Caroline Wallace combines two of her passions—science writing and complementary and alternative medicine, along with her knowledge of DoTERRA Essential Oils.
spring cleaning just ahead

Spring Cleaning? Don’t Forget About Indoor Air Quality!

3 minutes. 3 days. 3 weeks. Most of us are familiar with the rule of threes regarding basic survival. Based on the unit of time, access to oxygen is our most important resource for survival. 

Since air is critical for our survival, the quality of the air wherever you spend the majority of your time is an essential factor to consider. You may be surprised to learn that indoor air quality can actually be worse than outdoor air! This is mainly due to the following combination of factors: 

  • There is little ventilation in homes – harmful substances can remain inside for a long time. 
  • Paints, new furniture, cleaning supplies, and other indoor products all release chemicals that can affect our health.

The good news is that there are some easy changes that you can make to improve your indoor air quality at home. This article will dive into three sources of indoor air pollutants and some action steps you can take, so your lungs (and overall health!) will be better able to take on any other challenges. 

What is air pollution and why should we care?

The term “air pollution” may make you think of dirty vehicles spewing dark exhaust or a refinery bellowing chalky-colored fumes into the air. However, air pollutants are any chemical or particle that can harm human (and animal) health at high enough concentrations. 

When the U.S. first began paying attention to air pollution in the 1970s, it was due to the concern that pollutants could threaten our respiratory health. More modern research on air pollution and health shows that air pollution is a serious health concern due to increased risks for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and even neurological, reproductive, and immune system disorders. Over 10,000 scientific articles have been published on air pollution and health in the last three years alone. The bottom line is that we cannot ignore air pollution! 

We may not be able to control our outdoor air pollution, but we definitely can regulate and improve our indoor air quality. Here are the potential indoor air pollutants:

AsbestosBiological PollutantsCarbon monoxide
FormaldehydeLeadNitrogen dioxide
PesticidesRadonParticulate matter
Secondhand tobacco smokeVolatile organic compounds Wood smoke

Biological pollutants

Biological pollutants include house dust, mites, pollen, animal dander, viruses, and bacteria. Since biological contaminants are produced by living things, this type of pollution is often found where there is excess food or moisture. For example, mold is often found in unvented bathrooms. General good housekeeping is one of the best ways to reduce the levels of biological pollutants. 

  • Schedule a quarterly or semi-annual “deep clean” where you spend some extra time cleaning the harder-to-reach areas that are often forgotten.
  • Change the air filter in your central heating/cooling system routinely. If you have pets, it may need to be changed more often than what the instructions state. Set a reminder on your phone!
  • Use an exhaust fan in the bathroom or crack the window. 
  • Use a dehumidifier if the humidity in your house is often above 50%.
  • If you use a cool mist or ultrasonic humidifier (or diffuser), clean it regularly to avoid mold build-up.

Particulate matter

PM (particulate matter) is a mix of microscopic solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air. The smaller the particle, the higher the chance it gets deep in your lungs or even into your bloodstream. Most indoor PMs come from cooking, burning wood or candles, or smoking. Here are some things you can do to reduce PM air pollution in your home:

  • Routinely change the filter in your central heating/cooling system. Set calendar reminders on your phone!
  • If you use a wood-burning fireplace, get it cleaned and inspected during the off-season so it’ll be ready for next winter. 
  • If you have the option, install an exhaust fan that vents to the outside and use it when you cook.
  • Reduce your use of candles, or opt for soy, coconut, or beeswax candles scented with essential oils. 
  • Do not smoke or vape inside the house.

Volatile organic compounds

VOCs – volatile organic compounds – are gases with a high vapor pressure that come from certain solids or liquids. This means these chemicals can easily get dispersed into the air and stay there since they do not dissolve well in water. Many of these are man-made chemicals found all over our homes – paints, solvents, aerosol sprays, dry-cleaned clothing, cleaners and disinfectants, scented plug-ins, and more! VOCs can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous systems, which can go unnoticed for years. Some individuals are more sensitive to VOCs and may get headaches, throat irritation, or dizziness around some products that release VOCs. Fortunately, this air pollutant is the easiest to address:

  • Swap your candles and plug-ins for a diffuser and pure essential oils. Each day you can choose which essential oil scent fits your mood or needs. 
  • Make smart laundry choices: use unscented or naturally scented laundry detergent, and ditch the dryer sheets (more on that here) and use 4-5 drops of essential oil on dryer balls instead. I promise the clothes will still come out smelling fresh. If your neighbor can smell when you’re doing laundry, you know your products have potentially damaging artificial fragrances. 
  • Swap out your highly fragranced cleaning chemicals for healthier options. Many simple cleaning recipes online and concentrates provide disinfecting/cleansing power without the hidden health dangers. Here is one of my favorites!
  • Increase ventilation when you paint inside by opening a window and using a fan. Only use spray paint and solvents outside.
  • Don’t smoke or vape inside the house. 

Final Thoughts

Remember, it is important to focus on what you can control and not be overwhelmed by all the potential risks you cannot control. Do what you can and focus on incremental changes.

Plants are an excellent addition to any home. They add more oxygen to the air, and some can actually help improve air quality! Here is a list of some of the best plants for purifying the air in your home. Worried that you don’t have a green thumb? No worries – many of these can thrive in low light and require minimal watering. 

Disclaimer: This article should not replace individual clinical judgment or professional medical advice.

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