Keeping your house clean can actually make the air dirtier, say researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder. In fact, cooking and cleaning can lead to indoor air quality levels similar to those found in a polluted major city. And it gets worse: These indoor pollutants, called volatile organic compounds, don’t stay inside. When they escape to the great outdoors, they contribute more to global air pollution than cars and trucks.
Called the HOMEChem field campaign, this study — published in the journal Science — used sensors and cameras to monitor the indoor air quality of a 1,200-square-foot model home on the University of Texas Austin campus for one month. The researchers conducted normal daily activities inside the house, including cooking a holiday dinner. The levels of pollutants were so high, the researchers needed to adjust many of their sensors almost immediately to account for them. They were surprised to learn that even such basic household tasks as boiling water or making toast increased air pollution levels and could (eek!) have negative health impacts.
It all sounds alarming, but there are basic (easy!) things you can do to help cut down on indoor air pollution. In addition to using HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters, try these strategies from the Cleveland Clinic:
- Don’t smoke in the house (or, for health reasons, at all!)
- Make sure appliances (stove, dryer, furnace, hot water heater, for example) are well-ventilated
- Minimize clutter and, if it’s an option, carpeting
- Crafty? Do your projects in areas where you can open windows
- Have your home tested for radon and ensure that exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms work properly
- Use carbon monoxide detectors
- Fix water leaks and reduce mold with a dehumidifier or air conditioner
- Dust surfaces and vacuum frequently
- Wash bedding in hot water weekly
- Avoid burning scented candles (bummer, we know — at least try to cut down on their usage)