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6 Common Indoor Air Pollutants and How to Remove Them

Posted by Kelly on Mar 17, 2016 2:52:19 PM

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When first thinking about pollution, issues like smog, car emissions, and litter may first pop into your head. However, you also need to be aware of the air pollutants that can get into your home. It’s one of the reasons why homes have HVAC systems to help filter and get rid of dangerous pollutants inside. Here are some of the most common air pollutants and how you can remove them from your home. 

Pollutants Found Inside

Our resident expert Keith Hill, technical support manager from Minnesota Air, says that particles and vapors are the two categories of pollutants that can enter your home.

“Particles like dust, pet dander, pollen, mold spores, mildew, bacteria and viruses, and smoke particles from tobacco, candles, and wood burning are all common contaminants in a home,” says Keith. Vapors include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, VOCS and radon gas.

Below are some of the most common pollutants and how they enter your home.

  1. Dust & Pet Dander – Typically, comes from inside the house as pets shed hair and as skin cells die. Besides skin cells, tiny particles of dirt can also contribute to dust.
  2. Pollen – Comes from trees, flowers, and plants. Can be attached to clothing after spending time outdoors, or come into the house as you open windows doors to bring in outside “fresh” air.
  3. Mold Spores & Mildew – Another culprit that can add to poor health. Mold and mildew can grow in moist, dark areas – such as a basement or bathroom. Mold spores can also blow in from the outside as snow begins to melt.
  4. Bacteria & Viruses – Germs, guests with colds, old decomposing food, spills that weren’t cleaned up right away, garbage, and even the bottom of your shoes can add bacteria and viruses to your home. Wash your hands and clean frequently used surfaces to prevent them.
  5. Smoke & Combustion – Think of these pollutants as the byproduct of “burning” fuel. Smoke and other vapors like CO or CO2 can come from using your gas range, a fireplace, a candle, or a cigarette. Even breathing creates CO2.
  6. VOCs – Volatile organic compounds (VOCS) are usually found in the items we use in our homes – cleaning products, paints, varnishes, furniture, and other furnishings.

Radon is another vapor that can enter your home. Though not as common as having CO in your home, it is a hazardous radioactive gas that comes up through the soil. In high levels, it is very dangerous.

Both vapors and particles are air pollutants that can lead to poor health if not taken care of properly.

The Remedy 

Air pollutants can be removed, but it takes a good balance of ventilation, filtration, and purification in order to do it!

Keith says that moisture, condensation, and wood rot can all be indications that your home may have poor ventilation. 

“If moisture is trapped and building up in the home, other pollutants are probably also accumulating,” he says.

Keith suggests that vapor pollutants can only be addressed with better ventilation. You need to remove the stale air and introduce fresh air to replace it. He says that it is critical to maintaining a healthy indoor environment.

In that same vein, particle pollutants can only be remedied with filtration and purification (for the ‘living particles’ such as mold, bacteria, and viruses). Purification can be done by using ultraviolet light (UV) and ionization or other cleaning methods to kill the living organisms found in the air.

“Some ventilation is required just to maintain an adequate oxygen supply, and natural ventilation – infiltration through the cracks and crevices of your home – is usually enough to meet that need, but that may not be enough to keep us healthy,” says Keith. “We need oxygen to live, but we also need it to keep other vapors like carbon dioxide (CO2), radon and VOCs to a minimum.”

Any of those vapors in high quantities can make you sick or lead to serious health problems, and that’s why homes with ventilation issues should get a mechanical system installed. That can even mean just a simple bathroom fan or exhaust fan over your range. 

However, Keith has some concerns about using exhaust fans. “First off they only remove air. They put the home into a slight negative pressure and the replacement air is pulled in through cracks and crevices. Air coming in through those cracks and crevices may also bring with it dust, mold, radon and other pollutants,” says Keith.

“Secondly, this infiltrating air is not conditioned, so it adds to your HVAC system load, increasing your fuel bill. Using an air exchanger is a better way to go, controlling where the air comes from, filtering it, and then exchanging heat energy with the exhausted air to make it good for indoor air quality (IAQ) and your pocket book.”

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Topics: Home Maintenance