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Environment Canada
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What You Can Do to Improve Indoor Air Quality

This page was reviewed or revised on Thursday, April 23, 2015 11:09 AM

There are several things you can do around your home to improve indoor air quality. Visit The Lung Association’s Your Healthy Home website for a room-by-room guide that will help you identify and evaluate common indoor air problems.

Below is a summary of some indoor air quality problems and solutions for various rooms of your home.

In your Basement


Problem #1: Because basements are often damp they provide the optimum environment for biological contaminants to survive. Odours are a good sign that you have a problem with biological contaminants such as mould.

Solutions:

  • Use a dehumidifier
  • Insulate basement walls
  • Dispose of any water damaged articles
  • Consider relocating downspouts away from the foundation of the house

Problem #2: Leaks from poorly installed and poorly maintained oil and gas furnaces, dryers and water heaters can release hazardous pollutants (e.g. carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide)

Solutions:

  • Make sure your furnace and other appliances are checked regularly.
  • Make sure filters on your furnace are clean, as they can contaminate the air and reduce efficiency.
  • If you suspect a problem with an appliance, call your gas or oil company immediately.

Problem #3: Radon is a radioactive gas that is known to cause lung cancer. Radon most commonly enters homes through cracks in the foundation.

Solutions:

  • Seal cracks and other openings in the basement to limit the entry of radon into your home.
  • Make sure your basement is well ventilated to help reduce the concentration of radon in your home.

In your Laundry Area


Problem #1: The laundry area can contribute to poor IAQ through aggravated scents and humidity which promotes the growth of mould.

Solutions:

  • Use unscented laundry detergent.
  • Use a couple cups of vinegar in the rinse water instead of fabric softener.
  • Make sure your dryer is vented to the outside and the hose is not blocked.

In your Kitchen


Problem #1:
Most odours in the kitchen are caused by cooking and garbage. In addition to being unpleasant, these odours can attract rodents and insects. Fur and droppings from rodents and insects can aggravate respiratory conditions such as allergies or asthma.

Solutions:

  • Open a window while cooking, whenever possible.
  • When cooking, make sure the stove fan is on and that it exhausts outside.
  • Regularly take out your garbage and compost.

Problem #2: Common household products can be quite hazardous to your health, since many contain toxic chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals can occur through skin contact, by ingestion, or by inhalation.

Solutions:

  • When shopping, look for non-toxic household cleaning products or make your own.
  • Clean your oven in a healthy way by using a solution of baking soda dissolved in water.
  • Use vinegar to clean your automatic coffee maker.

Problem #3: The kitchen provides a good environment for mould to grow. Nutrients from food debris and excessive moisture feed this common biological contaminant, which can trigger allergies in some people and make others feel sick.

Solutions:

  • Keep all surfaces clean and dry (e.g. counters, cupboards, underneath the sink).
  • Use a vented exhaust fan over the stove when cooking. Don’t let liquids and food simmer too long, as this is an easy way for moisture to accumulate.
  • If visible mould is present, remove it with a solution of bleach and water.

In your Living Room


Problem #1:
Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) is serious contaminant that often produces levels of carbon monoxide and other toxins well above accepted standards for human exposure. ETS has long lasting effects as it is absorbed by drapes, furniture and clothes.

Solution:

  • Prohibit smoking in your home. Invite guests to smoke outside.

Problem #2: New carpets, drapes and furniture release formaldehyde into the air. Common symptoms associated with the contaminants released by these items are headache, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. Moisture, debris and dirt also collect on these items.

Solutions:

  • Try to buy furniture made of solid wood. Veneers and pressed wood contain formaldehyde, benzene or xylene, which cause respiratory problems.
  • Ask retailers for low emission carpet, cushions and adhesives.
  • Consider using alternatives to wall-to-wall carpet, such as ceramic tiles, linoleum or hardwood on your floors.

Problem #3: Wood burning indoors may produce high levels of dangerous gases (e.g. carbon monoxide) and particles that can be inhaled into your lungs.

Solutions:

  • Inspect chimneys annually for blockages or cracks that could let contaminants into your house.
  • When using a fireplace or wood stove, open a window to ensure a good supply of fresh air.
  • Do not burn plastics, newspaper, colour paper, painted wood, and other materials that can release dangerous contaminants into your home.

In your Bathroom


Problem #1: Mould can be often be a problem in the bathroom because of its moist conditions. Mould can aggravate allergies and asthma and irritate eyes, nose and throat.

Solutions:

  • Mould loves to grow around sinks, showers, toilets and tubs. Keeping these surfaces dry will prevent the growth of mould.
  • Use your bathroom exhaust fan to ventilate moisture outdoors. If you don’t have an exhaust fan, open a window for a few minutes.
  • If you have visible mould in the bathroom, remove it with a solution of bleach and water.

Problem #2: Household cleaning products contain chemicals commonly referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Chemicals from cleaning products are released into the air immediately upon use or gradually leak during storage.

Solutions:

  • Use bleach with water as frequently as possible.
  • Vinegar in combination with baking soda is an effective disinfectant and keeps your drains clean.

In your Bedroom


Problem #1: The major dust collectors in your bedroom are carpets, drapes, mattresses, bedding, pillows, books and stuffed animals. Dust mites are also a problem in bedrooms. Symptoms of exposure to dust and dust mites include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

Solutions:

  • Clean regularly and properly with a damp cloth to avoid putting dust back into the air.
  • Reduce clutter. If you have lots of “stuff” in your bedroom, store it in another location or get rid of it.
  • Remove dust collectors such as carpet and stuffed animals from your bedroom.

Problem #2: Poorly maintained air conditioners and humidifiers provide ideal breeding grounds for micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria, mould). Exposure to these organisms can aggravate asthma and allergies

Solutions:

  • If you must use a humidifier, clean it often.
  • If you have a window air conditioner, clean the coils regularly and check them frequently for visible signs of mould.

Problem #3: The use of mothballs to control odours and insects is common in many homes. The major component of moth balls is naphthalene. Inhalation of naphthalene may cause lung, skin and eye irritation.

Solutions:

  • Install and maintain screens and screen doors that stop pests from entering your home.
  • Correct moisture problems. Reduce the use of humidifiers and ensure adequate ventilation to control moisture levels.
  • Use alternative products such as cedar chips where you store your clothes.