Clean Air Indoors and Out

I wake up this morning to a toxic smell, likely coming from a navy ship that is currently burning off of San Diego. I can only imaging what toxic stuff is being released into the environment. I check the air quality in the region using an app. It doesn’t look good, and we are facing a heat wave which will make it worse.

Normally, we have windows open for fresh air. But this morning I run around making sure all of them are fully shut and turn my three air purifiers on full blast. Yes, I have three air purifiers – one for each room where members of my family sleep. They also have wheels so that they can be moved to wherever we might need them, such as our living room with the fireplace where I can still smell the fumes despite all windows being shut.

Why did I invest in these air purifiers in the first place? One reason is that living in Southern California, we are periodically exposed to smoke from fires and it’s been particularly bad the last several fire seasons. The other reason is explained in Tip #31 from “Resilient Health: How To Thrive in Our Toxic World” – Care for Your Air in which I describe the additional hazards of indoor air pollution.


While most people are familiar with outdoor air pollution—such as smog from industry and vehicle exhaust, which are important to address for health and climate change—studies indicate that the majority of air pollutants in your lungs actually come from indoor rather than outdoor air.

We are exposed to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released from our furnishings, home construction materials, and products that we use in daily life. We are also exposed to dust in our carpets, on our furniture, and in the air, which becomes contaminated with a variety of toxic materials. To make things worse, many homes today are airtight to conserve energy, and without cross-ventilation, levels of indoor air pollutants tend to stay higher.

The most common indoor air pollutants today come from mothballs, deodorizers, plastic, foam rubber, insulation, tobacco smoke, off-gassing from dry-cleaning, paint, cleaning products, steam from chlorinated water, and molds.

Tackling Sources of Indoor Air Pollution:

  • Replace products containing synthetic fragrance such as deodorizers, air fresheners, laundry detergents, and dryer sheets with nontoxic options (see Action Step 29).
  • Green your cleaning supplies (see Action Step 30).
  • Choose less toxic products when purchasing furniture (see Action Steps 33 and 35).
  • Replace your vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one (see PVCs in Action Step 39).
  • Choose no-VOC paint and no-VOC glue for carpets and flooring (see Action Step 39).
  • Air out your dry cleaning before bringing it in the house to avoid being exposed to chemicals such as perchloroethylene (PERC). Solvents used for dry-cleaning may continue to off-gas from your clothing for over two weeks after you have removed the plastic wrap. Remove the plastic bag and hang any dry-cleaned clothes outside (or in a mudroom or garage) to air out for at least forty-eight hours before wearing or hanging in your closet. Less toxic “green” or organic dry-cleaner options exist that use liquid carbon dioxide (CO2), silicon-based solvent, or “wet cleaning”” which uses water and nontoxic detergents in high-tech machines.
  • Don’t wear shoes indoors as this will track outside contaminants inside the home.
  • Dust and clean your home regularly. Wash sheets and blankets weekly in hot water.
  • Don’t allow smoking indoors. If you smoke, wash your hands and change your clothes as soon as possible when coming indoors (see Action Step 24).
  • Avoid living near a freeway if possible. Close windows during peak traffic hours.
  • Natural gas may be a problem for some people. Ventilate when cooking and check fireplace, stove, furnace, and garage for leaks.
  • Clean up mold and fix water leaks promptly and properly (see Action Step 40).

Cleaning the Air

  • Open windows and run exhaust fans regularly to ventilate. Even ventilating for thirty minutes a day can make a difference.
  • Change air filters on your forced air system every one to three months (look for MERV rating of 12 or higher) and clean the vents. An air filter with a MERV of 7 will help with dust and higher ratings will help with off-gassing, smaller sized particles, tobacco smoke, and microbes.
  • For room air purifiers, choose one that uses a fan to push or pull the air through a HEPA filter and that will clean the air in a specified space (the width x length x height of your room). A high quality air purifier filters the air in the space about every twenty minutes. The bedroom is a good place to start as most people spend a large amount of time there. Avoid air purifiers that use ozone, which is itself an air pollutant and can affect the lungs.”

Plants Can Help!

For details on plants that were studied by NASA and found to clean the air naturally, please see “Resilient Health: How To Thrive in Our Toxic World

Products I Recommend:

There are several excellent brands of air purifiers that I recommend:

  • Austin Air – I have the Healthmate Plus which:
    • Removes particles in the air including formaldehyde, elements of smoke, dust and pollens
    • Removes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
    • Filters viruses and bacteria (99.97% of all particles larger than 0.3 microns and 95% of all particles larger than 0.1 microns). You can order them through my online store here
  • Blue Air – I have heard good things about this one as well
  • IQ Air – This is top of the line, and they have whole house purifiers as well. I’d love to get the GC Multigas and compare it to my Austin Air purifiers.


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