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What’s in Your Air? Common Household Air Pollutants

Do you know what’s in the air you breathe?

Do you know what's in the air you breathe? Even a well-ventilated, well-maintained house contains a variety of pollutants, such as allergens, particles and chemicals.

Studies by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other organizations, have found that the levels of pollutants found indoors can actually be higher than outside*. The EPA also found that Americans spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors, much of it in an office environment at work.

With that much daily exposure to pollutants, it's no wonder the EPA ranks improving indoor air quality among its five strategic goals.

Prevention Tips for Common Household Pollutants

Knowing the source of pollutants and how you can eliminate or mitigate the effects of them can help you create a healthier home environment for you and your family.

Secondhand Smoke. Caused by burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes, pipes and cigars, secondhand smoke can lead to cancer and other respiratory illnesses. It can worsen asthma symptoms and has been linked to increased risk of ear infections in children and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)**.
Prevention Tips:

  • Don't allow anyone to smoke in your home or car.
  • Avoid bars or restaurants that allow smoking.

Asthma Triggers. Dust mites, mold, secondhand smoke, pet dander and other particulates in the air or on surfaces can cause coughing, wheezing and breathing difficulty. For people with asthma, these can lead to an asthma attack, which can be life-threatening.

  • The EPA recommends changing your furnace filter regularly to help trap pollutants that can be asthma triggers***. Electrostatically charged Filtrete Allergen Defense filters by 3M are six times more effective than traditional fiberglass filters at trapping airborne pollutants, such as dust, smog, mold spores and pet dander.
  • Keep pets off of the bed and upholstered furniture to reduce your exposure to pet dander, and use allergen-proof mattress and pillow covers to protect from dust mites.

Mold. Mold is a fungus that produces spores that can be easily carried in the air and will grow when they come in contact with moisture and a food source, such as wood, carpet, paper or fabric. Exposure to mold can cause nasal stuffiness, wheezing, and eye or skin irritation. Some mold strains can cause severe, even life-threatening symptoms in mold-sensitive individuals***.
Prevention Tips:

  • Use a dehumidifier, especially in the moisture-prone basement, to prevent the humid environment in which mold thrives.
  • Investigate signs of water damage in walls, ceilings or floors and repair within 24–48 hours to prevent mold from growing.

Combustion Pollutants. Gases or airborne particles produced by burning materials, combustion pollutants in the home most commonly result from unvented or improperly vented fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, wood stoves, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers.

The most common combustion pollutants are carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that inhibits the body's ability to carry sufficient oxygen through the bloodstream, causing headaches, weakness, confusion and even death; and nitrogen dioxide, also a colorless, odorless gas that can cause eye and airway irritation, shortness of breath and increased risk of respiratory infection.
Prevention Tips:

  • Ensure that rooms in which fuel-burning appliances are being used are well-ventilated; vent appliances to the outdoors whenever possible.
  • Ensure that fuel-burning appliances are installed according to manufacturer specifications and are properly maintained.

Radon. A radioactive gas that forms naturally in the soil, radon can enter the home through cracks in floors or walls that are in contact with the ground. The EPA reports that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall.
Prevention Tips:

  • Use a do-it-yourself radon kit, available in most hardware and home improvement stores, to test your home's radon levels.
  • or new home construction, your builder can tell you about radon-reduction measures that can be completed while the home is being built.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are formed when chemicals found in common household products, such as paint, paint stripper, cleaning supplies, dry-cleaned clothing, pesticides, building materials, furniture and air fresheners, evaporate or "off-gas" into the air when they are used. VOCs can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches and nausea, and can even cause damage to internal organs and the central nervous system, or cancer.
Prevention Tips:

  • Use and store all household chemicals according to manufacturer instructions.
  • Ensure ample ventilation when using high-VOC products, such as paint, paint strippers, solvents and oven or drain cleaners.

With so many pollutants affecting indoor air quality, it might feel like an uphill battle to protect yourself and your family. Breathe easier by following these prevention tips and taking positive steps to create a healthier home.

* Filtrete Air Filtration Products brochure, "Do you really know what's in your air?"
** American Lung Association,
*** United States Environmental Protection Agency, Publication: "Care for Your Air: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality."