5 common mistakes to avoid for cleaner air at home

The ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre (ASMC) projects that Malaysia will experience trans-boundary haze from June until October. As we brace ourselves for this recurring health hazard, it is also a timely reminder for us to re-examine the air quality of our homes.

Do you know that the air we breathe indoors may be two to five times, and occasionally, over 100 times more polluted than the air outside? [source: United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)]. Poor indoor air quality has an impact on many areas of health, including lung and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, dementia, asthma, and cancer, as well as adverse effects on developing foetuses. It kills, silently.



Trans-boundary haze in Malaysia projected

Indoor Pollution Death

Outside Pollution Death

Household air pollution is 9th in the rank of Global Burden of Disease Risk. Nearly 4.3 million deaths worldwide in 2012 were associated with indoor pollution, much higher than the 3.7 million deaths linked with outside pollution. A recent UK report linked indoor air pollution to 99,000 deaths annually in Europe.

A clean-looking home does not equate healthy air within. Ironically, the seemingly cleanest home may actually have the worst air quality.

Want cleaner air indoors?

Avoid these five common mistakes.

Masking odours with synthetic air fresheners

Thanks to modern air fresheners, we can rapidly get rid of any offending odour, failing which we can mask it with a more pleasant smell.

But do you know that synthetic air fresheners are among the main culprits of indoor air pollution? Synthetic fragrances, whether in solid, spray or oil form, may all emit harmful chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which start off as solids or liquids but readily evaporate into the air.

Recent research in the UK found raised levels of a VOC called limonene, used heavily in air fresheners and scented candles to give a lemony citrus smell. Limonene is dangerous to inhale on its own and can become formaldehyde – a carcinogen that burns the eyes, irritates the skin, and incites coughing fits, nausea, as well as nose and throat cancer – when it mixes with other airborne elements.

Using too many chemical products like synthetic cleaning products

VOCs are present not just in air fresheners, but in all synthetic fragrances.

Research by a team from the University of Washington on 25 common fragranced consumer products —laundry products, personal care products, cleaning supplies and air fresheners, many of them top sellers in their categories— found 133 different VOCs emitted from the products, with an average of 17 VOCs per product. Of these 133 VOCs, 24 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these compounds. Among them are probable carcinogens (cancer causing) acetaldehydea, formaldehyde and methylene chloride.

More alarmingly, emissions of these compounds were not significantly different between “green” products and the other products. Of all VOCs identified across the products, only one was listed on any product label, and only two were listed on any material safety data sheet.

Being unaware that dust mites thrive in high humidity

Every home has dust mites, tiny bugs that feed on human skin flakes; they can be found in mattresses, pillows, carpets, bedcovers, clothes, stuffed toys, and fabric and fabric-covered items.

Sensitivity to dust mites is often overlooked. Diagnostic tests and clinical studies by allergists have shown house dust mite to be the most common allergy among asthmatics, and an important “root cause” for the development of asthma in young children. Recent studies suggest that at least 45% of young people with asthma are allergic to house dust mites. Unlike “seasonal” allergies caused by moulds and pollen, people who are allergic to dust mites often will have symptoms year round.

As dust mites love moisture, we need to keep our homes’ relative humidity below 50% to minimise their growth. This would be rather challenging in Malaysia where the average relative humidity is way above 80%.

How can dust mites be eliminated then? Air conditioning and dehumidifiers can help reduce indoor humidity and slow their growth. Reduce the places where dust mites can grow. Clean surfaces and wash fabrics regularly.

Not servicing your air conditioning units regularly

The air conditioner (AC) does help improve indoor air quality as it circulates and filters indoor air. But beware; it can also become the main cause of indoor air pollution!

The substances that the AC removes from the air can build up inside the unit and re-circulate throughout the room. It can also become a fertile breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. Refrigerants and other chemicals can leak from your AC as well, creating toxic vapours that are harmful to breathe.

Air conditioning pollution can cause dozens of diseases harmful to human health, mainly respiratory tract infections and allergic diseases.

Fortunately, all these can be avoided. Keeping your unit clean is something that can never be stressed too much. Make sure that you clean its filter regularly as dust can accumulate rather quickly. The condenser unit should be serviced at least once a year. Do have a professional carry out regular check-ups on your AC.

Forgetting to change air filters

Most AC professionals advise changing your AC filter every three months. This is generally a good rule of thumb to follow. If you have not done so in a while, now is as good a time as any to replace the filter!

Given the dangers of indoor air pollution, we should adopt preventive measures to ensure that the air we breathe in our homes is safe. We have already adopted a healthy lifestyle by eating right, exercising regularly and drinking filtered water, so why disregard the air we breathe? The correlation between breathing in clean unpolluted air and longevity is undeniable. A high-quality air cleaner or purifier removes airborne particles such as dust, pollen and VOCs.

Be Aware Indoors

The new Blueair Aware™ is an air monitoring device designed to quickly detect hundreds of different types of airborne particles, including everything from fine particulate matter (PM2.5) to VOCs such as formaldehyde and benzene in your indoor environment. Place your Blueair Aware in your home or workplace to start collecting your unique air quality data. You can monitor your indoor air quality in real-time, track the data, and get alerts on your smartphone with the Blueair Friend App. The Blueair Aware also monitors room humidity and temperature.

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