I’ve been thinking lately about our indoor space. I suppose this is only natural when its 30 degrees with blowing wind outside, making it extremely uncomfortable to be anywhere BUT inside!
But the cold weather & closing up of windows & doors always makes me uncomfortable. Cleaning products, dirty shoes, dust… not to mention the continual offgassing of carpets & paints; I can’t help but think of the accumulation of unhealthy particles. So I dedicate this post to trying to keep our indoor air healthy this winter!
We’ll start with the shoes. We’ve always kept a shoe rack by the front door and, as strange as it may be, I do ask everyone to remove their shoes on entry. This prevents the continual tracking of icemelt salt, dirt, and other gunk, through the house, and on/into the carpets.
So… carpets. And paint. Sigh. In a perfect world, where I could design my own house, I’d have chosen natural ZERO-VOC paint for the walls, and toxin-free tile or wood for the floors. In reality, our home came with carpeted floors & painted walls of unknown origin. To this end, whenever we’ve had to do paint touchups, I’ve purchase all natural paints from BioShieldPaint.com (I don’t operate nor am affiliated with, but I’ve had good experiences with).
To clean our carpets, I use hot water, a squirt of dish detergent, and essential oil of tea tree & lavender in the detergent compartment of our steam cleaner. I’ve found the essential oils + gentle cleansers work just as well to remove the surface & ground in dirt & dust while leaving the air fresh-smelling, and no chemical residue in the carpets!
Speaking of chemical cleaners, we use only all-natural chemical-free cleaners inside the house. I do, unfortunately make an exception for bleach – as I’ve yet to find a reliable way to remove mildew in the bathroom. Tea Tree Oil does a good job at keeping the mildew & mold at bay once the bleach kills it, but it doesn’t get rid of it when its already there. If anyone knows a more natural solution for bathroom mildew, please let me know!
Next, lets talk about the HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) air purifier, and why I believe its important to sleep with one. The bedroom is the place in your home where you spend the most time. You breathe & re-breathe the same air for hours on end. The ease of your breathing is linked with good sleep, and good sleep is linked with good health. It makes sense to me that keeping that air clean, circulating, free of dust, mold, animal dander, and dust mites (yuck) helps insure that we sleep better, keep our lungs clearer, and our bodies healthier overall! So why HEPA? Because its proven to remove the tiniest sized particulate from the air – from large dust down to tiny viruses. For info on how a HEPA works, read here.
One drawback to HEPA purifiers is that they require a fan to operate – because in order to trap the particles, they need to pass through the filter. So you have to get used to the white noise while sleeping. However, we’ve embraced the sound of the fan over the last 15 years – and find we can’t sleep without it!
Note: Not all air purifiers are the same. Some, actually, can be detrimental to your health. Please stay away from air purifiers that use ozone to clean the air, or have an ozone feature. They have been shown to create unhealthy levels of ozone in the indoor air which can lead to decrease in lung function, aggravation of asthma, etc. You can read the EPA’s report on ozone generators.
Next up, the house heater filter. We’re currently using a 1” pleated allergen filter in our heater/air conditioner to filter the whole house air as it goes through our furnace. The drawback with this, as opposed to the standard flat fiberglass filter, is that it reduces air flow – so it does reduce the efficiency of the heating system overall. This does likely lead to a slightly higher heating bill because the heat has to run more often. But, I think the benefit of particulate reduction far outweighs the negative of slightly increased electricity bill in the winter. I recommend checking for a high MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating (the one we use is a 12) as well as a high MPR (microparticle performance rating). The higher the number, the smaller the particle the filter can capture.
Now those last two items CAN be rather pricey, and not everyone has a blown air heating system, or wants to sleep with white noise. So, the third idea thing I recommend for clean indoor air is houseplants! Houseplants are proven air cleaners. They add oxygen, regulate humidity, filter out toxins, and beautify your space. I believe they add positive life energy to a home, and help children learn about caring for living things. They also are relatively inexpensive if you purchase from a bigger nursery, but particularly if you can obtain cuttings from friends who already have established plants. Schools & other non-profits tend to have houseplant sales as fundraisers. We’ve also had some luck with obtaining houseplants through garage sales (and the benefit to this is that they already come potted!). For a list of best air-cleaning houseplants, see my post on Houseplants as Natural Air Purifiers.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free post your comments & ideas! I’m always open to suggestions, and continually working towards a more natural toxic-free home.