Sunday, October 26, 2014

6 ways to combat indoor air pollution

Vacuum, dust, and other ways to clear the air | Published: September 26, 2014 08:00 AM

The air inside your house could be five times more polluted than what’s outside, especially during the winter. Cold weather keeps windows and doors shut tight, preventing the exchange of fresh air. Roaring fireplaces are a potential source of noxious soot and smoke. Even scented candles, whether peppermint or pine, can release harsh chemicals.

Those pollutants can trigger a number of ailments, including allergies, asthma, and chronic headaches. Even if you’re symptom-free, it pays to clear the air at home when you're expecting guests because people react differently to contaminants. Here are some effective strategies from the experts at Consumer Reports—and many of them don’t cost a thing. You’ll also find our latest test results for air purifiers, which can provide an added weapon in your effort to breathe easier.

Control the moisture
Water is the cause of so many house problems, including those related to bad indoor air. Too much moisture raises humidity levels above 50 percent, the point at which mold, mildew, and other allergens thrive. That’s why it’s critical to keep out rainwater by maintaining your gutters, leaders, and downspouts. Also make sure that the soil around your house slopes away from the foundation.

Capture the dust
All of those particles you see dancing through the daylight come from pollen, pet dander, and other pollutants. Regular vacuuming prevents dust buildup on carpets, furniture, and other surfaces. Once a week should suffice, although if you have pets that shed a lot, you’ll probably need to clean more often. To find the best vacuum for carpet, bare floors and pet hair, check our full vacuum Ratings and recommendations.

It’s a good idea to dust furniture, blinds, and windowsills before you vacuum. Using an electrostatically charged duster or a damp rag will help minimize airborne particulates. Of course, the less dirt that enters your house, the better. Place doormats at entrances and consider imposing a shoes-off policy.

Switch on your exhaust fans
Routinely replacing the air in your house with a fresh outdoor supply will cut down on contaminants. Exhaust fans are a good source of ventilation, especially during the winter months when windows tend to be closed. Run the bathroom fan after you shower to control mold and mildew. As for the kitchen, our tests have found that vented range hoods remove smoke and odors far better than a fan on an over-the-range microwave.

Contain any chemicals
Remember that many cleaning products are a potential source of contaminants. Always read the labels and follow instructions carefully. In the case of certain cleaners, chemicals are emitted quickly, so use them only in well-ventilated areas. Other products, including paint, release chemicals over time, so look for those that are low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and for items that are formaldehyde-free. After using them in a room, keep the windows open with a fan running for several days.

Stamp out smoke and fumes
We all know that smoking cigarettes kills. But what’s less known is that about 3,000 nonsmokers die each year from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke. So ban smoking in your house.

Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces can also release harmful smoke and soot if they’re not maintained properly. Along with scented candles, incense can send particles into the air that can cause asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

Then there’s carbon monoxide, a more threatening pollutant that claims hundreds of lives each year. Referred to as the silent killer, the odorless, colorless gas can kill without warning if it leaks from a faulty furnace, clothes dryer, or other fuel-fired appliance. Install a CO alarm on every level of your house, including the basement.

Consider an air purifier
Those devices can help clear the air in your house. We wouldn’t have spent almost $10,000 on dozens of test models if that weren’t true. But first you should take the preventative steps outlined above. “Without source control and proper ventilation, using an air cleaner to reduce pollutants in your home is like bailing water out of a leaky boat,” says Elliott Horner, Ph.D., lead scientist for UL Environment (Underwriters Laboratories). Certain environmental conditions may also create the need for supplemental air cleaning. For example, if you rarely open your windows because you live next to a highway or near an industrial site, an air purifier might be helpful.

Top air purifiers from our tests
Consumer Reports tests both room and whole-house air purifiers, which replace the standard filter in a forced-air heating or cooling system. Here are the top three of each type.

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