Breathe Easy: Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality

Although outdoor air quality is our focus at JustAir, we get a lot of questions about indoor air. Through this article, we aim to inform individuals and families on common sources of indoor air pollutants and on how to stay safe whether you’re inside or outside.

At JustAir, we strive to protect the 20,000 breaths we all take every day and work to ensure everyone has access to air quality information they need to stay safe and advocate for change. 

But the right to clean air doesn’t end once you move inside. 

On average, people spend about 90% of their time indoors and studies have indicated pollutants indoors can be two to five times worse than outdoors. Too often, pollution enters a home and builds up due to poor indoor-outdoor air circulation. 

Although outdoor air quality is our focus, we get a lot of questions about indoor air. Through this article, we aim to inform individuals and families on common sources of indoor air pollutants and on how to stay safe, whether you’re inside or outside.

What are sources of indoor pollutants?

There are many sources of indoor air pollutants, including outdoor air. In the average household, the most common sources of air pollutants include indoor residential combustion (like gas stoves, fireplaces, and candles), cleaning supplies, pollen, pet dander, cigarette smoke, mold, asbestos, lead, and radon. 

Unfortunately, these pollutants are more prevalent in lower income communities, which tend to have older homes. Studies have identified that these homes are more likely to be vulnerable to multiple indoor air quality hazards including having lead and asbestos in building materials, having structural flaws that lead to peeling paint, water leaks, and cracks, and proximity to industrial areas. 

Outdoor air pollution can also enter homes through open windows and through poor or nonexistent insulation, resulting in higher concentrations building up over time and getting trapped inside. This is particularly dangerous when the air quality index is high due to events like wildfires, high vehicle traffic, industrial emissions, and more.

What can be done to improve indoor air quality?

The good news is that anyone can improve their indoor air quality. Taking low-cost and preventative measures can keep households safe. The table below details common sources of indoor air pollutants, the types of pollutants generated by each source, and how to avoid harmful buildup. For more information on indoor air pollutants, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s interactive tool or our article, What’s in the Air?

Good ventilation is also important to minimizing indoor pollution. Most homes and apartments have HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) and those filters should be changed regularly to minimize pollution build up (most professionals recommend every 3 to 12 months). If you do not have direct access to the HVAC system, ask your building supervisor or landlord about the filter status. 

Even new, energy efficient homes and buildings can also have air pollution issues due to a lack of air circulation. In general, if air indoors ever feels stale, open windows and allow fresh air in to increase circulation (first check—if we operate in your area—or to be sure the outdoor air quality is good that day!). 

What products can mitigate indoor pollution?

There is so much individuals can do to improve indoor air quality simply by mitigating risks and changing behaviors, as outlined above. However, if you’re concerned about the quality of your indoor air or have health issues like asthma, there are several products that can increase your awareness and reduce the impacts of poor indoor air. 

  • Install an indoor air quality monitoring system. Here are some of the most top rated options, which range in price from about $60 to $200. 
  • Use indoor air purifiers to remove harmful pollutants from the air, especially in places like bedrooms or living rooms where people spend a lot of time. Here are some tested and top rated options. While it may not work for everyone, you can also try reaching out to your building manager and asking if they can provide an air purifier if there are specific irritants beyond your control (e.g., smoke smell in the building). 
  • If you’re a homeowner, leverage incentive programs to make larger household improvements like getting insulation, replacing gas appliances, improving HVAC systems, replacing windows and more. There is a federal Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit that supports many of these types of improvements and several states may offer incentive programs for air pollution improvements. For example the Michigan Safe School Indoor Air Ventilation Program provided free air purifiers to schools and childcare providers last year.  
  • Explore other products like window screens with dust and allergen filters, plant based cleaning products, and more.

Finally, be sure to sign up for JustAir’s outdoor air quality text alerts to get notified when outdoor air quality is poor so you and your family can take action to stay safe. The best way to tackle indoor air pollution is to be proactive! Making small changes like wearing masks while cleaning, opening windows when outdoor air quality is healthy, and avoiding harmful chemicals can go a long way in improving your indoor air and overall lung health.

While our focus at JustAir remains on outdoor air quality, we are continuing to research and collaborate with partners to identify areas where we can make an impact. For more information on our projects, be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter at the bottom of this page or contact us with questions or opportunities to collaborate. 

DeVynne Farquharson, Ph.D
May 4, 2024
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