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Get the Facts About Your Indoor Air Quality

The Facts About Your Indoor Air Quality May Surprise You

Since we spend so much time indoors, it is important to address indoor air quality. Here are some facts about your indoor air quality you may not know:

  • Indoor air typically has considerably more pollutants than outdoor air.
  • The most prevalent pollutants are Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs.
  • These VOCs come from many sources: carpets, plywood, perfumes, air fresheners, cleaning products, fabrics, mattresses, paint, solvents, lacquers, upholstered furniture, foam insulation, particle board, adhesives and more.
  • Aldehydes including formaldehyde are the most prevalent VOC pollutants in residences; since the 50’s, formaldehyde has been a basic material for many resins and glues used in particle boards and plywood. According to estimates, 85% of wood materials have adhesives containing formaldehyde.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer (the specialized cancer research agency of the World Health Organization) has designated formaldehyde as a carcinogen. In addition, formaldehyde can lead to “multiple chemical sensitivity” and “sick building syndrome”. The prevalence of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds is greater in new construction.
  • Results from a growing body of research suggest that VOCs from common indoor materials and finishes, cleaning products, personal care products and other consumer products result in increased risk of asthma, pulmonary infections, and allergies (Mendell 2007). Some chemicals may have health impacts at extremely low levels; studies have found that exposure to very small traces of VOCs in homes and schools can disrupt the endocrine system (hormones), gene activation, and brain development.

Before you despair, consider the following list of ways to improve your indoor air quality:

  1. Open the windows to improve the quality of your indoor air.
  2. Use plants to absorb VOCs. According to Dr. Bill Wolverton an Environmental Scientist, plants can be used effectively to reduce VOCs. You’ll need two plants in 10-12” pots per 100 sq ft. For more information check out his book “Plants: Why You Can’t Live Without Them”. Many studies support the ability of plants to reduce VOCs. Here are the top plants to buy based on the type of VOC you want to remove and the amount of sunlight required:
    • English Ivy
      • Thrives in low sunlight
      • Absorbs formaldehyde (carpeting, curtains, plywood, particle board furniture and adhesives)
    • Peace Lily
      • Adapts well to low light but is poisonous to pets
      • Rids air of the VOC benzene (paints, furniture wax and polishes) and acetone (electronics, adhesives and some cleaners)
    • Lady Palm
      • Tree-like species
      • Targets ammonia (cleaners, textiles and dyes)
    • Boston Fern
      • One of the most efficient air purifying plants for formaldehyde according to study published in HortScience
      • Requires moisture and humidity to thrive
      • Removes formaldehyde (carpeting, curtains, plywood, particle board furniture and adhesives)
    • Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue
      • Thrives in low light
      • Lowers carbon dioxide and rids air of formaldehyde and benzene
    • Spider Plant
      • Easy to grow
      • Reduces formaldehyde and benzene
  3. Purchase air cleaners/purifiers specially designed to reduce VOCs like benzene and formaldehyde. Not all air cleaners are designed to eliminate VOCs so read our Air Purifier Ratings and Reviews before purchasing. One of our favorites, which we use in our home, is the Austin Healthmate Plus™ and Healthmate Plus Jr™. The Healthmate Plus™ removes 99.97% of particles in the air — dust, pollens, mold, VOCs including benzene and formaldehyde, viruses and bacteria. The Healthmate Plus™ costs $649 for the large size that cleans 1500 sq ft and the Healthmate Plus Jr is $419 and cleans 700 sq ft. The Junior versions are perfect for a nursery so your baby can sleep in a clean environment with reduced VOCs and other contaminants. I was initially worried about two things before I purchased: the background noise of the fan and the cleaner looking out-of-place in my home. My concerns were unfounded. The Austin is very quiet and has 3 speeds so you can turn it down to low at night. The black Austin blends in well against my dark living/dining room walls and the white version pretty much disappears against the lighter colored walls in the bedroom. My house smells great without air fresheners (another source of toxins) and I know that I’ve greatly reduced the VOCs.
  4. Install drywall that absorbs VOCs. AirRenew drywall absorbs VOCs for 75 years even when finished and painted with most paints up to 25 coats. It works by capturing the VOCs, converting the VOCs into inert compounds and safely storing the inert compounds within the drywall/gypsum board. It also provides enhanced moisture and mold resistance. The product has been validated by UL Environment and has been certified by Greenguard Indoor Air Quality. For more information, go to Unless you are renovating or building new, it may not be practical to redo your entire home, but it could make sense to do the bedrooms and nursery.
  5. Reduce the sources of the VOCs. There are many things you can do to reduce the sources of VOCs in your home. Please read the upcoming post for the details.


NewScience UL – Indoor Air Pollution Overview 2014

Kim, Kwang Jin, Jeong, Myeong Il, Lee, Dong Woo, Song, Jeong Seob, Kim, Hyoung Deug, Yoo, Eun Ha, Jeong, Sun Jin, Han, Seung Won, Kays, Stanley J., Lim, Young-Wook, Kim, Ho-Hyun. Variation in Formaldehyde Removal Efficiency among Indoor Plant Species. HortScience, 2010; 45: 1489-1495

Birnbaum LS, Staskal DF. 2004. Brominated flame retardants: cause for concern? Environ Health Perspect 112(1): 9 – 17. January 2004.

Bornehag CG, Sundell J, Weschler CJ et al. 2004. The association between asthma and allergic symptoms in children and phthalates in house dust: a nested case-control study.Environ Health Perspect 112(14): 1393 – 1397. October 2004.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2005. Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals 2005. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, Georgia. 2005. Available online at Search for Exposure Report.

Mendell M. 2007. Indoor residential chemical emissions as risk factors for respiratory and allergic effects in children: a review.

Indoor Air Journal 17: 259 – 277. August 2007. Available online at abstract.00025549-200708000-00002.htm

Waldman, P. 2005. Levels of risk. Common industrial chemicals in tiny doses raise health issues.The Wall Street Journal. July 25, 2005. New York, New York. 2005.

Wilson PM, Chia DA and Ehlers BC. 2006. Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation. Prepared for The California Senate Environmental Quality Committee and The California Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. California Policy Research Center. Berkeley, California. 2006. Available online at

Zajac L, Sprecher E, Landrigan P et al. 2009. A systemic review of US state environmental legislation and regulation with regards to the prevention of neurodevelopmental disabilities and asthma. Environmental Health. 8:9. March 26, 2009. Available online at