Simple ways to breathe easy

Simple ways to breathe easy

Air quality

Simple ways to breathe easy

For Bangaloreans, air pollution is a hot topic of conversation. While much can’t be done about the outdoors, we sure can keep our homes clean, says Anuradha Muralidharan.

Even an hour’s drive during peak hours in Bangalore can leave us panting for some fresh air and all that we want to do is get back home and have a fresh bath to get rid of the grime and dust.

However, the fact is, more often than not, the air inside a house can be even more polluted than the air outside. Some of the causes of indoor air pollution include lead (in house dust), formaldehyde, fire-retardants, radon and even volatile chemicals from fragrances used in cleaners. Some pollutants live inside the house while others are brought inside when we buy a new piece of wooden furniture, decide to paint the house or buy a mattress. If you have pets at home, then include pet dander. While children, older members of the family and people with asthma are more sensitive to indoor pollutants, constant exposure can have long-term effects even on healthy people. Here are a few suggestions to keep indoor air quality fresh.

Keep floors clean

The first step is to keep your floors dust-free. Dust, pollutants and chemicals are hidden in corners just out of your eyesight and they show up only when you do a major overhaul. Brooms are not really ideal to sweep out these pollutants. Brooms sweep up the dust and fine particles settle down again on the floor and on furniture. The best way to be hundred per cent sure that your cleaning has been effective is to use a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum cleaners literally suck the dust away and, along with the dust, all those hidden pollutants generally get removed. Using a vacuum cleaner at least once a week is the best way to ensure that your house is dust-free.

The good thing about vacuum cleaners is they come with special brushes for cleaning windows, furniture, sofa sets and carpets. These are the areas where dust really gathers and stays put for a long time. If you don’t want to invest in a vacuum cleaner, at least get a professional cleaner company to clean out your house once in six months. Professional cleaners can charge anywhere between Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 depending on the size of the house, the number of rooms and furniture but they ensure that every nook and corner gets a thorough cleaning.

After cleaning the floor, it is important to mop it too. Mopping helps to pick up fine dust particles which might have escaped the broom or the vacuum cleaner. When using a mop, it is better to avoid cleaning agents which normally have strong chemicals. Just stick to good old water. It is actually quite a task to keep a home clean. Even if the indoors are clean, there will be visitors and family members walking in wearing slippers and shoes, bringing fresh dirt into the house. It is a good idea to keep a large mat at the entrance and insist that people wipe their feet on it before entering the house.

Walls have chemicals

Houses that are more than three decades old are very likely to have lead paint on their walls. Lead dust is extremely dangerous and can cause serious health problems like brain and kidney damage. Formaldehyde, another air pollutant is found in paints but not just limited to the same. It is also emitted from sources such as furniture, carpeting, flooring, cabinets and wallpaper. Some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, while others have no reaction to the same level of exposure. In particular, children and aged people are likely to be more sensitive to the emission, making them prone to sickness. Those suffering from chronic respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis are also more sensitive to the fumes.

There are several brands of paints which now offer odour-less and air care products which use active carbon technology. This technology actually cleanses the air by absorbing formaldehyde and has the ability to continuously absorb the harmful free formaldehyde from the air and convert it to water vapour while simultaneously strengthening the paint film. Hence, the indoor air is cleaner and a healthier living environment is created.

Humidity control

The indoor of a house should have a healthy level of humidity. Keeping humidity at around 30 to 50 per cent keeps dust mites and mold under control. Air conditioning is a great way to reduce moisture in indoor air and effectively control allergens. Air conditioners also help to reduce indoor pollen count.

Keeping bathroom and other wet areas dry will help to control mold and moisture and help to keep the air quality fresh in the house. Kitchens can pollute indoor air quality especially if there is limited ventilation or lack of exhaust fan. It is important to keep windows open and definitely use an exhaust fan or a chimney to control air pollution in the kitchen.

If possible, make the house a no-smoking zone. “Probably, the single-most important aspect of indoor air pollution is secondhand cigarette smoke,” says Philip Landrigan, MD, a paediatrician and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals. Research shows that secondhand smoke increases a child’s risk of developing ear and respiratory infections, asthma, cancer, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). For the smoker, this addiction causes cancer, breathing problems, heart attacks and stroke.

Most of us may not be aware of Radon. Radon is a colourless, odourless gas which significantly ups the risk of lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive gas and comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all kinds of soil. It can move up from the ground and into a house through cracks and openings in the house foundation. Air-tight rooms, drafty houses and houses without basements are potentially at risk. Some experts believe that granite countertops can also cause radon. But there is no clear statistics on how much radon is produced from granite and whether that amount is enough to cause serious damage.

Avoid artificial air fresheners

Many of us connect the word ‘fresh’ to the word ‘fragrant’ and there are countless deodorants available in the market in the form of clothes fresheners, floor cleaners and room fresheners. Before you spray a room freshener around, remember that along with the fresh smell, you are also spraying several harsh chemicals into the air. In one study, a plug-in air freshener was found to emit 20 different volatile organic compounds, including seven regulated as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws.

Some other examples of volatile organic compounds are hair sprays, perfumes, furniture polish, glues, repellants, preservatives and other such products.

These chemicals affect the eyes, ears, nose and throat. If the odour is very strong, inmates can suffer from constant headaches, runny nose, nausea and loss of coordination.

The best way to ensure that you don’t compromise on indoor air quality and yet get your share of deodorants is to switch to natural fragrances and use aroma oils instead of artificial fresheners.

Pop a sliced lemon into the dishwasher to get fresh-smelling utensils. A small cup of baking soda keeps the refrigerator odour-free. Keep natural flowers inside the house and you will be sure that your house smells wonderful.

Indoor plants are natural air purifiers as they absorb carbon dioxide and emanate oxygen. It is important to ensure that the area around the plants is not too wet and mouldy and the plants themselves are pest-free and fresh.

Keeping the house fresh and odour-free, well-ventilated, with a lot of natural light and air will ensure that the air quality indoor is good. Also, follow the tips given above and you will be sure that the air quality inside is superlative.