10 tips to improve the air quality in your home

Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

During the summer I don”t think much about our indoor air quality because we are outside breathing in the fresh, mountain air.  But when the snow comes, we often spend ninety percent of our day inside breathing air that can be more seriously polluted than even the largest and most industrialized cities.

There are three methods of improving indoor air quality: controlling the source of pollution, ventilation and cleaning the air.  The most effective? Eliminate or reduce the source of pollution.

Let”s review our options:

Controlling the Source of Pollution

1. Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas in the soil that enters your home through cracks and openings near the ground.  It”s also the leading source of lung cancer among non-smokers.  This hits close to home – I know someone that died of lung cancer, and she didn”t smoke.  You can or look for one at your local home improvement store.

2. Smoke

Children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke. It causes cancer, asthma and increases risk of ear infections and SIDS.  If you must smoke, do it outside only and not in cars as lingering smoke residue, “thirdhand smoke”, is currently being studied as dangerous, too.

3. Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and can kill you before you know it”s there. It comes from leaking gas appliances, fireplaces, space heaters, furnaces and more.  In fact, I discovered a natural gas leak at my current house that the previous owners hadn”t – because I had a carbon monoxide detector installed the day I moved in.

Firefighters recommend that you have a carbon monoxide detector installed on each level of your home, at floor level preferably near a furnace vent and replaced every five years, whether you think it”s working well or not.

Photo by ohmeagan

4. VOCs

VOC”s are chemicals found in cleaning supplies, paint, pesticides, air fresheners, dry-cleaned clothing and more. They can damage the liver, kidneys, central nervous and cause cancer.  A few ways to control VOC”s:

  • use natural cleaning supplies, Simple Homemade has easy recipes and tips
  • paint items outside and buy non-VOC paint
  • buy used painted goods or plastics so they”ve had time to off-gas before they get to your home
  • avoid buying clothing that needs to be dry-cleaned or learn how to wash them gently at home
  • minimize or avoid use of aerosol cans (hairspray, sunscreen, air fresheners, etc.)
  • buy PVC-free products when you can, such as plastic shower curtains (Ikea also sells inexpensive shower curtains made of PEVA, a safer plastic)

5. Mold, Dust Mites and Pet Dander

These allergens can irritate allergies and asthma in both adults and children. My husband used allergy medication most of his life until eight years ago when we moved into a home that was newer (and no damp basement) and had never had pets in it. You can reduce these allergens in your home in the following ways:

  • use exhaust fans and/or open windows in the bathroom while showering or bathing
  • don”t over water plants
  • wash bedding and stuffed animals in hot water once per week
  • when the person with allergies/asthma is not home, vacuum floors and upholstered furniture with a HEPA filtered vacuum, mop with a microfiber dust mop and dust
  • keep mattress and pillows in allergen free protectors
  • if you have pets, keep them outdoors as much as possible and don”t allow them in sleeping areas or on upholstered furniture

6.  Outdoor Pollutants

Lead, pesticides and other outdoor pollutants are brought into your home on clothing and shoes. You can reduce this by offering one or two doormats (one outside the door and one inside the door) to clean off shoes.  We instituted a “no-shoes” policy in our home about three years ago and it has really cut down on the amount of floor cleaning we need to do.

Indoor Ventilation

7.  Fans

Using the exhaust fan in the kitchen will evaporate the gas, smoke, and humidity while you cook.  When you are bathing or showering, turn on the bathroom fan.  Attics often have fans that can be operated, particularly in the summer to help keep the house cool.

Photo by diego3336

8.  Old-Fashioned Ventilation

Open a few windows every day for five to ten minutes to get fresh air circulating in your house. During the winter, I do this in the afternoon to minimize lost heat.

Cleaning the Air

9.  Houseplants

Houseplants have been shown to remove chemical vapors and grow “fresh air”.  Contributor, Stephanie Langford, has compiled a list of effective houseplants here.

10.  Air Filters

Air filters can run the gamut from inexpensive furnace filters to whole house filters.  Two inexpensive ways to filter the air in your home are to use in your furnace and a HEPA filtered vacuum HEPA (high efficiency particular air) filters remove 99.97% of all particles greater than 0.3 micrometer from the air that passes through.

Do you use any of these tips in your home to improve air quality? Are there any techniques you plan to use now?


Tiffany lives, plays and works in sunny Bend, Oregon with her husband and 2 kids. When she isn't outside playing or dreaming about her next vacation, you can find her writing here.

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  1. These are great tips. I didn’t really notice differences in levels of pollution until we moved to Chicago and I realized it took me longer to get a sunburn in Chicago than it did just across the lake in Michigan where I lived before. Pretty crazy.

  2. We want to incorporate more plants into our home, but with two kids who like to dig in anything, it is a little challenging. We definitely keep the windows open a lot, not so much in the winter though – a little too cold for that! But, when we have “warm” days, I do try to get the windows open so that we have a little less dead air. I also try to run an ionizer in the winter.

  3. These are great tips- I’ve been getting the sniffles- it is probably my air quality

  4. Great article and tips! I recently given myself a crash course in therapeutic aromatherapy, and diffusers used with specific essential oils blends can be very effective. The famous “thieves” blend is one that comes to mind for combating black mold, in particular.

  5. Nice to be here and see your post!

  6. thanks for the great tips and i can’t believe the pollution level in our homes.

  7. House plants are a brilliant idea when you’re looking to improve the air quality of your home. A useful post =)

  8. Really great post with information and helpful tips. In out homes we do have control of many of the common contaminants and can take steps to clear them out or not introduce them in the first place. Keeping your AC and filters maintained makes a difference too.

  9. Love the opening picture, that’s what we all wish that are air could be like at our homes but if you live in a big city like me then it’s going to take some work. Thanks for all the tips.

  10. Really great tips! Thank God! that I have hypoallergenic dogs that I could bring inside the house to sleep. Cleaning fans and air con could also improve the quality of the air in your home.

  11. Great post – people don’t often understand that improving the air will not only make you healthier but improve your quality of life. It’s crazy to me that people can live in poor air quality, my allergies would go nuts!!

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