Your home is like a rainforest. Each room has its own unique microclimate; the way to improve air quality in a humid bathroom is very different from the way to do so in a drafty bedroom. But at the same time, none of the rooms in your home are hermetically sealed from each other. If you burn something in the kitchen, air quality in the whole house will suffer.
Since your home is a complex ecosystem, improving your air quality isn’t a one-and-done kind of deal — you can’t just purchase a doodad and be done with it. Changing your indoor environment usually requires a number of small changes throughout your house. But with so many zillions of suggestions floating around the internet, it’s hard to know where to start. Should you swap out your shower curtain? Get a house plant? Invest thousands of dollars in a fancy air filter?
The best way to tackle indoor air quality is one room at a time. We put together this guide to help you understand the environment of each room in your house, and make the right kind of changes for a healthier home ecosystem.
- Replace your shower curtain. PVC vinyl shower curtains release VOCs into the air, including as many as 100 toxic chemicals associated with adverse health effects. Not the kind of thing you’d want to enclose yourself with in a small, poorly ventilated space, eh? Get a non-vinyl shower curtain, like this one.
- Ventilate. Always use your bathroom fan while showering. If you don’t have one, open a window, and leave the door open after you shower.
- Clean smart. People often store cleaning supplies in the bathroom, but this is a bad idea. Cleaning supplies can give off VOCs, so the best place to store them is the garage or a closet. Better yet, switch to baking soda and vinegar — it’s just as effective.
- Keep things dry. In small, damp bathrooms, wet towels never dry out completely, making the perfect environment for allergenic mold to flourish. Wash and dry your towels every week, or better yet, switch to linen, which is quick-drying and naturally antibacterial.
- Ditch your loofah. Synthetic loofahs are breeding grounds for mold and bacteria. Use a wash cloth instead, and throw it in the wash whenever you do the laundry.
- Ventilate. Use your exhaust hood every time you cook. Many hoods aren’t effective, so it’s also a good idea to open a window and cook on the back burners.
- Keep things clean. When dust and food particles heat up or burn, they release harmful VOCs into the air. One way to combat this is to keep your oven, toaster, and burners clean. If you haven’t used them in a while, give them an extra-generous cleaning before you do, as they are likely coated in a thick layer of dust.
- Use green cleaners. Don’t sabotage yourself by doing all that cleaning with harsh chemical solutions! Use a health-friendly brand like Seventh Generation, or simply clean with baking soda and vinegar.
- Cook wisely. Caramelization makes food taste great, but it’s not great for indoor air quality. If your kitchen isn’t well-ventilated, be extra careful with any kind of cooking that involves browning, and definitely avoid burning things like toast or steak.
- Keep things cool. During the day, 70 degrees is a comfortable room temperature. But many people find they sleep better in a colder room. Experiment with temperatures between 62 and 68 degrees to find what works best for you. (Sleeping in a cooler room might even help you lose weight.)
- Open a window. In addition to cooling things down, opening a window reduces CO2 levels. High CO2 can prevent you from feeling relaxed.
- Go minimal. Try to minimize the amount of furniture and knick knacks in your bedroom. The more stuff you have, the more dust collects, contributing to allergies and congestion. (Having trouble reducing clutter? Marie Kondo can help.)
- Fight dust. The simplest way to get rid of dust is to clean furniture with a damp cloth every week.
- Choose your bedding carefully. Sheets and blankets can collect dust and mold. Wash your bedding frequently, and consider switching to a fabric like linen, which is naturally antibacterial and quick-drying.
- Reconsider humidity. Humidifiers are meant to make sleeping more comfortable, but they can actually do more harm than good. If not properly maintained, they can be breeding grounds for bacteria and mold. Measure your bedroom humidity to make sure you actually need a humidifier, and if you do, clean it regularly.
Good luck transforming your home ecosystem. And one final note. If you want to make sure that every step you take to improve your air is effective, consider purchasing a device that measures indoor air quality.
Some people purchase devices for different rooms in the house, but to start out, simply put your device in the room where you spend the most time. Spend a few weeks focusing on improving the air quality in that room, and when you’ve made progress, move your device to another room.