10 Most Dangerous Indoor Air Pollutants

Invisible to the naked eye, there is a variety of toxic chemicals that lurk in every home. Studies show that the indoor air might be as polluted as the air that we breathe outside. In addition to smoke, radon gas, and molds, there is a large number of other pollutants that might come as a surprise. The place that we thought was the safest turned out to be filled up with contaminants that are released into the air through the use of many products in daily life. Many household products including deodorizers, paints, detergents, cleaners and beauty aids are highly harmful to human health.

Furthermore, pesticides, insecticides, and air fresheners can make indoor air much more polluted and life-threatening. Consequently, if not properly handled and disposed, these carcinogenic and toxic pollutants may lead to irritation of eyes, nose and throat, respiratory, circulatory and reproductive system damage, and skin burns. Here’s a detailed look at some of the most common and dangerous pollutants found in every home and how to prevent them from harming you and your family.


#10 Carpet

Did you know that carpets are highly harmful to your health? Acting like sponges, they absorb dangerous amounts of pollutants that are brought to the home by pets and on shoes. Trapping mold spores, dirt, lead, dust mites, and pesticides, these pollutants may become airborne during renovations and daily activities.

Causing health problems like fatigue, persistent cough, irritated eyes, and frequent headaches, the carpet can release harmful substances into the air, and worsen your indoor air quality. So how can you protect your health? Choose hard-surfaced flooring instead of carpets, especially in kitchens, bathrooms, and entry-ways. If that is not possible, make sure to vacuum at least three times a week. If purchasing a new carpet, request a model that releases fewer VOC emissions and ask for it to be enrolled and aired-out for 72 hours before installation. Open windows and use an air conditioner for three days after installation to circulate the pollutants out of your home.


#9 Air fresheners

Masking the indoor smell by coating the nasal passages with an oil film, air fresheners are commonly used for the pleasant scent they emit. However, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, these air fresheners contain formaldehyde, phenol, camphor, ethanol, and benzyl alcohol, pollutants that can cause rashes, dizziness, headaches, and coughing. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person, but when confined in a small area these pollutants can be quite problematic, especially to children.

Moreover, there seems to be a close relation between air fresheners and asthma attacks due to the combination of certain chemicals in the air fresheners and ozone that together form formaldehyde. The best solution at getting rid of these pollutants is to exercise care with usage, or simply take the natural route and open windows to bring fresh air and use fans for circulation. Use pure, organic essential oils or try growing air-purifying houseplants to filter toxins from the indoor air.


#8 Laundry Detergent

Many household cleaners are highly effective at ridding the home of dirt, while others can greatly pollute the indoor air. Studies reveal that many conventional laundry detergents contain toxic chemicals that are hazardous to you and the environment. Even though they make the clothes smell as fresh as an English garden, the chemicals that these detergents contain can cause skin and throat irritation, and severe headaches.

So how can you prevent harm from these household products? First of all, read all the labels before buying the product and choose the one that doesn’t contain VOCs, irritants, and flammable ingredients. Buy vegetable-based laundry products or prepare your own homemade laundry powders from natural ingredients.


#7 Fabric Softener

Lending clothes an irresistible scent and making wearing clean clothes much more enjoyable, the fabric softener is considered an essential part of good housekeeping. However, studies show that these fabric softeners are harmful to the environment and to your well-being by containing toxic chemicals that make up for its synthetic fragrance. Using chemicals to achieve softness, these household products contain benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, and ethanol, which are linked to pancreatic cancer, central nervous system disorders, and upper respiratory tract infections. These chemicals stay in your clothes for long periods of time and can eventually be inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

So for those who don’t want to give up the benefits of fabric softeners, try adding a quarter cup of baking soda or white vinegar to the washer. Or maybe try using greener and safer ways to soften your clothes such as the Natural Lavender Scent Fabric Softener that relies on natural essential oils.


#6 Dryer Sheets

Have you ever wondered what’s in the delightfully scented drier sheets that make your clothes smell as refreshing as a summer rain? That waxy feeling you get when rubbing the sheet is called a surfactant, a fatty compound that heats up in the dryer and coats the clothes. Along with the surfactant, these dryer sheets contain toxic fragrances that can get into the air you breathe. Emitting benzene and acetaldehyde, and various other carcinogens and toxins, dryer sheets are a vast source of pollution.

The best way to protect your well-being and the air-quality in your home is to ditch dryer sheets altogether. If you decide to keep using them, try the less toxic ones that are made of chlorine-free recycled paper or use homemade ones.


#5 Chlorine bleach

If you are willing to go “green” and clean the home of all the air pollutants, you should also give up using bleach. A part of many household cleaning products, bleach poses a serious threat to the environment and to human health. Causing skin burns and irritation, it is particularly harmful to children and pets. Serious side effects include damage to the nervous system, asthma attacks, extreme migraines, vomiting, and respiratory problems. Furthermore, when bleach gets mixed up with other acid-type cleaning materials, it emits toxic fumes into the air that can sometimes be deadly when inhaled. A serious threat to people, animals, and the environment, bleach is also a great water pollutant. Banned in schools, restaurants, and hospitals, try reaching for environmentally-friendly alternatives to bleach like baking soda, vinegar, or lemon juice and oil.


#4 Paint

We all love the thought of a home make-over, but the Environmental Protection Agency has listed paint as one of the its top five most dangerous substances. Studies show that people living in older homes still have lead in their wall paint, which was banned in the late 1970’s.

The paints today are a blend of toxic chemicals that include formaldehyde, arsenic, foamers, and thinners. Becoming part of the interior dust that you inhale, these paint fumes can cause skin allergies, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, and asthmatic reactions. Continuing to release chemicals into the air even when the walls are dry, these VOCs released from the paint react with oxygen and form a “bad” ozone, greatly contributing to the greenhouse effect. The next time you’re buying paint, ask for the ones that have low levels or zero levels of VOCs. And don’t forget to grow some air-purifying houseplants that can get rid of these hazardous pollutants.


#3 Candles

A romantic dinner date surrounded by scented candles does sound like a fun way to unwind. However, studies show that candles are a huge source of indoor air pollution. These candles contain paraffin wax which forms toxic benzene and toluene, both known as carcinogens. These toxic fumes can lead to respiratory problems, aggravate asthma, and cause allergy-like symptoms.

Moreover, many candles still have wicks containing heavy metals like lead that can cause hormone disruption, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. Some candles also contain artificial scents and dyes which release additional chemicals into the indoor air when burned. So if you wish to minimize indoor air pollution, start buying the paraffin-free candles, avoid the ones with multiple wicks, and increase ventilation in your home.


#2 Kitchen Stove

When you think of pollution, you probably think of that black smoke when a car drives by. What you didn’t know is that the kitchen contains higher levels of pollution than the EPA federal standards for outdoor and public spaces. The process of cooking food can emit highly dangerous chemicals and compounds into the indoor air, especially in poorly ventilated dwellings. Gas stoves are particularly hazardous since they emit nitrogen dioxide that mixes with the air to create nitric acid and toxic organic nitrates. Without proper ventilation, indoor air quality can suffer and cause serious health problems.

But it’s not just the appliance that releases pollutants, it’s the cooking itself. The burning of vegetable and animal fats forms acrolein, another chemical that is highly toxic to people. Making your nose and eyes itchy, acrolein was used as a chemical weapon in WW1! The solution to clean indoor air? Open the windows, minimize exposure to cooking fats and oils, get an air-purifying houseplant, and purchase a range hood that will greatly improve circulation.


#1 Tobacco Smoke

The second leading cause of death in the United States, smoking harms the people around the smoker and the smoker himself. What you may not have known is that tobacco smoke has a great environmental impact. Polluting the air and harming human and animal life, cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 different chemicals, of which 400 are poisonous to man. Reports note that around sixty cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in secondhand smoke causing eye, nose and throat irritations, respiratory tract infections, worsening pre-existing respiratory problems as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart diseases and cancers. Some examples of the harmful effects on children include coughs and cold, reduced lung growth and function, chest infections, pneumonia and bronchitis.

Moreover, the third-hand smoke refers to the residual particles that remain in the air after a cigarette is extinguished. These particles linger on a smoker’s hair, clothing, carpets, curtains, rugs and windows. Young children are especially susceptible to these toxins as they crawl on, play on, touch and inhale particles from these contaminated surfaces. So how to eliminate tobacco smoke from Indoor the indoor air? Open windows and encourage ventilation, replace all heating and air filters regularly, and try growing air-purifying houseplants.

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