We spend so much time in our homes, it’s worth the effort to make our them as healthy and happy environment as we can. On average, your house is 8 times more polluted than outside (air-label.com). These pollutants come from things like furniture, paints, air fresheners, bedding and cleaning products. Symptoms of these pollutants range from eye, throat and nose irritation and headaches to liver, kidney and nervous system damage and even carcinogenic risks.
Now, there’s no need to set to panic stations, particularly if you aren’t showing any of the symptoms above. Arguably the stress of being told EVERYTHING in life is a carcinogenic is worse for most of us. That said, there are some very practical things you can do to help.
We’ve compiled our top tips, some of tips are easy to implement, and others are things you may want to be aware of for when you are in the market for something new. To make this guide super easy and to help you understand the jargon, we’ve included a mini glossary of the most common toxins and terms.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – these are organic compounds that readily evaporate in the air at room temperature. They can most commonly be found in paints, air fresheners and cleaning products. VoCs that frequently pollute indoor air include toluene, styrene, xylenes, and trichloroethylene methylene chloride, benzene, and perchlorethylene. VOCs affect membranes like the eyes and throat and are linked to cancer.
Formaldehyde - a common VOC and can be found as an adhesives in wood products such as MDF, carpets, furniture, paints and varnishes. Health effects of formaldehyde include sore throats, rhinitis, nasal irritation, and breathlessness. Formaldehyde is a human carcinogen.
Top tips for a healthier home environment
Let fresh air in regularly.
This is such an easy one to do, open your windows twice a day for air circulation and ventilation. This helps to replace your old stale air with lovely fresh new air, and should bring the lovely natural smell of outdoors in with it. Circulating residual toxins built up inside with the fresh air from outside.
Manage your humidity levels.
Keep an eye on your humidity levels and use ventilators or dehumidifiers if needed. Areas that have too much moisture in the air are at risk of damp and mould which can be bad for our health, some produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), which are linked to adverse health conditions. Some people are more susceptible to the health effects of mould than others; in 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mould with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with people with asthma and other respiratory conditions being more susceptible. If you do spot damp and mould, get rid of it – try vinegar, a detergent or your All-Purpose cleaner to tackle existing mould. Air-label recommend keeping humidity levels below 60%, if you have a damp problem or a particularly sensitive to damp then you can get a hygrometer, which will measure humidity levels for you.
Use toxic free cleaning products.
Cleaning products are a big contributor to indoor pollution. Check the labels and look for products that contain little to no hazardous warnings and products that don’t contain synthetic fragrances. Always read the instructions, use products as instructed, and don’t mix products as two relatively harmless products mixed could have harmful by-products. A fresh air flow after cleaning will also help clear out any lingering chemicals or dust that’s been disturbed during cleaning. The nookary Probiotic Cleaning Range all require no allergen or hazardous warnings when you use around your home.
Beware of harmful chemicals in mattresses.
Mattresses have to meet flame resistant regulations in the UK, for obvious safety reasons. This means that mattresses will often be treated with chemicals to make them flame resistant. Some of the most common chemicals are generally considered to be safe, such as aluminium hydroxide, those causing the most concern are brominated flame retardants. Formaldehyde is also commonly found used as an adhesive, it's an irritant and can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose, and throat. There are some natural flame-resistant materials, including wool, natural thistly, rayon (although this isn’t the most eco-friendly option), natural latex and organic cotton. The difficulty with mattresses is that currently the UK doesn’t require manufacturers to list all the chemicals, so it's hard to decipher. A good sign to look out for is the UK Ecolabel – this means the mattress is not allowed to be treated with the most toxic flame retardants, also read the product descriptions in detail and look for the green or red flags above.
Be mindful of treated bedsheets.
‘easy care,’ ‘wrinkle free,’ or ‘non iron’ are all signs that bed sheets have been chemically treated, and pure white bedsheets may be treated with bleach to get that crisp whiteness. If you’re particularly sensitive, or in the market for new sheets, opt for organic, natural and untreated bedsheets.
Opt for non-toxic paints.
Paints are another big contributor to toxins and VOCs in the home, not just while the paint is wet, but it's estimated that paint can emit VOCs for up to 5 years once the pain has dried. Take a look at the label and opt for paints that are zero or low VOCs, and check the label for toxic ingredients, Titanium Dioxide and Methylisothiazolinone are common ones to look out for.
Keep house dust mites at bay.
As well as being an irritant themselves, dust mites are a trap for toxins. Cleaning and hoovering regularly doesn’t just get rid of germs, it helps manage the dust bunnies. Areas you might not think about hoovering regular are the sofa and mattresses, but they’re worth adding to the list especially as they are two places we spend a lot of time.
As plant lovers, one tip that we’d LOVE to add to the list is to fill the home up with air purifying plants. However research suggests that they make little to no difference to the air quality in your home. Recent studies better replicating the home environment found that you’d need around 10 plants per square foot to make a meaningful difference. That said, this is absolutely no reason not to get house plants (you definitely should!) they just won’t make much difference to your air quality we’re afraid.
Some further reading