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How to Improve Indoor Air Quality in 14 Easy Steps

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality in 14 Easy Steps

Face it, upon the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which is an umbrella term that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, you have to constantly consider if the environment you are in is safe for your respiratory health. With a diagnosis of a chronic lung disease there are numerous lung irritants no matter where you go, but the one place that should be your respiratory safe haven is your home.
Today we will be discussing 14 tips on how you can ensure that your home is free of symptom worsening lung irritants so you can relax and actually enjoy the time you spend at home. Enough chatter, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty details of how to effectively improve your home’s indoor air quality starting today.

The Three Types of Substances that Reduce Indoor Air Quality:

  • Allergens – This type of substance causes your body’s immune system to have an allergic response. Typically the most common sources of allergens include dust mites, pollen brought in from outside, pet hair/dander, rodents and cockroaches.
  • Harmful Chemicals – Though not as common as allergens or irritants, harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide and radon are detrimental to your health. Both of which are extremely poisonous and should be eliminated from your home immediately after detection.
  • Irritants – These types of indoor air pollutants irritate your respiratory system but will not necessarily lead to a response from your immune system. Irritants typically include pesticides, paint, wood finishes and stains, tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke, or chemicals found in cleaning products. The smell of new furniture may also irritate your lungs.

Step 1: Be a Neat Freak, Keep Your Floors Clean

  • Harness the Suction Power of Vacuuming: You may not give it much thought, but dust, chemicals, and other allergens can accumulate for years in your home. Until your COPD diagnosis you may not have realized the amount of dust and other airborne irritants that are actually inside your home. But ignoring these irritants can have tasking effects to your COPD symptoms by causing them to worsen (flare-up). Suck up all these symptom worsening irritants with a HEPA filtered vacuum. It’s important to use a vacuum with a HEPA filter specifically because it can help reduce lead concentrations, brominated fire-retardant chemicals (PBDEs), and eliminate pollen, dust mites, pet hair, and other allergens.
Vacuum cleaners with strong suction that use rotating brushes and a HEPA filter will help to prevent any dust or irritants from being blown back into the atmosphere through the exhaust. If there are certain parts of your home that high traffic areas, be sure to vacuum over those spots multiple times. To get the best results, you should vacuum two or more times per week while regularly cleaning the HEPA filter.
  • Master Mopping: After vacuuming you aren’t finished. It’s important to follow up with mopping, as it picks up the dust that was left behind from the vacuum. Avoid using harsh cleaning chemicals as they can further increase your shortness of breath, and instead use good ol’ H2O to mop up the remaining dust and allergens. Opt for a microfiber mop or dust cloths because they are more effective at removing dirt or other irritants. They also do not require the need for harsh cleaning chemicals.  
  • Take Advantage of Rugs: Prevent visitors in your home from tracking in dust, pollen, dirt or other air quality pollutants on their shoes by placing a large rug at the entrance of every door. This way allergens aren’t tracked in and left all over your home’s floor. Large rugs will also help to catch these pollutants even if people forget to wipe their feet. Be sure to keep all shoes, slippers, and socks near the door. To prevent the allergens from going back into your home’s atmosphere, you should vacuum the rug two or more times per week depending on the frequency of visitors.

Step 2: Maintain 30% - 50% Relative Humidity

Allowing your home’s relative humidity level to exceed 50% you are providing an ideal breeding ground for dust, mold, bacteria, and viruses. Both dust and mold thrive in moist environments. Maintaining a level of humidity around 30%-50% will help keep both of those and other allergens under control. If you live in an area with high levels of humidity, using a dehumidifier is recommended to reduce allergens and the moisture inside your home. Often times the biggest culprit of indoor humidity is your home’s foundation, so place a dehumidifier in your basement to reduce an influx of humidity.
During summer months you should also run your air conditioner. Doing so will not only help to minimize your home’s humidity level, but it will also further reduce allergens and indoor pollen counts.
Additional Dehumidifying Tips:
  • Avoid Overwatering Plants
  • Vent Your Clothes Dryer to the Outside
  • Fix Leaky Pipes to Prevent Mold Growth
  • Use a Fan or Open a Window while Showering, Cooking, or using the Dishwasher

Step 3: Make Your Home a No Smoking Zone

Living with COPD or another respiratory disease, you should be well educated on the sheer impact smoking cigarettes has on your lung function and overall health. According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 cases of COPD are caused by smoking. Continuing to smoke with a COPD diagnosis can lead to heart problems and cause the disease to progress faster. Resulting in heightened symptoms, especially shortness of breath.
With that being said, why on earth would you allow guests in your home to smoke? You shouldn’t, which is why you need to make it clear to any smokers that come over that your home is a smoke-free zone. If people really care about you they will respect your house rules. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as smoking due to the emission of toxic carcinogens. Even inhaling the remaining odors from someone’s clothes can cause your respiratory symptoms to flare-up.
If you or a loved one is having a difficult time quitting, then talk to your doctor about possible smoking cessation programs. There are numerous medications and other treatments that your doctor can recommend to help you successfully quit once and for all.

Step 4: Reduce the Usage and Exposure to Fragrances

Fragrances that are found in air fresheners and laundry detergents, though they may smell good, these synthetic fragrances release dozens of chemicals into the air in your home. Other culprits that release these harmful chemicals include dryer sheets, fabric softeners, candles, and air fresheners (solid, spray, or oil).
Some patients with COPD notice that exposure to any of these fragrances exacerbates their symptoms. If you notice your symptoms are exacerbated by fragrances, such as an immediate onset of chest tightness and shortness of breath, then do a sweep of your home and remove any candles, air fresheners, scented dryer sheets, cleaning solutions, and any other strongly scented item.
Fragrance Reducing Tips:
  • Only Purchase Fragrance Free or Naturally Scented Soap and Laundry Products
  • Avoid Aerosol Sprays (Carpet Cleaners, Hair Spray, Body Spray, Air Fresheners)
  • Open Windows to Prevent a Buildup of Toxic Chemicals
  • Use Houseplants to Purify Air (Step 10)

Step 5: Air Purifier

The most effective measure of improving the quality of the indoor air in your home is to use a central air filtration system. However those can be costly, and not everyone has the extra funds to shell out for a home air filtration system. For a more affordable option, try using a single room air purifier with a HEPA filter. Beware though that using this method will strictly purify the air in the room containing the purifier, and since air circulates throughout the house non-filtered air could reach and contaminate the purified room.
The most effective use of an air purifier is to purchase multiple HEPA filtered air purifiers and place them in your most visited areas in your home. As these are most effective at removing microscopic particles that can enter your lungs and exacerbate your COPD symptoms. You should also be sure to stay on top of regular filter replacements to prevent dust, pollen, hair and other filtered allergens/irritants from being recycled into your home’s atmosphere.

Step 6: Ensure Your Home is Properly Ventilated

To reduce the concentration of allergens and other chemical pollutants in your home that are emitted from laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, dish soap, and other chemicals, keep it well ventilated by opening a couple of windows for a period of time. Doing so will allow a surge of fresh air to enter your home and push those invisible lung irritants right out the window. Before taking this measure, be sure to check your state’s daily air quality index.
Typically the most polluted times of day are during the morning and afternoon commute, so open your windows accordingly. Also if you are experiencing a day of low air quality, avoid opening your windows to prevent additional irritants from entering your home. You should also avoid opening windows during times of extreme cold or heat, as exposure to either one can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, phlegm production, and cough to flare-up.
You should also open your windows (when permitted) while cleaning your home to ensure a proper flow of fresh air. Outfitting your home with an air purifier as suggested in step 5 will also assist in filtering out harmful irritants from fresh air.

Step 7: Opt for Hardwood Floors

This step may require an upgrade to your home, but can you really put a price on improved breathing conditions? Hardwood floors are ideal for patients just like you that are diagnosed with COPD. Specifically because carpet attracts and retains dust, hair, dirt, pet dander and other allergens. Resulting in these allergens being kicked back into the air in your home for you to inhale. In addition, the glue and dyes that are commonly used in carpeting have also been known to emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are damaging to your respiratory health.
Clean your hardwood floors periodically with a microfiber mop using warm water and vinegar as the cleaning solution.
If you are unable to replace the carpet in your home with hardwood floors, follow the tips provided in step 1 to effectively clean your carpets of harmful lung irritants.

Step 8: Replace Heating/Cooling System Filters

This is one benefit rich tip you simply should not ignore! During regular usage of your heating or cooling system, dust and other allergens are trapped in the respective particle filter. However, leaving the same filter in for months or even years at a time can cause those trapped particles to be blown back into your home’s atmosphere for you to inhale.
You should replace the furnace filter every 4 to 6 weeks during heating season. You should replace the air conditioning’s filter at least once a month, you may need to replace both filters more frequently if you have pets.

Step 9: Regularly Clean Your Home’s Air Ducts

All of your heated and air conditioned air is delivered throughout your home by its air ducts system. Leaving these uncleaned can result in a buildup of mold, hair, dander, dust, and dirt that will be blasted back into your home for you to breathe. Find a local air duct cleaning company and schedule them to periodically come and clean your air ducts. If you have pets and find it difficult to breathe, getting your air ducts cleaned can help to improve indoor air quality.

Step 10: Leave Shoes Outside

Consistently throughout the day your shoes are exposed to germs, allergens and even harmful chemicals that you unknowingly walk through, which is why you should have a large mat at the entrance to all doors (step 1). This way you can wipe and take off your shoes to prevent those harmful pollutants from being kicked back into the air in your home or trapped in your carpets. Typically since the two most common areas of entrance to your home will be your front door and garage, you should make it priority to place a large mat at the entrance of each door and have people take off their shoes before coming in.

Step 11: Furnish Your Home with Beautiful House Plants

Looking for an eco-friendly and lung conscious method for purifying the air in your home? Furnish your home with beautiful houseplants to not only increase the purity of your home’s air, but to also add the extreme comfort and relaxation of nature right into your home. Houseplants are ideal at filtering harmful particles from the air including, carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, and other volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that can exacerbate respiratory symptoms. Volatile organic compounds originate from building materials, art supplies, personal care products, smoking or burning wood (fireplaces, wood burning stoves).
For the best results, scientists recommend that you have one houseplant for every 100 square feet of space. If you are unsure of an effective arrangement, try placing a few houseplant in the rooms you most frequently visit such as your bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen. Houseplants such as Aloe vera, Spider plant, Gerber daisy, or Snake plant are some of the best at filtering formaldehyde, benzene and other harmful toxins from the air.

Step 12: Install Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Exposure to both smoke and carbon monoxide can be lethal to your health. Ensuring that you have these detectors installed in your home is vital for your safety. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and tasteless gas that can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning or even death due to your already weakened immune system.
If your home begins to fill with either one of these toxins, the detector will alert you to vacate the premises. Periodically check the batteries and ensure they are functioning properly.

Step 13: Opt for Respiratory Safe Cleaning Products

This may be hard to process at first, especially since we have already emphasized on how important it is to keep your household clean. But cleaning with standard cleaning products will expose you to numerous harmful chemicals that can exacerbate your COPD symptoms. Instead of using artificially scented pine or lemon cleaning products, exchange them for vinegar, warm water and soap, baking soda, or vinegar and lemon juice.
While using cleaning your home you should open up a few windows and have a fan blowing to keep the air properly ventilated. If the air quality is low during your cleaning day, avoid opening windows and consider saving it for another day when the air quality if better.

Step 14: Avoid the use of Wood Burning Fire Places

Exposure to smoke of any type is the worst thing for COPD patients, as it irritates your disease ridden lungs and will more than likely lead to exacerbating symptoms. Though wood burning stoves and fireplaces are filtered they can still fill your home with pollutants such as soot and carbon, causing a further decrease in lung function and leaving you at a higher risk for respiratory infections. The best option to avoid these toxins from being released into your home is to use an electric stove and fireplace.
If your home is outfitted with a wood-burning stove and or fireplace, ensure that it is being regularly cleaned and well-ventilated so the smoke is carried outside of your home. An additional measure includes getting your fireplaces and chimneys checked and cleaned once a year.

Conclusion

There you have it, 14 effective steps you can use today to start improving the indoor air quality of your home. After all, your home should be your safe haven from all the toxic pollutants present in the outside air instead of exacerbating your COPD symptoms. You may not be able to apply all of these tips, but the more tips you put into effect the better you will be able to breathe. What are some indoor air quality improvement tips that you use in your home? Leave a comment below and share your tips with the community as a whole!

About the Author: Eden Coleman has been employed with the COPD Store for the past 2 years where he enjoys the rewarding opportunity of creating actionable and benefit driven customer education tips. He works with customers and healthcare professionals alike to deliver non-technical readable content that is actionable and focused on improving the quality of life of customers diagnosed with a respiratory illness.

Sources:
http://www.everydayhealth.com/copd/weather-can-affect-copd.aspx
http://www.webmd.com/lung/features/12-ways-to-improve-indoor-air-quality
http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/12/26/how-to-purify-the-air-in-your-home.aspx
http://copd.about.com/od/livingwithcopd/a/indoorairpoll.htm
http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease/copd-improve-air-quality.aspx
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