What springs to mind when you read the words ‘air quality’? Buses belching out diesel fumes? Smoke rising from factory chimneys? While external factors in cities (in particular) certainly have an effect on what we are breathing minute to minute, according to the Mayor of London’s office, the average person spends more than 90% of their time indoors. This means that the quality of the air we breathe inside is just as important as the air we breathe when we go out. If you’re now thinking of the Friends episode where Ross’ obsessive behaviour – including having the best air purifier (opens in new tab) in New York – drives his flatmates crazy, you’re not alone.
While this storyline was extreme, it did have a point; we can try and shut the windows to road traffic and other fumes from the outside world, but there are allergens and other irritants that can cause problems indoors. As well as pet dander, pollen and dust, consider things such as moisture (or damp) that can lead to mould. While many might consider these to be seemingly small problems, for people suffering with asthma or immune system conditions they can have a real impact on health.
The good news is that it’s easy to address all of those potential problems. Better still, as you’re about to discover, as well as learning how air purifiers work (opens in new tab)and the benefits you get from using an air purifier (opens in new tab), some of the best ways to improve air quality at home are free.
1 Open the windows
By letting fresh air circulate you can make an instant difference to the quality of the air in your home. Just five to ten minutes a day can make a noticeable improvement. On cold winter nights though, close the bedroom window; too much constant, icy air can be bad for your chest.
2 Get the vacuum cleaner out
One of the simplest ways to improve the quality of the air in your home is to vacuum regularly, ideally with a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter (one that’s washed or replaced regularly). This will get rid of dust and/ or pet dander. You should also regularly wash bedding, clean any surfaces that come into contact with pets, and make a point of cleaning corners where mould may grow.
3 Invest in an air purifier
Effectively vacuum cleaners for the air, the best air purifiers for allergies (opens in new tab) and the best air purifiers for dust (opens in new tab)will capture some of the allergens and irritants that can trigger allergic symptoms. They won’t eliminate all of the problems – they’re best suited to capturing things such as dust and pollen – but they can remove enough irritants and allergens to make a pretty significant difference.
4 Opt for a dehumidifier
If you’ve got a problem with condensation, a dehumidifier can be a good investment. Removing moisture from the air can be a very effective way to reduce mould growth. Additionally, a good extractor fan near your shower (if you don’t already have one installed) is another wise buy.
5 Use your cooker hood
Cooker hoods and kitchen fans shouldn’t just be reserved for eliminating strong cooking odours or aromas. Did you know that they can help reduce condensation that’s a by-product of the moisture released by heavily boiling pans, for example? While you’re at it, crack a window and keep the kitchen door closed – that way the moisture won’t move into other rooms.
6 Don’t mask bad smells
It’s tempting to reach for the Febreze, masking an odour isn’t wise long-term. Better to try and track down the source of any unpleasant smells, especially as it could be a warning sign of a bigger problem, such as mould.
7 Hang your washing outside
Line drying your clothes is better for the environment and for your purse – the Energy Savings Trust reckons line drying, as opposed to tumble-drying, can save you about £30 a year and reduce your environmental footprint by 90kgs. Taking your wet and damp washing outdoors is also a big help when it comes to reducing indoor mould. One Scottish study found that 30% of the moisture in people’s homes was a result of drying clothes indoors.
If line drying isn’t an option and you need to dry your clothes indoors, do it in a well-ventilated room or use a low-energy drying airer or drying cupboard. Vented tumble dryers are good too, but they’re energy intensive.
8 Stop the smoke
We don’t just mean smoking cigarettes – although smoking indoors doesn’t do great things for air quality – we mean anything that produces smoke. Candles might be romantic and relaxing, but they can waft a lot of particulate matter, such as soot, into the air.
9 Consider plastic plants
Despite what you might read online, indoor plants don’t clean the air. In fact, they might make it worse. While they look beautiful and produce oxygen, there’s also a good chance that indoor plants have been treated with pesticides or contain harmful bacteria. More than that, they can increase the humidity in your home. None of these are great for overall air quality.
10 Don’t use unvented heaters
Freestanding, portable gas heaters are lovely and warming, but they also produce CO2 that can build up in your room. Where possible, try to find an alternative.
11 Ventilate during home renovations
Whether it’s repainting door frames or airing a newly opened mattress, lots of things can release potentially troublesome chemicals into the air. For example, flat-packed furniture can release formaldehyde into the air when you open the packaging, while paints are a common culprit for releasing unpleasant fumes. The take-away? Good ventilation is essential.
12 Talk to your landlord
If you’re renting your home and there’s inadequate or damaged ventilation, heating or insulation, speak to your landlord. They have a responsibility to provide housing that’s “fit for human habitation”. A mouldy, damp home doesn’t meet those standards. If your landlord is uncooperative, speak to your local council.
Writer and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been writing about all kinds of technology since 1998. Carrie’s CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programs ranging from T3, Woman & Home, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend, and she offers straight-talking tech advice on BBC Radio Scotland every Monday. Carrie has also written thirteen non-fiction books and ghost-written two more, and she has also been the co-writer of seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, will be published in late 2022.
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