldehyde in just about every home. The World Health Organization classifies formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen. 

11. Wax Candle Fumes

According to one study, paraffin wax candles release toxic chemicals such as toluene and benzene, as well as soot that can quickly build up to unhealthy levels in enclosed, unventilated spaces. 

12. Office Machines and Stationery

These days, many people are working from home. Copiers, laser printers, graphics, and craft materials can also be a source of ultra-fine particles and VOCs.

13. Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas that seeps up through the ground and through cracks in the basement floor. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America according to the US National Cancer Institute–second only to cigarette smoking.

14. Fuel-Burning Gasses

Hazardous gas particles such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are emitted by unvented or poorly vented fuel-burning appliances such as a fireplace, heater, wood or gas stove, water heater, or dryer. 

15. Other Biological Pollutants

These include mold, bacteria, viruses, pollen, and dust mites that can trigger hay fever or asthma.

How to Keep Indoor Air Cleaner

All of this probably sounds scary. Fortunately, all these air pollutants are manageable. In fact, you can do more about the air pollution inside your home than outside. Here are just a few things you can do to minimize the potential adverse effects of indoor air pollution:

  • Clean regularly with a vacuum cleaner that comes with a high-efficiency small-particle filter. Wipe dusty surfaces with a damp cloth. Wash bed sheets, pillow cases and blankets weekly to keep levels of the allergens low.
  • Replace air polluting items with safer products, or at the very least, reduce the amount and frequency of use. 
  • Opt for natural pest control products that biodegrade quickly.
  • Regularly ventilate indoor spaces to let fresh air circulate freely and frequently.
  • Use whole-house air filtration systems.
  • Install a whole-house water filtration system that not only improves drinking water quality, but also reduces exposure to chlorine vapors released during showering and washing.
  • Control  humidity. Excessive moisture in the air encourages the growth of mold, mildew, and fungi, particularly in basements and bathrooms. 
  • Replace toxin-releasing furniture and interior decorations with items certified as containing fewer pollutants.  
  • Seal attic spaces, windows, and doors to insulate against wildfire smoke
  • Clean fireplace and wood-burning chimneys at the beginning of every heating season.

Consult the Indoor Air Pollution Prevention Experts—Ongaro and Sons 

Proper air filtration and purification systems improves indoor air quality and reduces air pollutants. It’s a good idea to have a certified HVAC specialist perform regular maintenance on your system, to inspect and install proper air filtration in your home. Installing and maintaining an air filtration system to reduce indoor air pollution requires professional skill and knowledge. Call the heating and cooling specialists at Ongaro and Sons. We are Trane Comfort Specialists certified in high-efficiency HVAC systems and indoor air quality. As we like to say, “Ongaro and Sons puts the V back into HVAC.”