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30 Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality

Last Updated: April 26, 2024

Written by Karen Norman
Improving Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Quality – An Introduction.

Breathe Easy in your Home.

Indoor Air Quality can get overlooked. Often, we focus on the air quality outdoors instead. How many times during the summer do we close windows in Calgary? Despite the heat, we shut up our homes to stop smoke from forest fires entering our living space. Although not so obvious, our indoor air quality can get just as compromised, if not more so. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests that indoor pollutants can be up to five times higher than those outdoors.

According to the EPA, we spend 90% of our time indoors. During the winter months, we keep everything sealed up and draft-free. Unfortunately, protecting ourselves from those extreme cold Albertan temperatures can have a detrimental effect on people who suffer from respiratory problems or allergies. Alberta winters can be lengthy and extend well into April and May. Even an early spring can be too cold to open up the home to fresher air.

Who is Affected by Poor Indoor Air Quality?

Asthmatics and those suffering from respiratory problems are at high risk of being affected by Indoor Air Pollution. People with existing allergies may be more susceptible, too. Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or autoimmune illnesses are also vulnerable. Yet anyone exposed to air pollution over a prolonged period may suffer its effects.

How do I know if I am affected by Poor Indoor Air Quality? 

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), it is not unusual to experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Allergy Symptoms – Coughing and Sneezing
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Dry Skin
  • Irritated Eyes, Nose, or Throat
  • Blocked Sinuses
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness

Over time, more severe conditions can materialize. Of course, some of these symptoms can be attributable to other illnesses, so we do not assume that the above symptoms directly result from poor indoor air quality.

Seeking the advice of a Health Care Provider is always recommended in the first instance. Nevertheless, if symptoms lessen once you are away from your usual indoor environment, it may be worth investigating the causes of poor indoor air quality.

What Causes Poor Indoor Air Quality?

Several factors could affect your Indoor Air Quality, and the following list is not exhaustive.

  • Aerosol Sprays

Unfortunately, the very thing we use to freshen up a room could be a culprit in polluting the air. Some aerosols include chemicals such as formaldehyde and xylene.

  • Asbestos

We are not experts in Asbestos; suffice to say, we know it can be a serious and dangerous hazard. Therefore, you are advised to seek out the advice of an Asbestos Abatement Expert. Please note that Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Code requires workers to take government-approved training and hold a valid asbestos worker certificate.

  • Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is a hazardous, odourless, tasteless gas and therein lies its danger. It can be deadly. It is found in combustion gases in fuel-burning appliances such as:

– Gas-fired or oil-fired furnaces, boilers and water heaters.
– Wood fireplaces or stoves.
– Portable heaters run on propane, natural gas or kerosene.

Therefore, you should get your appliances checked and serviced regularly.
Please see Combustion Gases in Your Home – Things You Should Know About Combustion Spillage. In particular, note their recommendation for installing Smoke and CO Alarms in your home.

  • Dead Skin Cells

According to ScienceDaily, people shed skin particles at a rate of 500 million cells per day. A layer of skin is replaced every two to four weeks. That is a significant source of dust, which might explain why we continually have to dust!

  • Dust

As mentioned above, dust comes from dead skin cells. But it can come from other sources, such as dirt brought into the home on shoes or from open windows. It also comes from Dust Mites.

  • Dust Mites

While microscopic, dust mites are relatives of spiders and ticks! They feed off dead skin lingering in fabric, bedclothes, upholstery, and carpets. They flourish in warm, humid conditions.

  • Dryer Lint and Dryer Vents

Dryers can be a major source of lint and dust collection. Most dryers are designed to vent to the outside, but when the vents get clogged, air does not flow as it should. Additionally, scented dryer sheets can give off toxic chemicals.

  • Chemicals used by some Carpet Cleaners

Yes, chemicals used by some carpet cleaning technicians can pollute the air. Ask whether they use products that are environmentally friendly. 

Of course, carpets can also be a magnet for dust if not cleaned properly. So, if you want to improve your indoor environment, Carpet Cleaning can be beneficial.

  • Flame Retardants

Retardants are sometimes used on Furniture, Mattresses and Fabrics to prevent the spread of fire. However, chemicals used in retardant treatments can be toxic.

  • Formaldehyde

According to a Government of Canada Report on Formaldehyde in your home, Canadian homes are generally below the recommended exposure limit of 10 to 40 μg/m3 or 8 to 32 ppb. However, it also depends on the number of different sources of formaldehyde in the home. Formaldehyde can be found in household items ranging from floor finishes to wallpaper to drapes, glues, varnishes, and wood-plastic composites. Sometimes, higher levels occur in newly built homes.

  • Fossil Fuels

Do you live near a busy road? Then caution is advised when opening windows to let in the fresh air. You may find it is not so fresh. Try instead opening windows away from the road when airing the home.

  • HVAC Forced Air Systems and Dirty Air Ducts

Air vent cleaning may contribute to better air quality. However, the merits of cleaning the ductwork to improve indoor air quality are often debated. Our furnace and duct cleaning page discusses the rationale for duct cleaning.

  • Mould, Mildew and Fungi

Mould, Mildew and Fungi occur where there is excess moisture. While naturally occurring outdoors and necessary for decomposition purposes, the same cannot be said for the indoors. If your home has a lot of humidity, you may find mould growing on wood, drywall, upholstery, fabric, tiles or carpets. This is especially likely if moisture from water leaks or plumbing issues have not been addressed or the moisture is not allowed to dry sufficiently. Mould Spores can become airborne.

  • Pets

Unfortunately, as loveable as Pets are, they bring many issues, from pet dander to urine accidents.

  • Particulate Matter (PM)

Particulate matter is a range of microscopic contaminants in the air. Many are invisible or just barely visible. This matter can nonetheless cause problems breathing. PM is measured in Microns as follows:

– PM10 – for particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns,
– PM2.5 – for particles with a diameter of less than 10 microns.

  • Pollen

Pollen (an allergy culprit) can find its way into the home through the breeze of an open window. Then, when the season is ripe for it, pollen can easily be tracked in by members of the household.

  • Radon Gas

Radon Gas can seep into the lower levels of the home. It is caused by the breakdown of uranium found in the soil and rocks under our homes. Hence, it is usually detected in basements. Inhaling Radon Gas can damage the lungs and cause cancer. Fortunately, it is possible to test for Radon Gas. See below.

  • Vehicle Exhaust Emissions from Attached Garages

One should avoid running a vehicle in the garage, especially in a garage attached to a home. The same goes for lawnmowers or any gasoline-powered appliance. They all give off Benzine, not to mention the risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

  • VOCs Volatile Organic Compounds

VOCs are chemicals found in numerous household items, such as perfume, hairspray, and paint, to name three. One VOC is Benzine, as mentioned above. In a study by Health Canada – Guidance for Benzine in Residential Indoor Air they found that homes with an attached garage had three times the level of Benzine than homes with a detached garage.

Indoor Air Quality affected by Dust and Dust Mites

Dust, Dead Skin Cells and Dust Mites can be difficult to spot.

How to check your Indoor Air Quality?

Here are five ways to check to see if Indoor Air Quality is not as good as it should be:

  • Your Symptoms

If you notice an increase in some of the symptoms mentioned above, they may act as a trigger to check for issues that might cause poor indoor air quality. While ‘Cabin Fever’ is often thought of as the indoor or winter blues, it may well be that a low indoor air quality index contributes significantly to your feelings of depression.

  • Pet Symptoms

Unfortunately, poor indoor air quality can affect not just humans but also pets. Pets may show symptoms before you do. Surely, you have heard of coal miners using canaries or mice to detect carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases. Look out for signs of lethargy or trouble breathing in your pet.

  • Gas, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Alarms that are checked regularly and have batteries replaced as indicated will sound when toxic, odourless gas levels are getting dangerously high.

  • Do a Radon Test

Check out the site Take Action on Radon for details on purchasing Radon Test Kits in Alberta.

  • Get an Indoor Air Quality Monitor

A company whose testing products seem to be popular is called Airthings. At least one of their products, the Airthings Battery Operated Wave Plus Indoor Air Quality Monitor with Radon Detection (Free App), can be found locally in Calgary at places like Home Depot and Canadian Tire. The Wave Plus tests for Radon, VOCs, and Humidity. Recently, Airthings bought out a new product called View Plus. This appears to do all that the Wave Plus does but also measures Particulate Matter (PM).

How to improve Indoor Air Quality?

Below, we list thirty ways to improve Indoor Air Quality.

1. Use an air cleaner or air purifier.

Air Cleaners filter the air using HEPA filters.
Air Purifiers attempt to sanitize the air by neutralizing it using negative ions.

2. Install air conditioning.

In the summer, air conditioners can help control Indoor Air Quality.
At the risk of oversimplification, taking air from inside the home, pushing it through filters, then over cold coils, and returning it through a series of vents is not just good for cooling the air; it also helps remove particles that pollute the air.

3. Check air conditioning vents.

AC Vents typically refer to the return air supply for your Air Conditioning System. They should be open, clean and free from blockages. However, one should note that portable air conditioning units need to be vented, and the vents may need cleaning, too.

4. Check your air ducts.

Evaluate whether duct cleaning would be beneficial. NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association)  recommends both regular furnace filter replacement and furnace cleaning in their video: “Indoor Air Quality and Your Home’s Heating and Cooling System."

5. Regularly change filters in forced-air heating systems.

If you choose only one thing from this list, we suggest regular furnace filter replacement. Its importance cannot be overstated.

6. Clean Bedding and Mattresses regularly.

Beds and their coverings can be a breeding ground for dust mites if not regularly cleaned.
In addition to changing those covers, you may wish to get a professional mattress cleaning or check out some of our mattress cleaning hacks.

7. Avoid burning commercial and scented candles.

Use candles made of Beeswax. Some candles, such as those made of soy wax or paraffin, pollute the air, but Beeswax, by contrast, helps clean the indoor air.
Beeswax candles emit negative ions, which help counteract positively charged ions in the air.

8. Clean Dryer Vents and Lint Traps

It goes without saying that the lint filter should be changed between each dryer load. However, that screen can only trap so much lint. Unfortunately, some lint and dust still find their way past that screen, resulting in the need for regular dryer vent cleaning.

9. Take care with any sprays you use to freshen the home.

Aerosol Sprays (mentioned above) are detrimental to air quality.
Instead, choose Natural Products to Freshen the Kitchen and Home. 

10. Pay attention to the chemicals in household cleaners.

Household Cleaners contain toxic chemicals such as VOCs.
Try natural cleaners or homemade ones instead, or select a safer choice.

11. Routinely clean drapes, curtains and blinds.

Drapes, curtains, and blinds are often overlooked when performing routine cleaning, but they can collect a lot of dust. If curtains are machine washable, a quick wash might be in order, but many are not. HouseDigest.com suggests using the clothes dryer to remove dust from curtains when dry cleaning or professional cleaning is not on the agenda. The air-only, no-heat setting should be used with a damp towel (emphasis on damp, not wet) to help remove the dust.

12. Keep dirt from outdoors to one spot with mats.

In the warmer, drier months, dirt can easily be brought in from outside. Having mats both outside entranceways and inside will help keep dirt in one area for easy clean-up. It is also advisable to encourage the removal of shoes at the door.

13. Check humidity levels.

Too much or too little humidity can have an effect on air quality. So, how humid should you keep your home? In Calgary, this can be a challenge as humidity levels vary with the climate. Recommendations levels range from 30% to 55%, with humidity between 35% and 50% being ideal. 

14. Do the dusting frequently.

The American Lung Association highlights the correlation between dust and indoor air quality and advocates for a cleaning routine that includes regular dusting. 

15. Improve ventilation.

Good Ventilation has a twofold advantage. It helps remove pollutants from the home whilst letting fresh air in.

16. Remember to empty indoor compost bins.

We all want to do our part for the environment but watch out for those indoor compost bins. Ideally, invest in a high-quality countertop bin with charcoal filters. Replace the charcoal filters every 4-6 months. If your province still has Daylight Saving Time, changing the filter on that day would be a good practice to adopt. Add a Newspaper or kitchen paper towel to the bottom of the bin.

17. Keep garbage cans tightly covered and empty them frequently.

While most food items may go in the compost bin and clean container packaging may be put in the recycle bin, some items will still need to be disposed of in a regular kitchen trash can. Some of these items will undoubtedly have food stuck to them, which will cause smells if not tightly contained and emptied frequently. 

18. Avoid tobacco smoke in the home.

Tobacco smoke contains a range of pollutants, including formaldehyde, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and VOCs. The Government of Canada advises making your home smoke-free to improve indoor air quality and avoid the dangers of secondhand smoke

19. Look after your pets and control where they roam.

There are many benefits to having pets, but there are also some disadvantages. Dander in the air from pets of the fur and feather kind can cause allergies. Keeping certain rooms (such as bedrooms) free from pets is a good idea. 

20. Reduce clutter where dust can accumulate.

Check out the video on the relationship between clutter and dust and the correlation between the two. 

21. Steam clean carpets and rugs.

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) maintains that carpets in your home can improve indoor air quality because they trap dirt and dust particles in their fibres. However, if the carpet is not deep cleaned regularly, this can also be a pitfall. For carpets and rugs to be beneficial, they require proper maintenance, such as vacuuming, and more professional extraction, such as steam cleaning, using the hot water extraction method

22. Turn on the bathroom and kitchen fans that extract and vent outside.

Bathroom and Kitchen fans are an asset to your home’s ventilation. They help remove odours and humidity, which are both contributing factors to poor indoor air quality. 

23. Vent while you cook.

Venting whilst cooking is crucial when you have a joint open-spaced kitchen and living area. Cooking smells can linger. 

24. Make use of house plants.

Plants work for some, but they can be a haven for mould for others. An exception could be cacti that do not require much watering. This is because cacti are less likely to accumulate mould in the plant pot.

25. Use salt lamps.

Himalayan Salt Crystals emit negative ions. Therefore, they create a great ambiance and are safer than candles.

26. Vacuum frequently.

Get a Vacuum cleaner with a Hepa Filter and change as required.

27. Wash Hardwood and Tile Floors.

According to Cleanfax’s article: The Impact of Floors on Indoor Air Quality and Health, floors can act as gathering spots for many pollutants, including food spills, hair and dirt, and invisible contaminants such as dead skin cells, spores, and pollen. Hardwood floor and tile cleaning is often done for aesthetic reasons, but health should also be a consideration. 

28. Take steps when the Outdoor Air Quality Health Index is High Risk.

When the outdoor air quality health index (AQHI) is high due to smoke, create a cleanroom.

29. Clean your upholstery.

Airborne particles can land and get trapped in the crevices of your favourite sofa. They are also sponges for dropped food, hair, and dead skin cells. At a minimum, your upholstery needs vacuuming, but deep cleaning upholstery once a year is advisable. 

30. Avoid burning wood indoors.

Some love the traditional feel of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, but it is not good for Indoor Air Quality.
The smell of wood burning might feel homely and comforting, but smoke contains ‘particulate matter’ that can get into the lungs and cause breathing issues. In addition, there are risks from CO and VOCs and PAHs (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons).

Finally – Educate yourself on Indoor Air Quality.

A fun way to educate yourself on IAQ is through quizzes.

If you live in Calgary or surrounding areas, Dang Good Carpet and Furnace Cleaning has the following services:

Feel free to give us a call for a free, no-obligation quote. 

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