How to make your home healthier
Whether you're indoors or out, the quality of the air you breathe can leave a big impact on your health. Many studies have linked poor outdoor air quality to lung cancer, stroke, and heart disease. In fact, air pollution causes 3.3 million deaths worldwide each year, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Even though it’s a shocking fact, the air inside our home is generally more polluted than the air outside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Research shows that we spend most of our time indoors, that in itself is a good enough reason to start cleaning our indoor air.
There are a number of reasons why indoor air in our home can be polluted. Some sources, such as building materials, furniture and electronics, can release pollutants more or less continuously, according to the EPA. Other sources of pollution, such as smoking, cleaning or changing sheets, towels, carpets, etc, can release pollutants intermittently. Non-ventilated or malfunctioning devices can release potentially dangerous levels of contaminants into the home (that's why it's so important to have a working carbon monoxide detector).
If you think that spraying the environment with a scented spray is enough to clean the air, think again. That smell is a form of indoor air pollution, and most air fresheners simply release more potentially harmful chemicals into the home. The health problems caused by those chemicals cost billions a year in treatments and lost productivity costs, according to a 2016 study published in The Lancet.
Then how can we improve indoor air quality without the use of chemicals? In this gallery we show you a few effective ways to make our air cleaner and in turn our home healthier.
It's the simplest (and cheapest) thing we can do to improve indoor air quality. Just by opening the windows for 5 minutes a day will alleviate the build-up of harmful indoor air pollutants. In winter it may cost a little more, but it's worth it. Your health will thank you.
Having indoor plants can help improve the quality of the air that circulates through the rooms of the house, a study published by the American Society for Horticultural Science found. For example, spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) are effective in reducing benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and xylene.
We have already mentioned spider ivy, but we can also include as interior decoration gerberas, Sansevieria trifasciata or tiger tail, potos (Scindapsus aures), chrysanthemums (Chrysantheium morifolium), azaleas (Rhododendron simsii), ficus benjamina or dracenas (Dracaena marginata).
Some essential oils such as tea tree oil, have antibacterial properties and can be added to household cleaners or even applied topically to the skin to treat a small cut. But did you know that these oils can also reduce airborne bacteria? Essential oils such as eucalyptus, cloves and rosemary have also been shown to help reduce the number of dust mites in the home.
The reason why particles float in the air around us is because they are positively charged ions. The air is cleaner in the forest, or near a waterfall, for example, because nature creates negative ions, which bind to positive ions, making them heavier and falling to the ground.
The burning of beeswax candles artificially creates the phenomenon we have just explained of negative ions inside, cleaning the air of our home. However, burning any type of candle sends soot into the air of the house. To avoid this altogether, we could totally replace candles with LED candles, which will pollute the air less and reduce the risk of fire.
Dirt on the outside can carry some really repulsive substances: pesticides, pollen, fungi, bacteria or faeces, for example. When you walk into your house, all or some of that can stay on the bottom of your shoes, so it's best to take them off when you come in. It will help keep your air clean, not to mention the floor, of course.
Pet dander, the skin cells of your cat, dog, ferret... is found almost everywhere in a pet home. Even more than a pet's skin, dandruff can cause it to develop asthma-like symptoms or exacerbate its asthma if it already exists. If you have a pet, be sure to keep dandruff to a minimum by regularly cleaning it, brushing it outdoors if possible, and vacuuming the floor and furniture regularly with a HEPA filter.
If you have central air conditioning, you already have at your disposal an air filtration system for the whole house. It works by removing the air from the house, cooling it and pumping it back in. Most systems have a filter that needs to be changed regularly, and this filter can trap particles as it does its job. The more you change the filter, the better, of course. Don't forget to check the manufacturer's recommendations when changing filters.
Many of the household cleaners we buy in stores contain toxic chemicals that can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. If you're going to use these products, at least open the windows while you're doing it. But as a more eco-friendly option, you might consider making your own household cleaning products using ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, citrus juice or essential oils.
Air purifiers can be an effective way to reduce harmful particles in the air. If someone in your family has asthma, it may be worth placing one in their room and another in the main room.
This fungus releases spores into the air that can trigger allergy symptoms. It likes to grow in dark, damp places, such as the bathroom, washing machine area, or basement. Don't worry. You don't need to bleach it. There are several ways to kill mold without chemicals like vinegar or hydrogen peroxide.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that stay in the air and are everywhere in our homes. VOCs, such as tolulene and benzene, are found in objects such as adhesives, paints, fabrics, building materials and more. When you buy a new sofa or chair, you should know that it will emit VOCs: more strongly at first and then less. To reduce damage to indoor air, we recommend that you ventilate as much as possible to allow VOCs to escape. If you can, keep this furniture in the garage for a week, or at least keep the windows in that room open most of the day for the first few months.
To avoid a kitchen full of smoke and a persistent smell of burnt oil - which will last in your home for several hours - it is advisable to use a kitchen oil that has a high smoke point. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point compared to avocado, peanut, safflower, canola, corn and sunflower oils. If you prefer a less strong taste, you can use light olive oil, which has a smoke point of 252ºC compared to 210ºC for extra virgin olive oil. In any case, we remember that flax oil - for example - has a low smoke point and deteriorates rapidly. Better not to use it for cooking, but raw.
Once we have taken note of all these tips, we remember that, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, when it comes to doing household chores, if we clean vigorously for 20 minutes without stopping once a week, anxiety, distress or depression can improve.
The study also emphasizes that any type of vigorous physical exercise, sustained over a period of at least 20 minutes, can have a good impact on mental health. Scientists at University College London said that the more vigorous and frequent the activity, the greater the impact on health. Thus, people who played sports at least once a week were 33% less likely to have mental health problems. Those who did vigorous housework once a week regularly were 20% less likely to have mental health problems. This decreased risk continued even after factors such as age, sex, and the presence of a long-term condition were taken into account.