Which Household Products Should You Avoid for Better Air Quality?
Which Household Products Should You Avoid for Air Quality?
Between the thick blankets of city smog and giant smokestacks puffing large amounts of pollutants into the environment, it’s easy to see why most people focus on the dangers of outdoor air.
But did you know that the air in your home can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air? This fact is alarming — especially when you consider that the average human spends around 90 percent of their time indoors.
Indoor air quality may not be something that you’ve ever really thought about until Covid-19. All that time spent inside generated new awareness about indoor air quality. Now might be a good time to give it serious consideration. The truth is, that many of the household products you commonly use and trust each day can cause a slew of air quality problems all on their own.
What Are Considered Household Products?
Household products are exactly as they sound — products that are used in the household. This wide variety can include your household essentials. While you may not think twice about grabbing your duster, dustpan, and paper towels to tidy up your living room, the products you use may be causing a bigger problem than the mess you see before you.
From lemon scent cleaning products, to the laundry detergents you put in your washer, to the stain remover you blot on with a microfiber cleaning cloth, these household items might clean your home. But, they may not be doing your air quality any favors.
How Do Household Products Affect Air Quality?
For some folks, the lemony-fresh scent of glass cleaner or hand soap is synonymous with a tidy house. But before you breathe in deep to savor the fruits of your labor, you should know that many of these household products may actually be harmful to your health. How?
A shockingly wide range of cleaning supplies can be sources of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. In short, some VOCs can be toxic gasses that are released into the air when you clean up with certain cleaning supplies.
The compounds evaporate almost instantly at room temperature, so they can quickly become part of the air you breathe. Breathing in low levels of these toxic gasses for long periods of time may increase the risk of certain health problems, such as asthma, allergic reactions, or even different types of cancer. Since Americans spend 90% of their time inside, indoor air quality is a big deal.
Which Household Products Should You Avoid?
Although there are many products on the list, here are some of the top indoor air-polluting offenders.
There are a ton of products that are designed as aerosol sprays. These include multi-surface cleaning sprays, deodorant, and fresheners for linens and other fabrics. Even aerosol cooking oil spray is a bit suspect because of the added chemicals.
This includes propellants, or fuels, like butane, propane, and isobutane, as well as a variety of foam-preventing silicone.
The issue with aerosol products is that while it may not seem like a big deal to spritz a little room freshener and take a big breath in of that warm vanilla scent, it’s not just a scent you’re breathing in. Ultimately, that spritz is actually a cloud of tiny droplets of air freshener formula you’ve just breathed deep into your lungs and the rest of your respiratory tract.
This exposure can increase the risk of asthma developing in children, with VOCs in particular having the potential to cause irritation. throughout the respiratory tract as well as headaches and general mucosal irritation.
As clean as that formula smells, that welcoming perfume is more often than not constituted of chemical compounds, including VOCs, that make indoor air quality even worse, masking odors in the air rather than actually cleaning them as many people believe.
For many generations, people all over the globe have relied on chlorine bleach to clean and disinfect their homes. While these common household products can do a great job at keeping the house squeaky clean, researchers have recently discovered that bleach fumes can form airborne particles that may be harmful if inhaled.
And because it’s not an all-purpose cleaner, bleach is often used in conjunction with other cleaning agents. This can create hazardous byproducts, including chloramines, gaseous ammonia, and hypochlorous acid.
With this in mind, you should never mix any bleach-containing products with acid-based cleaners — or better yet, steer clear of bleach and opt for household products that are made with eco-friendly ingredients instead.
One particularly strong medical-grade disinfectant that has even been EPA-approved as an antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-mold agent is thymol. Thymol is derived from thyme oil, and in many formulations, is safe for use around areas where kids and pets eat, sleep, and play, and even in food preparation areas without needing rinsed.
Think candles are innocent? Think again! Candles may smell good and create a nice ambiance, but many candles contain ultra-fine particles and VOCs. These pollutants contribute to exposure to indoor particulate matter, which can be associated with lung inflammation.
Paraffin, or petroleum-based, candles are the worst offenders. This type of candle also happens to be the most common candle on the market. Paraffin wax is a byproduct of coal oil, petroleum, or shale.
When lit, these candles begin to disperse carcinogenic compounds into the air (which are VOCs, specifically BTEX), which can wreak havoc on your health over time. Stay away from paraffin candles and say “yes” to candles made from more natural ingredients, like soy or beeswax.
Essential oils use in candles has been found to be generally safe in terms of inhalation, though some individuals may be sensitive to certain herb and flower-based oils including chamomile, oregano, cinnamon bark, and jasmine essential oils.
Additionally, eucalyptus, tea tree, cinnamon, citrus, peppermint, pine, wintergreen, and ylang-ylang are generally considered not safe for diffusion around pets, so if your candle is going in a tight space like a bathroom, try to keep your pet out or maybe opt for a more pet-friendly scent instead.
While disinfectant wipes can be especially helpful in cleaning countertops, doorknobs, and shoes, you might be surprised to learn that they contain antibacterial disinfectants called quaternary ammonium compounds, or QUATs.
QUATs are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as pesticides. According to experts, these harmful compounds can irritate your eyes, skin, and lungs. Plus, they’re often linked to asthma and fertility issues. You may want to limit your use of these products and use them in a well-ventilated area.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Air Quality?
Taking steps to boost the quality of air inside your home can help you lower your risk of developing certain health conditions. It may even improve your quality of life. With this in mind, here are some things you can do to help improve your air quality.
By now, you likely understand that an abundance of harsh cleaners and synthetic smells can contribute to poor indoor air quality, but what can you actually do about it? Are houseplants as easy of an answer as they sound?
Unfortunately — yes and no. While you’ll hear from houseplant enthusiasts that they feel like they breathe so much better and that their home feels cleaner after making a trip to their local greenhouse or garden center, the fact is that many of the statistics around houseplants' abilities to clean air are exaggerated.
VOCs are one of the biggest challenges we need to overcome. Unfortunately, even if some plants do possess better abilities to clear the air, also called phytoremediation, than others, even the most powerful ones just don’t seem to have enough filtration power to have a sizable impact on indoor air quality.
But don’t give up hope on plants just yet — because common houseplants couldn’t cut it. A team of scientists, engineers, and innovators bio-engineered certain plants to make them genetically powerful enough to battle VOCs. If you want to stay in the loop about these air-changing plants, head here to sign up for the Neoplants newsletter.
Keeping the fresh air flowing in your home offers a simple and effective way to improve your air quality. Opening doors and windows to let some outside airflow through is one easy way to do this. You can also strategically place fans in windows to blow potentially contaminated air out and pull new fresh air in.
Unfortunately, there is a caveat: ventilation only really works if the outdoor air is clean. If you’re in a major city or even a busy metropolitan area or suburb, you’re not quite getting the cleansing effect that someone in the countryside gets with the welcome breeze.
Skip Harmful Chemicals
Last but not least, another effective way to keep your indoor air clean is to skip the use of harmful chemicals. Look for household products that say “Safer Choice Standard” on the label. This standard — which was developed by the EPA — designates the lowest-hazard ingredients for each type of product.
Cleaning supplies and other common household products with this label have been found to contain the “safest possible” ingredients while maintaining their effectiveness. When you choose these cleaning products, you won’t have to worry about toxic chemicals making their way into your home.
In addition to skipping the chemicals and opting for safer choices, the American Lung Association (ALA) recommends using simpler cleaning methods whenever possible. Bypass the scented trash bags or fabric softener for unscented options. Look for organic dishwasher detergent and tub cleaner.
Swap out your chemical-laden cleaners with natural options:
- A homemade solution of vinegar and water can effectively clean glass just as well as chemical sprays
- Baking soda can often be used in lieu of harsh scrubbing agents
- Warm water and dish soap in a spray bottle can clean a wide range of messes
The Bottom Line
Although it’s not possible to keep your home 100% free of harmful VOCs, choosing the right household products can help. Then, improve your indoor air quality with Neoplants — the world’s first soon-to-be-released, commercially-available plants that have been specifically bioengineered to purify indoor air.
Get in on the ground floor. Click here to stay in the know about Neoplants as we breathe life into this radically new way of attaining fresher air inside our homes.
Household Products | Medline Plus
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in Your Home - EH | Minnesota Department of Health
Cleaning with Bleach Could Create Indoor Air Pollutants | ScienceDaily
Candles and Incense as Potential Sources of Indoor Air Pollution | US EPA
Occupational Exposure to Disinfectants and Asthma Incidence in U.S. Nurses: A Prospective
Air Purification by House Plants | WUR Library
Search Products that Meet the Safer Choice Standard | US EPA
New Study Indicates That Air Fresheners Can Trigger Respiratory Problems | TIME
Study: Indoor air cleaners fall short on removing volatile organic compounds | MIT News