Let the clean air blow the cobwebs from your body. Air is medicine.Lillian Russell
Food, water, air. Each is necessary for our body to function. When we go to the grocery store, we often consider which foods to buy for a healthy diet. Or purchase a new water bottle on Amazon to stimulate our water intake. So while we may pay close attention to what we eat and drink, we often overlook what we breathe and the cleanliness of our air—a factor just as vital to our physical and mental well-being.
In the US, we generally have good air quality. However, this can vary from community to community—neighborhoods located next to an industrial plant may have greater exposure to chemicals released into the air. Moreover, the increase in wildfires on the West Coast and more recently, in Canada, led to smoke spreading across states and posing an environmental and health risk to many. So in this blog, we’ve outlined the sources and effects of air pollution, as well as simple ways you can breathe in cleaner air, both inside and outside your home.
Consistent exposure to poor quality air can lead to a variety of health issues. In one review, researcher Clara Zundel found that individuals with heightened exposure to air pollution had increased rates of anxiety and depression. Additionally, air pollution has been seen to have negative effects on heart health. A study conducted by the National Institute for Health and Care Research in the UK found that air pollution contributed to increased inflammation in the body, contributing to the development of cardiovascular disease. And naturally, air pollution has a host of effects on the respiratory system; increased air pollution exposure has been linked to asthma, respiratory infections, reduced lung growth in children, and more.
Air pollution can come from a variety of sources: chemical emissions from nearby industrial plants, pet dander in the home, diesel from cars, fumes from cooking, air fresheners, and the list goes on. There is a difference, however, between indoor and outdoor pollution and understanding what sets the two apart can help protect you against its health implications.
First, outdoor air pollution is what you might expect: pollutants like ozone, chemicals, and other particulate matter which build up in the air from transportation, industrial plants, wildfires, and more. Outdoor air pollution is a public health crisis and the number one environmental cause of premature mortality across the globe. The EPA reports that pregnant women, children, older individuals, and those with heart and lung issues may be especially sensitive to these pollutants.
Indoor air pollution refers to the build-up of contaminants from cooking, cleaning, pets, building materials, furniture, smoking, and any other sources inside the home. Though indoor air pollution isn’t as large of a public health issue as outdoor, it can still lead to significant health problems, and is more common in nations like the US which generally do not have as high levels of outdoor air pollution.
In short: air pollution can be a serious health risk which needs to be attended to. Thankfully, there are simple steps you can take to minimize your exposure. We’ve listed out four below!
1. Bring a few plants inside
There are simple changes you can make in your house to ensure you are decreasing your exposure to contaminants in the air. First, consider bringing your green thumb in the house. One hallmark NASA study from 1989 showed that increasing the amount of plants you have indoors cleaned the air of carcinogenic compounds. Adding plants to your living spaces—whether some potted money trees, small ferns, or a beautiful monstera—provides both beauty and clean air.
2. Keep your home clean and use natural products
Opt for organic and natural cleaning products. Instead of bleach, you might try vinegar to clean the bathroom. Start swapping your existing cleaning products for natural brands like Seventh Generation, which use less harsh chemicals. This will decrease the amount of chemicals sprayed into the air you breathe. Or make your own cleanser – here is a DIY recipe:
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- 1 ¾ cup water
- 15 drops of lavender essential oil
- 15 drops of lemon essential oil
- Optional: 1 tbsp of liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) https://www.vitacost.com/dr-bronners-pure-castile-liquid-soap-hemp-peppermint
Mix into spray bottle and shake well to blend – and it’s ready to use!
Lastly, make sure to keep your home hygienic. The buildup of mold and bacteria can get into the air, leading to respiratory issues and infections. Dust and wipe surfaces down regularly, and be sure to change your air filters about every three months. Double-check with your specific HVAC system for their recommendations, as they can vary.
3. Mask up
Before you travel, check the air quality index (AQI) of your destination, especially if you know your destination is known for having poor air quality. You can google the AQI, or find it in the weather app on your phone to find the severity of the air pollution at your destination.
If the AQI is above 150, it’s a good rule of thumb to wear an N-95, KN95, or FFP2 mask. Since the onset of COVID, these masks have been made easily accessible; you can find them at your local store or on Amazon.
You can use the chart above from Parcil Safety as a guide for when to mask up.
4. Invest in an air purifier
Air purifiers are powerful tools to use against both indoor and outdoor air contaminants. Our highest recommendation is portable air cleaners with fibrous and HEPA air filters. These are most effective at removing droplets containing microbes from the air as well as smoke and other outdoor contaminants that make their way indoors. As you consider which air filter may be best for you, you’ll want to note the noise, energy usage, and filter type.
We’ve listed a few for you below that are on the quieter side, use HEPA filters, and are Energy Star certified:
- The Blue Pure 211i Max has been highly rated by ConsumerLab as well as the Sierra Club for its ability to filter out wildfire smoke, tobacco smoke, and other indoor and outdoor contaminants.
- The Shark Air Purifier 6 is another solid choice, with a specific focus on filtering out allergens and particles from pets, dust, smoke, and other sources.
- For small rooms, the Leviot Core 300 True HEPA Air Purifier can go a long way. It’s the best low budget pick, and it even filters the air in a small room (around 215 square feet) up to five times per hour.
All in all, the quality of your air is just as important as the quality of your food and water. These are simple but effective steps you can take to ensure you’re protecting your respiratory health by creating cleaner air in your home, and protecting yourself from polluted air outside.
Live life like a breath of fresh air!