Communication Article: Indoor Air Pollution – Tips for a Healthier Household

LS - Eco Policy Thumb

By Dr. Celine Santiago Bass, Science Department Chair, School of General Education  

When the average person hears the words “air pollution,” images of smokestacks, smog, and even vehicle exhaust fill their minds. People immediately think of outdoor air pollution. However, one of the most common forms of air pollution is right in your own home. Many people spend 80 to 90 percent of their lives indoors working, studying, eating, drinking, and sleeping—all in enclosed environments that typically have poor air circulation. Some common indoor air pollutants include tobacco smoke, mold, cleaning products, carpet and paint fumes, allergens (e.g., pet dander, cockroach), radon, and carbon monoxide, to name a few. 

If too little outdoor air enters a home, pollutants can accumulate to levels between 25 to 62 percent higher indoors than outdoors, and can pose serious health problems—some of which may occur immediately (e.g., throat and nose irritation) or after several years of being exposed (e.g., brain and liver damage). 

Human activities are a significant source of indoor air pollution. So, how can you tell if you’re at risk? Look for signs of problems with the air circulation in your home, including moisture condensation on windows or walls, dirty central heating and air cooling equipment, areas where items (e.g., books, shoes) become moldy, and smelly or stuffy air. A simple exercise is to step outside for a few minutes, and then when you come back in, see if there are any noticeable odors.

Indoor air quality test kits can range in price from $50 to $1,600 depending on the number of contaminants being tested. Some test kits can be performed at home, and some require the results be mailed to a lab for analysis—taking anywhere from a few hours to weeks to complete. If you think that you may have a problem, here are some simple steps that you can take to improve your indoor air quality from some of the most common perpetrators.

  • Do not permit smoking indoors but, if unavoidable, open windows or use an exhaust fan to ventilate the space. 
  • Keep indoor humidity levels low—between 30 to 50 percent, to avoid the build-up of mold and other biological contaminants.
  • Vacuum regularly and use allergen-proof mattress and pillow cases, washing bedding in hot (130o F) water frequently to reduce dust mite allergies.
  • Switch to natural cleaning products like vinegar and water rather than bleach or ammonia.
  • Take recently dry-cleaned articles out of their protective plastic bags and allow them to air out prior to bringing indoors.
  • Add plants! Not only are they attractive but, according to a study by NASA, they can remove up to 87 percent of airborne toxins in 24 hours. So grab a Boston fern, spider plant, English ivy, areca palm, African violet, or peace lily and place two, 6-to-8-inch diameter plants per hundred square feet. 
  • If you cannot open a window, invest in an electronic air cleaner. These are said to be the most efficient at removing dust and other pollutants from the air.

No matter where you spend your time—in an apartment, house, school, office building, or all of the above—indoor air pollution is likely impacting your life in some way. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a brochure to help you protect both you and your loved ones from this common problem. Download a copy to learn how to help improve your indoor air and reduce your family’s risk of health concerns related to indoor air quality.

Interested in learning more about your environment? The Science Department in the School of General Education offers a wide variety of courses that touch on what’s important to you and your family including nutrition and health, as well as everyday environmental concerns—all of which are listed in the Purdue Global Catalog. For more information, contact Celine Santiago Bass, PhD, Science Department Chair at or speak to an advisor.


 6 Steps to Prevent Indoor Air Pollution in Your Home, 

An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ),

Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement,