Top 9 Sources Of Indoor Air Pollution In Your Home

Indoor air pollution can go up to 100 times worse than outdoor air. That's not a random number we throw out. That is the figure from EPA. In this post, we are going to explore what is indoor air pollution, why is it dangerous, the health risk and what can you do. We will also provide a detailed list of the common indoor air pollution examples with complete parameters. A must-read post if you are staying in an old house built before the 1970s.
Short answer
Indoor air pollution should not be treated lightly.


1. Asbestos

  • Sources – Insulation board, ceilings, walls, pipes, heating systems, taping muds, textured coatings, mastics
  • Health effects – Shortness of breath, cough, loss of appetite, chest tightness, asbestosis, mesothelioma, cancer
  • Solutions – Asbestos abatement expert, renovator, air purifier

Asbestos a heat-resistant, magnesium silicate fiber that is regularly used as interposing materials. You will find it as a foam of insulation board for ceilings, tiles, walls, pipes, brake lining, and furnace. It can even be woven into fabrics as part of fire-resistance materials. In today modern houses, asbestos is rarely used due to the major health risk it brings upon. In fact, federal government has banned many forms of asbestos as part of the building materials.

Asbestos fibers are small and lightweight that is hard to detect through our naked eyes. Inhaling to high concentration level can cause respiratory problems like shortness of breath, cough or chest pain. In the long term, it can lead to lung diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and cancer.

Good quality asbestos will not be airborne if is not disturbed. If you are staying in an old home dated few decades ago, there is bound to be asbestos plastered all over the home. If you are going to remodel your home, hire professionals to remove and clear out all the asbestos before moving back in. If you plan to DIY, an alternate solution is to seal the asbestos shut rather than trying to remove it. This prevents the intact fiber being released into the air. Asbestos fiber does not mix well with cigarette smoke so never smoke indoor. An air purifier with HEPA filter can effectively pull in and remove airborne asbestos. It is a good way to safeguard your home but is not a permanent solution. You will be better off hiring an asbestos abatement expert.


2. Carbon Monoxide (CO)

  • Sources – Tobacco smoke, grills, heating furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, gas stoves, automobile exhaust
  • Health effects – Headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, shortness of breath, nausea, weakness, loss of consciousness, death
  • Solutions – Change to electricial appliances, carbon monoxide detector, improve ventilation, air purifier

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an insidious compound that is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. Most of us are exposed to this fuel combustion byproduct from vehicle or tobacco smoke. For indoor air pollution, the biggest contributor is gas stoves, followed by gas space heater, wood stoves, and fireplace.

Exposed to carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, nausea, headache, breathing problem, and sluggish. Overexposure in a concealed area will lead to CO poisoning and will kill you in a short period of time.

Replace all gas appliances like heater, stoves to electrical appliances. If that is not possible, improve home ventilation by opening more windows or an exhaust fan. Make sure your wood stove filter is properly maintained and vented. If possible, avoid relying on a wood-burning fireplace to keep warm, there are many eco-friendly heater alternatives. Always leave the air purifier on to suck in all the smoke particles from reaching into your lungs. For a safety measure, install a carbon monoxide alarm to alert you if a high concentration of CO is detected.


3. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

  • Sources – Gas stoves, unvented kerosene heaters, furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves
  • Health effects – Headaches, dizziness, stomach ache, breathing problem, nausea, weakness, lack of coordination, death
  • Solutions – Switch to electricial appliances, improve ventilation, air Purifier

Like CO, Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is also a chemical compound that becomes airborne from fuel burning. Most NO2 are highly reactive gas that is colorless and odorless when oxides. However, you can actually see NO2 as a reddish-brown layer when mixed with airborne particulates. Gas stoves, wood stoves, fireplaces, and gas space heaters are the common sources of toxic gas.

Nitrogen dioxide possesses identical health risk as CO but it is detectable due to the sharp odor. Symptoms include dizziness, breathing problem, nausea, lack of coordination, headache, and ultimately death.

Treat nitrogen dioxide like how you would treat carbon monoxide. Switch all gas appliances to electrical appliances. Same goes with your fireplace that can be replaced with an electrical heater. It is inexpensive and healthier in long-run. If things can’t change, make sure the wood stove/ chimney filter is well ventilated. Finally, get a good air purifier with a carbon filter to deal with suspended, airborne smoke particles.

4. Formaldehyde (CH2O)

  • Sources – pressed wood items, glues, textile,urea-formaldehyde foam insulation, fiberboard, wall panel, hardwood plywood panel, resin
  • Health effects – aggravate asthma, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nose, eyes, throat irritation, ALS, nerve cell damage, cancer
  • Solutions – Remodeled old home, buy newer home, air purifier

Formaldehyde (CH2O) is a colorless, flammable, naturally occurring organic compound gas. It is commonly found in homes built before the 1970s used as building materials and household products. This include pressed wood items, glues, textile, UFFI insulation board, wall panel, resin and so much more. Some tobacco smoke also contains some form of formaldehyde. Unlike other indoor pollutants, formaldehyde has a clear pungent smell that is easily detectable.

Formaldehyde is very bad for our health as it will emit toxic gas at room temperature. You will start off with the standard cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nose, eyes, and throat irritation. If you have asthma or children at home, you are on the more vulnerable side. Long exposure will lead to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other nervous system damage. Cancer will also be the inevitable outcome.

If you are staying in a home build recently after 1980, you don’t have to worry about formaldehyde in your home. The federal government has taken the initiative to banned many UFFI building materials and products since 1970. If there are still uncertainties, get a formaldehyde home test kit you can have a piece of mind. Just to be on the same safe, an air purifier will also help capture any formaldehyde gas that is roaming within its coverage.


5. Lead (Pb)

  • Sources – Paints, dishes, gasoline, pipes, dusts, soil, water
  • Health effects – Anemia, kidney failure, liver failure, brain damage, fetal development problems, SIDS, cancer
  • Solutions – Professional lead paint remover, air purifier

Lead (Pb) is a toxic metal and recognized environmental pollutant problems especially to children. However in modern times, it is less of a threat indoor because there are less lead-based items produced. Like formaldehyde, many of the lead building materials have been banned by the federal government. Still, some household items could contain lead include paint, dishes, gasoline, pipes, even old toys left by the grandparents. You can also find it in dust, soil or water although the concentration level is low.

Lead poisoning is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. Children’s body is more vulnerable in absorbing leads than adults. Babies and toddlers that often put their hands into their mouth will have a higher chance of directly inhaling to lead. This could affect their brains development and nervous systems from functioning properly. Expose to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, fetal development problems, SIDS, kidney, and brain damage. Lead is also classified as a probable human carcinogen.

Lead is still a worldwide problem especially for third world country that focuses on industrial growth. City folk like you and I would have little to worry about. Still, there are lead home test kit or professional inspector to hire if you are unsure. If you are staying in an old house, get a professional lead paint remover to do your bid. discard any old suspicious items with saturated paint. A Large HEPA air purifier would also help to clear out any harmful toxic contaminants.


6. Radon (Rn)

  • Sources – Mostly from basement and old houses, floor, walls, drains, water exposed to radon
  • Health effects – persistent cough, hoarseness, wheezing, bronchitis, pneumonia, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, coughing up blood, lung cancer
  • Solutions – Radon detector, Certified radon mitigation Contractor

Radon is a radioactive gas byproduct of uranium that is also colorless and odorless. Commonly found in outdoor soil or rocks where houses are built. When uranium decay, The released radon gas will creep inside the home through cracked concrete walls, floor, drains or sump. Because it is not easily detectable, the concentration level of radon will gradually increase and trapped in a home. Over time, the occupants will be left dangerously exposed to toxic unknowingly until it is too late.

Radon is insidious to our health particularly to our lungs. There are illness signs like a persistent cough, hoarseness, wheezing, shortness of breath but it is not a clear sign of radon poisoning. It is often discovered only when one starts coughing blood and upon check-up, you are unfortunately diagnosed with lung cancer. EPA estimates that radon causes about 14,000 deaths per year in the United States. Smoker makes up for the bigger chunk as radon can attach itself to the smoke and travel into the lungs.

Radon linked cancer is preventable if precaution steps are taken. First thing first, get a radon detector to continuously monitor and check there is any radon gas infiltration. If there is, hire a certified radon mitigation contractors to get it removed. This should be done at the utmost priority because radon is very prevalent that will spread across your home in no time. An air purifier can help reduce the gas particulates but it plays very little part.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

7. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

  • Sources – Carpets, paints, lacquers, detergents, pesticides, aerosol sprays, moth repellents, air fresheners, synthetic fabrics, glues, permanent markers, plastics
  • Health effects – Irritation to eyes, nose, throat, coughing, skin rashes, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, loss of coordination, drowsiness, weakness, liver/ kidneys damage, lung disease, cancer
  • Solutions – Use eco-friendly products, improve ventilation, air purifier with carbon filter

Also known as organic gases or reactive organic gases (ROG). Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is a board term for many of the indoor toxic gases emitted from different sources. This includes household items like nail polish remover, wallpaper, paint, glue, carpet, burning candles, detergents, floor lacquers, plastics, and pesticides. The 10 most common VOCs include acetone, benzene, butanal, carbon disulfide, dichlorobenzene, ethanol, formaldehyde, terpenes, toluene, xylene.

Each VOCs gases have different toxicity levels. Therefore, there are endless health effects would bring to the table. From your usual, cough, eyes, nose irritation to breathing difficulty, nausea, and fatigue, VOCs covers it all. In long exposure, it will cause permanent damage to the lungs, liver, kidney, central nervous system, and cancer.

By far the best way of reducing volatile organic compounds in your home is to stop buying items with VOCs. Instead, replace with eco-friendly products that might be costlier but your lungs would be forever grateful. You will be surprised that even pesticide or detergent can be completely made of natural ingredients. Keeping a room well-ventilated is also a good way of removing VOCs concentration level. An air purifier with a good carbon filter is undoubtedly effective in reducing VOCs in the air. Always leave it running in the background to protect you from any insidious attack.

Mold biological contaminants

8. Biological contaminants

  • Sources – Animal dander, saliva, urine, plants, cockroaches, dust mites, mold, mildew, pollen, bacteria, and viruses
  • Health effects – Irritation to nose, throat, coughing, runny nose, red eyes, skin rashes, dizziness, headaches, nausea, digestive problems, fatigue, weakness, asthma attack, heart attack, liver/ kidneys damage, bronchitis, lung cancer
  • Solutions – Vacuuming, air purifier, dehumidifier

We are never alone in our home. There are bound to be some form of living organisms floating aimlessly in the air. These microbes are also known as biological contaminants that will either derive from plants, animal, and people. Common household biological agents include animal dander, saliva, urine, cockroaches, dust mites, mold, mildew, pollen, bacteria, and viruses. With sustainable temperature and humidity, your home will be the perfect breeding ground for the microorganisms.

Biological contaminants cover a broad range of airborne pollutants. There are many health effects you need to be aware of. Most side effects will begin with a mild runny nose, headache, nausea, throat, eyes, breathing troubles, and skin irritation. Pro-long exposure will lead to an asthma attack, heart/ respiratory problems, and liver/ kidney failure. Common diseases include Autoimmune disease, Heart inflammation, Influenza, Pulmonary edema, Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, Respiratory tract damage, and lung cancer. In some scenario, biological pollutants can cause disorientation, hallucinations and even depression.

There are plenty of ways to deal with biological contaminants without costing you a dime. Vacuuming is very effective as it will remove all the settled pollutants on the ground, shelf, and upholstery. As for incoming pollutants that travel through airborne, an air purifier is here to help. HEPA air purifier will capture germs and other irritants as small as 0.3 microns currently suspended in the air. The room air quality will greatly improve and there are fewer contaminants to clean up. Microbes will often thrive in central air system, furnace, bathroom or basement where the temperature and humidity are perfect. Get a basement dehumidifier to reduce humidity level and prevent the microorganisms from growth.

Tobacco Smoke

9. Tobacco Smoke

  • Sources – Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, e-cigarette, vaper
  • Health effects – Aggravate asthma, phlegm, respiratory diseases, heart disease, miscarriage, SIDS, pneumonia, bronchitis, cancer
  • Solutions – Stop smoking indoor, air purifier

Smoking is bad for you, we all know that. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is exposure to the chemical smoke from other people cigar, cigarette, pipe, and even devices like an e-cigarette, vaper. In other words, it is basically secondhand smoke. In today ages, everybody is at risk of ETS even if you don’t smoke or stay clear of a smoke area. A common indoor pollution problem that existed ever since the ciggy invention.

Depending on the sources, there are 4000-7000 of chemicals from a single cigarette stick. Whether is secondhand or thirdhand smoke, we all know how dangerous and toxic it is. Tobacco smoke is linked with almost all major respiratory diseases and cancer. It is notoriously known to aggravate asthma and weakened body immune system. baby, children, elderly, and pregnant women are at a bigger risk group than a normal adult.

A simple solution is to stop anyone from smoking indoor. This will effectively stop the chemical fumes from lingering in the household. Once the smoke has settled down on your wall, floor or upholstery, it will take 3-6 months for the chemical substances to go away. If you want to smoke, do it as far away as possible so there is less tobacco smoke from flowing back in. For those that can’t stop those nasty smokers from smoking inside, you can get a cigarette air purifier with a good activated carbon filter. It is super effective in trapping any smoke particles from a cloud of tobacco smoke that travels within its proximity.

If you have gone through this site, you probably read the studies done by Environment Protection Agency on the significance of poor IAQ. Indoor air pollution is referring to a wide array of airborne contaminants within or inside the building. Most indoor pollutants are non-natural, human-made like fossil fuel burning or gas heating. It's estimated that 2.2 million worldwide deaths each year are due to poor indoor air pollution. The impact it has might not be as devastating as a few decades ago, it is still a serious threat to our health. Continuous exposure to poor air quality will greatly increase the risk of morbidity and mortality. With that, here are the most common indoor pollution sources one should take note of.

Max Fernandez

A loving father and a dedicated reviewer for airfuji.com with more than 1000 air purifiers under his belt. Max Fernandez is also one of the million patients currently suffering from asthma. Feel free to nudge him if you have any questions.