Sad story: Indoor air quality is usually far worse for your health than the air right outside your house.
All of the prized and lovely things inside your home–everything from flooring to paint to mattresses and furniture–contain chemicals that off-gas into the air you breathe. These harmful toxins like formaldehyde (found in paper products and synthetic fabrics), benzene (in plastics, dyes and detergents), and trichloroethylene (in paints and varnishes) can cause symptoms such as allergies and inflammation, dizziness and drowsiness. Long-term exposure is linked to damage to the liver, kidney and brain, as well as certain types of cancer.
Your best bet for improving your indoor air quality is to limit the toxins you bring into your home in the first place. That means using safe cleaning products, candles and air fresheners, and doing your best to purchase safer product alternatives–like VOC-free paint, mattresses without flame retardants, and formaldehyde-free furniture.
But, if you’re anything like me, you perhaps live in a rental unit you can’t paint and your furniture is a mix of hand-me-down pieces that are most certainly stuffed with things you don’t want to know about. So, in this case we turn to the purifying magic of:
Natural Air Purifiers
Himalayan salt lamp
The lamp is essentially a big piece of Himalayan salt with a lightbulb inside. It cleans the air by emitting negative ions that bind to and neutralize positive ions nearby. (Negative ions are more prevalent in nature–in plants, thunderstorms, sunlight and moving water like crashing waves and waterfalls–whereas positive ions are emitted by electronics, mold, bacteria and allergens. Negative ions are considered “healthier” and studies show they contribute to improved mood and concentration, increased energy and reduced allergy and asthma symptoms.)
The lamp is most effective when it’s turned on, as the heat helps release negative ions from the salt. The manufacturer of my lamp says it can be left on as long as you’d like and there are plenty of reviews attesting that it lasts a long time. I actually sleep with the lamp on its lowest setting (it has a dimmer) and its gentle orange glow doesn’t bother me. I use the lamp on my bedside table, as you know how I feel about orange light after dark!
Salt lamps come in different sizes for different spaces (for a larger room you’ll want a larger lamp to release more negative ions). They’re becoming sort of hip and there are knock-off versions out there just for looks, so be sure your lamp is pure, food-grade Himalayan salt.
Activated charcoal is a great food poisoning remedy and natural teeth whitener, and can also be used for absorbing odors and pollutants in your home. Due to its incredibly porous properties, activated charcoal effectively absorbs chemicals (including VOCs), bacteria, pollen and moisture from the air.
There are many options for air-purifying bags of bamboo charcoal available on Amazon.
These bags are also great for removing odors/toxins/allergens from your car. They’re good for several years and you can “re-charge” them by setting them in sunlight for a few hours.
Many plants effectively filter VOCs from the air around them. NASA actually conducted a study on this and suggested one houseplant per 100 square feet of space.
This graphic lists the best air-filtering plants, as tested by NASA. Some of the top contenders are snake plants, peace lilies, chrysanthemum and English ivy.
Using a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arrestance) filter helps to remove pollutants and allergens from your home by targeting much smaller particles than a typical filter. The filter doesn’t have any effect on gases (such as VOCs) but does help to remove other pollutants such as dust and dander that can contribute to poor air quality.