The Definitive Guide to Improving Indoor Air Quality The Definitive Guide to Improving Indoor Air Quality

A person can go 3 weeks without food, and 3 days without water, but only 3 minutes without air[1].

Unlike food and water, which are visible and often cause immediate reactions from the body, air is out of sight and can have a longer term impact on our health.

We often forget and neglect air quality, when the reality is that each year 7 million premature deaths are linked to air pollution[2].

You may also be surprised to know that a study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that of the chemicals we are exposed to, 72% of that exposure takes place at home[3].

Yikes…let’s change that!

Did You Know that Indoor Air is 2-5 Times More Polluted than Outdoor Air?

According to a study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[4], most of the air pollution we breathe in comes from indoor air, not outdoor air. The pollutants inside our homes are the result of an accumulation of chemicals and allergens due to the products we use, as well as a lack of air flow.

The air in our homes, schools, and offices can be 2-5 times more polluted, and in extreme cases, 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. The same study also shows that most Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, and that the average person receives 72% of their total air pollutant exposure at home.

Indoor air quality awareness and improvement is critical for you and your family’s health. By the end of this post, you’ll have a comprehensive set of tools so that you can take control of your indoor air.

Why Is Indoor Air Quality So Bad?

Humidity and lack of airflow, combined with the chemicals found in common household products and building materials contribute to most of the toxins and allergens we find in modern homes.

Some common sources of indoor pollutants include:

      • Household cleaning products
      • Carpeting
      • Mold
      • Building materials
      • Air fresheners
      • Burning oil, gas, kerosene, coal, or wood
      • Personal care products
      • Pesticides
      • Dust-mites

The 3 major types of indoor pollutants as defined by the EPA

1) Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): These are chemicals released into the air from their original solid or liquid form. They are widely found in household products such as air fresheners, cleaning and disinfecting supplies, pesticides, personal care products, office equipment, carpet, and cosmetics. Some of the common compounds include methylene chloride, benzene, acetone, and formaldehyde. These chemicals will probably sound alien to you, but all you need to know is that your body hates them.

2) Asthma and Allergy Triggers: These are often biological pollutants, which include mold, dust mites, pollen, mildew, bacteria, pet dander, dust, cockroaches, and rodent urine. Mold and bacteria tend to grow in moist areas of the home, such as the heater, shower, and basement. Dust mites are disgusting microscopic bugs that feed on your dead skin and live in your bed sheets, pillows, and sofas.

3) Respiratory Particles: These are particle pollutants that come from burning raw materials in the fireplace, stove, or heater. The impact of these pollutants depend on how often the appliances are used, cleaned, and maintained. Some common particles include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and soot. Particles can cause lung cancer and respiratory infections such as bronchitis.

Most homes have poor ventilation and air flow, and overtime, the above chemicals and allergens can accumulate to dangerous levels. Prolonged exposure can lead to both short- and long- term health issues.

Short-Term Health Risks

People with asthma or breathing sensitivities may have more frequently triggered attacks. Even if you do not have any existing conditions, you may notice symptoms including fatigue, respiratory irritation, coughing, and sneezing. Often these symptoms are mistaken for a cold, so it’s important to pay attention to your health.

Long-Term Health Risks

Prolonged exposure to chemicals and pollutants can lead to cancer, respiratory or heart disease, and liver and kidney damage. We often forget the long term implications of exposure if we don’t have any short term symptoms.

With that said, let’s change things.


The 3 major steps to improving your indoor air quality are:





The first step to healthier air in your home is to remove the source of the pollutants. This is critical because the later steps will be ineffective if the source continues to unleash pollutants into the air.


Improving air flow is the easiest and one of the most effective ways to immediately improve the air quality in your home. This is especially important during the winter, when we often don’t ventilate our homes for months due to the weather. With time, chemicals and allergens build up to harmful levels, because most heating and cooling systems do not automatically bring in fresh air from the outside. Rather, the same air inside the home is continuously cycled.

One potential strategy is to turn down all the heating or cooling systems at home once a week, open all the windows for half an hour to allow air circulation before sealing off your home once again.


If you see mold anywhere in your home, immediate action is strongly recommended. Be sure to check the spots that commonly have mold growth, including the bathroom, basement, attic, water heater, and other potentially moist places in the home. Mold spores often trigger asthma or allergies[5], with symptoms including runny nose, itchy throat and eyes, coughing, and sneezing. Mold spores are very harmful when they build up in high concentrations, and most air filters can’t remove the spores. Thus, it’s imperative to remove the existing mold.

Keep in mind that many household cleaners, while effective against mold, are made up of hundreds of harmful chemicals themselves[6]. We recommend using a natural solution, such as vinegar. It’s a safe and effective way to eliminate most molds in the home. Spray or wipe affected areas with vinegar.

Kirsten Hudson of Organic Authority has a great guide to naturally remove mold and mildew.

Dust Mites

Dust mites are microscopic bugs that are responsible for allergies and can cause asthma in children[7]. These pests need moisture to survive, and they feed on human skin and live in sheets, pillows, mattresses, and sofas in the home. The best way to get rid of existing dust mites is to vacuum, steam clean, and wash items in hot water. You may also consider investing in dust-mite resistant covers. If the photo doesn’t motivate you to implement the tips we’re about to share, then we don’t know what will =)

Sophie Azouaou of STEPin2 has a quick and easy DIY guide for controlling dust mites.


Vacuum at least twice a week, especially if you have carpet, as most American homes do. Too lazy to do it? Try getting an iRobot Roomba and leave it to run at least twice a week. Make sure the vacuum has a HEPA filter to prevent dust and particles from escaping back into the air during the vacuuming process. The carpet in your home is a haven for chemicals and allergens such as lead, fire retardant, pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and other nasty surprises. Wet carpet can also lead to mold and bacteria growth. Make sure to remove and replace water damaged carpet that can’t be thoroughly cleaned within 48 hours after the damage. If more drastic measures are needed, you may want to consider changing out the carpet for a hard wood floor.


Cockroaches carry allergens which are a major cause and trigger for asthma[8], and dried mouse or rat urine is a strong allergen, so make sure to eliminate any existing pests in the home. If you have serious pest issues, call a professional pest remover to get the job done. Make sure to avoid using common household pesticides to kill the roaches, because the pesticides themselves contain hundreds of toxic chemicals that are harmful to you and your family. Getting rid of pests will reduce biological pollutants…and let’s be honest, nobody likes to see those gross buggers crawling around.


After removing the existing sources of air pollutants in your home, it’s time to move on to the prevention step. Keep in mind that prevention will reduce the amount of chemicals and allergens entering your home, but that does not mean you no longer need to clean the house =). Ventilating, vacuuming, and cleaning should still be performed on a regular, but less frequent, basis.


Keep humidity levels between 30% and 50%[9]. You can accurately test for humidity level by using a hygrometer, available at most hardware stores. Simpler observational tests include checking for mold, and seeing if you and your family members have dry skin or a constantly dry throat. If there is mold growing in unlikely places, your home is probably too humid. If your skin and throat are often dry, the air is probably too dry. Depending on your location and the season, you can use either a humidifier or dehumidifier to manage humidity levels in your home. Managing humidity level is crucial because dust mites and mold thrive in moist conditions…and we definitely don’t want those nasty things to thrive.

Fix all leaks in the home. Turn on the exhaust fan when taking a bath and leave it on for 10 minutes after the bath. Maybe even crack open a window if you’re doing some intense culinary experiments in the kitchen to get steam out.

Household Cleaners & Air Fresheners

Common household cleaning supplies and air fresheners are laced with toxic chemicals. In a recent study conducted by the EWG, over 89 air contaminants were detected in a common household air freshener, when the label only included 3 ingredients[10]. Household cleaners are another offender, and big companies often get away with including these chemicals by arguing their ingredients are a “trade secret,” which bypasses FDA regulations. Most household cleaning products and air fresheners are derived from petroleum products, so avoid them completely.

You might be wondering, so how do I clean my home then? There are many natural things you can use. For example, you can use vinegar and baking soda for cleaning, and lemon slices, herbs, or a bag of coffee beans to add some natural aroma to your home. For a more comprehensive breakdown on natural cleaning products, check out the resources below:

Katie from Wellness Mama has a list of 19 natural cleaning tips.

Beth Buczynski shared on Care2 9 DIY car air fresheners that can also be used for the home.

No Smoking

‘Nuff said. Absolutely no smoking in the home. Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals, and send up to 15,000 children aged 18 months or younger to the hospital every year[11]. In addition, hundreds of thousand of children develop respiratory tract infections from second hand smoke, and older adults with lung and cardiovascular diseases also suffer greatly. Just don’t let anyone smoke in your home. Period.

Physical Barriers

Get a large doormat and ask family and guests to use it before they enter your home. The doormat will remove a good portion of chemicals, bacteria, and toxins that your shoes invariably come into contact with the outside world. Did you know 93% of shoes contain fecal matters[12]? That’s disgusting. Use a doormat so you don’t carry all that nastiness into your home.

Pest Management

Once existing pests have been removed from your home, use simple techniques to prevent them from coming back. These include blocking holes and keeping your food tightly sealed in containers. Clean up any food crumbs from your kitchen, cover up your trashcan, and use traps to catch any pests that manage to make it into your home.


After removal and prevention are out of the way, you can have some fun with actively improving the air quality in your home, getting rid of odors naturally, and just making your home smell fresh.

Bamboo Charcoal

Bamboo charcoal has been used for thousands of years in many countries as a natural way to purify the air and water. It’s 4x more porous than regular charcoal, and the pores and cavities inside act like a big sponge, trapping chemicals, allergens, and odor particles as they pass through the pores[13]. Bamboo charcoal will also adsorb moisture, which will prevent mold and dust mite growth. You can call this super material Mother Nature’s purifier. Bamboo charcoal is what we use here at Purggo to create our all-natural, scent- and allergen-free car air purifier.

Herbs, Fruits, & Coffee

One of the easiest, healthiest, and most fun ways to improve the quality of the air and add back some freshness to your home without using artificial products laced with chemicals, is to use natural remedies. Want to bring some spring back into your home? Try putting some herbs or lemon peels around the house. Want a little spring garden atmosphere? Try using fresh rosemary, basil, or thyme. Leave the herbs and peels for a few weeks and let them dry, which will slowly disperse natural freshness throughout your home. Even people with asthma or allergies can appreciate this, because the aroma is mild and natural. Or, try putting bags of coffee beans around the house to recreate the coffee shop.

Alan Henry from Lifehacker outlines some cool hacks to use herbs as a natural freshener.

Machine Air Filter

Investing in a HEPA air purifier can have a positive impact on air quality. While these machines can be expensive, they actively push air through and filter out chemicals, particles, and allergens from the air in your home. Just be sure to regularly replace the HEPA filter.


NASA studied houseplants as a way to purify the air in space facilities and found several plants that filter out common volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The foliage and roots work together like a living air filter and purifier to absorb chemicals and allergens in the home[14]. Other studies by the Journal of American Society of Horticultural Science further confirmed this finding[15]. Plus, house plants just make your home look pretty.

Here’s a list of the top plants recommended by Yuka Yoneda from Inhabitat.

Dendrobium and Phaeleonopsis Orchids


Peace Lilies




Song of India


Massangeana Cane



Some indoor air pollutants can kill you. The 3 most dangerous include:

1) Carbon monoxide: Kills on average 400 people a year, and sickens thousands. Never idle your car in a closed spaced like the garage.

2) Secondhand smoke: 15,000 children every year are hospitalized due to secondhand smoke.

3) Radon gas: It’s odorless and found in many American homes, and is the biggest cause of lung cancer after cigarettes. This invisible gas occurs naturally in soil and rock and can only be detected through testing. Protect yourself and your family. Test your home for radon.

Do you have any comments or questions? Do you have any tips and hacks of your own for improving indoor air quality? Be sure to leave them in the comment section below, we read everything =).

Also, make sure to sign up for our email list below to receive more awesome content. Remember, our mission at Purggo is to help people breathe healthy and live happy, and we hope you’ll join us on this journey.



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