Managing indoor air pollution is a daunting and complicated task. That being said, it is certainly doable.
If you don't have an air purifying solution, it is especially important to follow these recommendations. It will help you minimize the level of toxins slightly, but not as much as required. I urge you to do as much of this as possible, and more importantly, the list below should make you aware of all the factors that pollute your home.
1. Clean and clean some more
In our homes, we end up 'growing' pollution without even knowing it. Cleaning our homes requires a lot more than just mopping and dusting the rooms. Although, dusting is vital because 40,000 dust mites can live in each ounce of dust!
The first step to a clean home is, well, to clean it thoroughly and do a good job of it! It's important to regularly clean our living spaces. Dusting, sweeping, mopping and vacuuming must be done daily. And don't forget your curtains and upholstered furniture too. High traffic areas in the house may require more frequent cleaning.
Investing in a vacuum cleaner is a good idea. Not only can these machines remove the most obstinate dust particles, they can also clean parts of furniture that may be difficult to reach with a broomstick or a dust cloth.
2. Declutter, because less stuff means less pollution
When it comes to minimalism, we need to learn from the Japanese way of life. They have always believed in beauty that is sparse and simple.
On the other hand, India and most of the Western world take the opposite path.
We fill our lives with more and more things and so our lives are cramped and stuffed to the maximum.
Marie Kondo, the author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, advises people to keep only what brings them true joy. I, on the other hand, urge you to keep only what's necessary because everything in our homes adds to the pollution levels.
The only key to a clean home is to keep it as sparse as possible.
Remember, the best way to have clean air at home is to get rid of the pollution sources.
If you find it hard to declutter your entire home, do it only for one room – your bedroom.
3. Treat your bedroom as if it were a hospital room
This is the one room you should focus all your cleaning attention on because on an average we spend six to eight hours a day in our bedrooms. This is where we sleep and reset our bodies and minds. Our bedrooms should be the purest and cleanest part of our homes. Start thinking of your bedroom as a sacred space like a temple. Or even a hospital.
Try to keep your bedroom as sparse as possible with only the bare essentials. Take a bit of inspiration from the Japanese and keep the furnishing minimal, with no carpets. Not only will it lower the level of pollutants, a clean room is proven to give you peace of mind and help you think and sleep better.
Your best, or if you have only one, air purifier should be in this room.
4. Always remove your shoes
Our shoes literally bring in the filth and muck from the outside world into our homes. If you ever place the soles of your shoes under a microscope, you would shudder at the amount of bacteria you will find. Your footwear can pick up everything from bacteria-packed faecal matter to toxic lead dust and harmful pesticides. When you walk around the house wearing the same shoes, you are only helping spread more germs and toxins, adding to whatever else are already inside.
5. Use any kind of varnish outside the house
Varnishes or any substance with an alcohol or spirit smell emit high levels of pollutants that can remain inside your house for at least a week.
Step outside when using nail polish or nail polish removers. Or do it in the bathroom with the exhaust fan on.
Get all wooden furniture varnished outside and bring it in only once the smell has gone.
6. Swap the usual cleaners for vinegar
Most cleaning products contain chemicals that contribute to poor indoor air quality. Research has linked once-a-week use of cleaning products with a 24-32% higher risk of progressive lung disease.
Fortunately, there are plenty of safe and effective options. Soap and water, or vinegar and baking soda can serve as inexpensive alternatives. Borax is a form of baking soda that can act as a whitener and boost your detergent power. Add between one-fourth and one cup to your laundry, depending on the size of your load.
So swap your regular cleaners and disinfectants for vinegar and baking powder. It doesn't get safer than that.
7. Pay extra attention to your carpets
Dust mites thrive in carpets and rugs and the dirtier your carpets and rugs get the more likely they are to contain PM, mould, dust, pet dander, hair, etc. Regular grooming of your pets will reduce the amount of hair that gets trapped in your carpets and keep the air at home cleaner.
When buying a new carpet, avoid ones with vinyl backing or ones that are glued on to the floor. These types of carpets release pollutants constantly. When a new carpet of this kind is installed, there's a very good chance it will release chemicals. This release of chemicals is known as off-gassing. Some of the off-gassing chemicals have been associated with headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath (dyspnoea) and asthma-like reactions.
If you must install such carpets, keep the windows open to allow ventilation, till the smell becomes weaker, allowing the carpet to 'air itself out'.
Use carpets that are knitted rather than machine-made. The idea is to cut out as much plastic and adhesive as possible. Clean them regularly and vacuum them at least once a week.
8. Go digital
Most of you already get your news on your phones, and that's a great way to reduce the levels of pollutants in your homes. Newspapers are printed with inks that release toluene, a harmful toxin. And as you keep stacking them, the amount of toxins only increases.
Go paperless; we are in the age of the digital world after all. And if you must buy newspapers, sell them and recycle as often as possible.
Pet shelters are always in constant need of newspapers – donate them to your local shelter.
9. Agarbattis emit PM 2.5; candles are just as bad
An air quality awareness group called 3min.life conducted an experiment to check if agarbattis were toxic. They chose five popular brands of agarbattis and monitored the air quality around the area where they were lit. Their findings showed that the PM 2.5 levels had spiked five to seven times. Even herbal agarbattis release toxic gases and PM 2.5.
Since prayer rooms are an integral part of most Indian homes, I suggest you light your agarbattis outside and stick them in a tulsi pot. If you must light these sticks inside the house, move your shrine near a window and keep it open when the stick is lit.
Candles are guilty of emitting VOCs as well, especially the perfumed ones that a lot of us like to use around the house. Remember, combustion and smoke is the same. There is no good smoke.
10. Most things that smell good are bad for you
Perfumes, deodorants and air fresheners fall in the same category. They emit high VOCs. I know that puts a lot of you in a spot, after all we don't want to smell bad. But the question is, what's more critical? Health or vanity?
I may sound like some kind of pollution Nazi by asking you to get rid of your cleaning detergents, complicating your life by asking you to move your prayer rooms, and taking the joy out of it by urging you not to use perfumes in the house, but I do it because I want you to reap the benefits of these exercises.
Kamal Meattle and Barun Aggarwal are experts on battling air pollution. Their book, How To Grow Fresh Air, is based on Meattle's viral TED talk.
Excerpted with permission from How To Grow Fresh Air, Kamal Meattle and Barun Aggarwal, Juggernaut Books.