Did you know that the air inside your home is often more polluted than the air right outside of it? It’s true. Unfortunately, the contents of our homes—everything from flooring to paint to mattresses and furniture—contain chemicals that off-gas into the air we breathe. These harmful toxins (like formaldehyde, found in furniture, paper products and synthetic fabrics; benzene, in plastics, dyes and detergents; and VOCs—volatile organic compounds, in paints and varnishes) can cause symptoms such as allergies and inflammation, dizziness and drowsiness. Long-term exposure is linked to damage to the liver, kidney and brain, as well as certain types of cancer.
Be conscious of the materials you bring into your home
When possible, purchase furniture made from solid wood and natural materials without added chemical flame retardants. (If you need a simple/affordable place to start: IKEA is an industry leader in phasing out chemical toxins from their products.)
Avoiding chemical flame retardants is easier these days than it used to be—for furniture manufactured after 2015, look for the TB117-2013 label on cushions (or underneath the couch), which should read “The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals.” Ashley Furniture, the largest manufacturer and retailer of furniture in the U.S. has removed flame retardant chemicals from their manufacturing (woohoo!).
Solid wood furniture is typically a safer bet than plywood, particle board or composite wood, all of which use glues that can emit formaldehyde fumes. Look for the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) seal denoting wood that is sustainably harvested.
Paints, laminates and veneers are typically high in VOCs, so a budget-friendly workaround is to purchase unfinished furniture and paint it yourself with a safe paint/sealant, such as AFM Safecoat, which seals in VOCs and prevents them from off-gassing into your home.
If you’re not able to purchase nontoxic furniture new, used furniture is a safer alternative, as the volatile compounds have already spent years off-gassing and should now exist in lower, less toxic amounts.
When choosing your new paint color, also be sure to choose your paint ingredients wisely: look for Green Seal-11 certified paint, which is low- or no-VOC and limits other harmful ingredients.
If your home was built before 1978, it likely contains lead paint (possibly under layers of new paint), and thus lead dust. Particularly if you have young children, get your home tested and, if needed, repainted—lead exposure in children has serious neurological and developmental effects.
When building or remodeling, consider the health impact of your building materials—everything from carpet and flooring to cabinetry, paint and ventilation systems impacts the air quality of your home. We suggest referring to EWG’s building supplies guides for more information.
Skip the chemical-fragranced air freshener and petroleum-based candles (which contain known carcinogens, allergens and respiratory irritants) and use nontoxic soy candles or an essential oil diffuser instead.
Avoid vinyl (PVC) shower curtains, which contain a known carcinogen that happens to be best released into the air under warm and moist conditions… like a shower! PEVA or EVA liners are a safer option, and nylon or hemp are even better (though, unfortunately, not as easy to find).
Use your nose as a guide. If a new product smells “funny” (i.e. like chemicals), leave it outside for a few days to air out before bringing it into your home.
Reduce dust, mold & other indoor allergens
Dust (a combination of dead skin cells, soil tracked in from outside, and chemicals from products) is a household allergen that can cause eye irritation, coughing, sneezing and even asthma attacks. Though often harmless, high levels of dust, dust from chemical sources, or very small particles can be unhealthy.
Keep your floors clean by using a HEPA filter vacuum regularly. HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters trap smaller particles than “regular” vacuums, helping to keep them from ending up in your lungs and bloodstream.
Remember to vacuum upholstered furniture regularly too.
Dust exposed surfaces regularly with a microfiber or wet cotton cloth.
Be aware of excess moisture (for example, in bathrooms) that can lead to mold or mildew. If necessary, use a dehumidifier to keep indoor humidity at a healthy level.
On the other hand, if your indoor air is too dry, use a humidifier to add moisture to the air. You can check your relative humidity with this handy little tool. The ideal range for health and comfort is 35-50%.
To reduce tracking outdoor dirt/dust around your home, leave your shoes at the door after wiping them on a natural fiber doormat.
Purify your indoor air
Invest in air-purifying houseplants, aiming for one ten-inch plant per 100 square feet. Some of the best purifying plants include: rubber plant, snake plant, garden mum, ficus, peace lily, boston fern, bamboo palm, spider plant, dracaena and aloe vera.
Himalayan salt lamps, besides being pretty and calming, also work to cleanse your air of dust, pollen, smoke and other contaminants. How does a block of salt do this?! By attracting and absorbing water molecules from the air (as well as any contaminants they’re carrying); as the lamp heats, the water evaporates back into the air, leaving the other particles locked in the salt. Look for a 100% pure Himalayan salt lamp like the one linked above.
A portable HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter removes pollutants such as smoke, dust, mold spores, pollen, pet dander and chemical pollutants like VOCs. We like this ozone-free HEPA purifier, though this Dyson purifier has particularly great air quality monitoring and smart home features. These are effective for one room only—be sure to understand the square footage of your model. Clean and replace your filter regularly according to package instructions.
Opening your windows regularly helps to air out your home and release accumulating toxins.
If your home has a central air system, use the highest rated filter it can accommodate (the American Lung Association recommends MERV 10 or higher). Make sure your filter is installed correctly and changed regularly.
Have your home tested for radon (a natural radioactive gas that can build up indoors and cause lung cancer over time). About 1 in 15 U.S. homes have unhealthy radon levels. If levels are too high, have a certified professional install a radon ventilation system.
Interested in knowing more about the air quality inside your home? This combined dust, VOC, mold & formaldehyde test kit is available on Amazon (lab analysis included in the cost). If you’d like to continuously monitor your air quality, this Dyson HEPA air purifier does just that.