The choices you make within your own home can improve the quality of air your family inhales.
- Buy unscented cleaning supplies without harsh chemicals. Or, make your own: for example, mix one part lemon juice with two parts vegetable oil to make a furniture polish; use baking soda and water for scouring bathtubs, sinks and toilets and wash your floors with vinegar and water.
- Stop using personal care products with fragrance, such as shampoos, soaps, deodorants and perfumes.
- Choose solid wood furniture and cabinets to avoid off-gassing. Or, if your furniture is made of pressed-wood, seal any exposed areas with a solvent-free paint or varnish.
Virginia Salares, senior researcher at CMHC, stresses solid wood is especially important in the bedroom. “That is where you’re being nurtured, getting rested,” she says.
- When buying new carpet, ask for choices with low-chemical emissions, including the underpadding and adhesives. If possible, air carpets in a well-ventilated room before installation.
- Avoid chemicals for pest control. Instead, choose traps, baits or fly swatters.
- Don’t smoke in your home, and don’t allow anyone to smoke in your home.
- Ensure natural gas appliances, such as stoves and furnaces, and gas and wood-burning fireplaces are vented properly to the outdoors.
Smoke from wood-burning fireplaces can be especially problematic for those with asthma, and should only used if needed as a heating source.
- Moisture, especially problematic in kitchens , bathrooms and basements, can cause mould growth. Run your bathroom fan (ensure it’s vented to the outdoors) for 15 minutes after a shower, or open the window, says Salares.
Use your kitchen exhaust fan when cooking. For the basement, relocate downspouts away from the foundation of your house, use a dehumidifier, and dispose of any water-damaged articles.
- Remove any carpet from bathrooms. The warm, humid environment is heaven for dust mites . Also, wash your bathmat regularly.
- Use a good-quality vacuum, with a HEPA filter and concentrate on areas where there may be a high concentration of allergens such as the front door, in front of a window, and beside the bed.
Engage in what Toby Saville, chief microbiologist at Dyson vacuums, calls “intensive vacuuming,” that is, run the machine over these areas for two minutes to maximize dirt and dust removal. Don’t forget to vacuum the stairs and under the couch.
- Hardwood or laminate floors are a good alternative to carpet. However, it’s important to keep them clean, as dust mites can still live in the cracks of hardwood, and dust and pollen can build up on the surface.
- Cover your mattress and pillows with a dust-mite proof cover and avoid using an anti-fungal spray, “which just adds chemicals,” says Saville.
- Dust furniture, blinds, books and toys regularly with a damp cloth, to avoid recirculating dust.
Ventilate, Ventilate, Filter
- For the best air exchange, install a heat recovery ventilator. HRVs are designed to quickly exchange outdoor air (brought in through a filter) with stale indoor air. Heat is transferred from the indoor air to the outdoor air, for improved energy efficiency. (More  on HRVs)
- While elimination of contaminants and proper ventilation are your main strategies, air filtration or purification can also help to improve indoor air quality. Be sure to choose a system with a HEPA filter, maintain it properly, and avoid air cleaners that produce ozone.
Sources: Virginia Salares, CMHC; Jay Kassirer, Healthy Indoors Partnership; Toby Saville, Dyson; “The Healthy Home Audit” ; AAFA ; The Canadian Lung Association 
Originally published in Allergic Living magazine.
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