8 Ways to Spring Clean Your Indoor Air

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean you can't clean it

Angela Nelson (@BostonAngela) Home (March 16, 2016)

Getting ready to spring clean your home? Maybe you even have a checklist and a bucket of supplies at the ready. But even if you’re prepared to dust that hard-to-reach chandelier or wash both sides of your windows, you may have left something important off your list, and it’s because you can’t see it. It’s the air.

The air inside homes is typically more polluted than the air outside, according to UL, a global independent safety science company, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And research shows we spend 90 percent of our time indoors. That means for most of us, the greater exposure to air pollution isn’t from smog or traffic fumes, it’s from allergens and pollutants under our own roofs.

So as you organize closets, scrub your kitchen and polish the furniture this spring, take these eight steps to make your indoor air cleaner, as well.

Related: Clearing the Air: 3 Dangerous Pollutants in Your Home

1. Clean out your cleaning products cabinet.

Household cleaners Household cleaners Photo: Sebastian Duda/Shutterstock

You may love that spring-fresh scent of your favorite cleaner, but guess what: That fragrance is a kind of indoor air pollution, according to John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. To clean your air, go fragrance-free.

“The people most sensitive to fragrances are the very young because their lungs may still be developing, the very old because their lungs might be experiencing less capacity, and women who are pregnant because they shouldn’t be taking in those pollutants.”

Instead of cleaning with chemicals, one greener option for tasks such as mopping floors is steam cleaning. “The residue from steam cleaning is nothing more than water vapor, which is good,” Drengenberg says. “The heat does the job of melting away the dirt.”

Or make your own cleaners using natural products you probably have in your kitchen, such as vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda. (Good Housekeeping has some recipes.)

Related: Tips for Greener House Cleaning

2. Find and eliminate mold.

Cleaning bathroom tile Cleaning bathroom tile Photo: www.BillionPhotos.com/Shutterstock

Mold is a fungus that releases spores into your air. When those spores are inhaled, they can trigger allergy symptoms, such as runny nose, itchy eyes and trouble breathing, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. Mold loves moisture, so you’ll find it most often in the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room.

Clean places where mold likes to grow, including basement walls and your refrigerator’s gasket or water dispenser drip pan. And of course, the bathroom. You can scrub mold off hard surfaces with a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water.

You may need professional help if mold is growing in places you can’t see or reach, such as the backside of drywall, behind wallpaper or paneling or on the top side of ceiling tiles. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has tips on how to clean up mold in your home.

Related: Guide to Mold Colors and What They Mean

3. Clean or discard dusty or moldy plants.

Dusting plant Dusting plant Photo: Olinchuk/Shutterstock

Some houseplants may help clean the air by removing chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde, according to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration. But if your plants are dust magnets, they may not be doing you any big favors. So yes, dust your plants, at least those with broad leaves. Use a damp cloth.

If mold has grown on the surface of the soil, it could trigger asthma if it’s disturbed, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Try scraping the mold off and letting the soil dry out. If mold grows back, you may need to repot the plant with fresh soil — or throw it out.

4. Switch to a HEPA vacuum.

Woman vacuuming Woman vacuuming Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock

Ever notice your allergies go crazy after you vacuum? You think you’re cleaning the house when you vacuum, but if you have an old, cheap vacuum cleaner, you may just be spewing dust and dirt into the air.

“When you’re vacuuming, you kick up a lot of dust,” Drengenberg says. “But a HEPA filter will remove those dust particles from the air down to a very small size.” In fact, HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters are capable of blocking particles as small as 0.3 micrometers (about the size of a grain of corn starch). If you have respiratory or allergy problems, consider switching to a HEPA vacuum, Drengenberg advises.

5. Clean or change the air filter in your furnace and air conditioner.

Furnace filter Furnace filter Photo: Serenethos/Shutterstock

“Make sure to clean your furnace filter every three months. All the air circulating through your home is being pulled through that filter,” Drengenberg says. “Putting a new filter in helps the furnace or air conditioner run more efficiently, and it does take dust and particles out.” Follow the directions in your owner’s manual.

Related: Indoor Pollution: How to Clear the Air

6. Get rid of scented candles and opt for LEDs instead.

LED candles LED candles Photo: Funnycreature/Shutterstock

“Throw away your candles that have real wicks and opt for LED lights,” Drengenberg says. Even if the candle doesn’t have a scent, the candle sends deposits of soot up into the air (and onto your walls, if the flame is close enough). Plus, they’re a fire hazard. Getting rid of burning candles will help protect your indoor air quality, Drengenberg says.

7. Air out any new rugs or furniture.

Nursery furniture Nursery furniture Photo: Paul Matthew Photography/Shutterstock

Maybe you’re having a baby and you’re decorating a nursery. Maybe you bought a new house and you’re painting your family’s bedrooms. Either way, that new furniture and paint is giving off chemicals, such as formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Drengenberg says.

“Formaldehyde is given off by newer furniture. It’s a part of the manufacturing process and leaks into your air during off-gassing,” Drengenberg explains. Wall paint gives off VOCs, as do mattresses, some carpets and more, according to UL. If you’re preparing a new room, paint and let it air out for a week or two so you don’t have an indoor air quality issue, especially in a nursery,” he says.

“Chemicals from paint, chemicals from cleaning products all contribute to indoor air quality. If you use a cleaning product, you might want to air out the room a little bit. If you’re painting, let it dry thoroughly and paint while the windows are open, if the weather permits,” Drengenberg says.

Also, look for products that carry the GREENGUARD Certification mark , which means a representative sample of the product has been tested and determined to have reduced chemical emissions.

Related:Why You Probably Don’t Need an Air Purifier

8. Make sure your range hood is vented properly.

Range hood Range hood Photo: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock

Cooking is a huge source of indoor pollution. Make sure the exhaust over your stove blows the air outside and not just around the room. If yours doesn’t, call a contractor to see if it’s possible to install an exhaust duct that vents to the outdoors.

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