Last week a couple of scientific studies hit on the importance of clean air and how that relates to health problems like adolescent depression and autoimmune conditions. Mamavation understands this can be scary when the things in your environment are linked to harm, but we are here to help you with tips & tricks to keep your family safer. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like best air purifiers, best non-toxic disinfectants, and best organic mattresses, now join us for a breakdown of these studies linking air pollution to depression & autoimmune diseases and what practical steps you can take to fix this inside your own home.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post also contains affiliate links.
New Studies Link Common Air Pollution (Also Found in the Home) to Depression & Autoimmune Disorders
Two studies were released last week that underscore the importance of breathing air free from pollutants and how that contributes to your health and peace of mind.
- Air Pollution Linked to Teenage Depression: In the Journal of Developmental Psychology, researchers linked higher levels of ambient ozone in communities to higher rates of depression, suicides, and anti-depressant usage in teenagers. The teenage years have been referred to as a “second sensitive period” in terms of hormones changing and the possibility of things going awry. Ozone is also found inside homes when VOCs are exposed to sunlight.
- Air Pollution Linked to Autoimmune Diseases: In the Journal of Rheumatic & Musculoskeletal Diseases, researchers linked common air pollution to immune-mediated diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, connective tissue diseases (CTDs), as well as gastroenterological diseases like inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs) and immune-mediated neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
The health conditions linked with poor air quality do not stop there. Several other health conditions have been linked with poor air quality that impacts adults and children such as:
- brain alterations and cognitive impairments like autism,
- increased mental illness
- low achievement in school.
- increased asthma
- Heart disease
Air Quality Inside The Home Can Be Controlled, While Air Pollution Outside Cannot
Because most Americans spend most of their time indoors and that air quality, according to the EPA, is 2-5x more polluted, Mamavation believes you can realistically set your goal on making indoor air cleaner to improve your health. The reality is the air inside your home can be fixed, but there is little you can do with the air pollution outside your home. (However, you can contact and vote for local authorities that make air pollution a priority.) But the truth with that is you STILL have to rely on someone else to do something, whereas, you can do something today about your indoor air. Here are some facts about air pollution that are important to understand:
- It’s estimated that air quality inside the home is 2-5x more polluted than outside according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This estimate is on the conservative side, so it’s very possible these numbers can be higher depending on where you live and how polluted the environment is and how polluted the consumer products you purchase are.
- An estimated 9 million people die every year from symptoms of air pollution, which is more than people dying from wars, obesity, smoking, and malnutrition combined. (You may want to read that again slowly to let it sink in.)
- The World Health Organization studied air quality around the world and declared 92% of the world is breathing dangerous amounts of pollutants
What Type of Pollutants to Watch Out For In Home
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these are the most problematic contaminants inside indoor air.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): VOCs are gases that are emitted into the air from products, processes, and building materials. They can irritate your eyes, nose, throat and also cause difficulty breathing, nausea, and damage to your central nervous system. VOCs come from paint, paint strippers, varnishes, finishes, caulk, sealant, adhesives, flooring, carpet, furniture made from particleboard, cleaners & disinfectants, pesticides, air fresheners, perfume, gasoline, office printers & copiers, glues & permanent markers.
- Asbestos: I sadly know more about this contaminant than most people because my own father died from exposure to it. Asbestos is a nanoparticle & mineral fiber that occurs in rock and soil. It has an incredible heat resistance and is used in construction as a fire retardant, as well as brake pads on machinery like trains & cars, some types of heat resistant fabrics, and coatings. This material is not banned in the United States, but it’s not used as often because consumers understand its link to mesothelioma and other types of cancers. You are most likely to come into contact with asbestos in your home if you remodel and it’s present.
- Biological Pollutants: Biological contaminants include bacteria, viruses, animal dander, cat saliva, house dust, mites, cockroaches, and pollen.
- Carbon Monoxide: This contaminant is referred to as the “silent killer” because you can’t smell it or see it when it is inside your home. This contaminant can overwhelm your home and cause death. Sources include gas space heaters, unvented kerosene, leaking chimneys and furnaces, back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces, gas stoves, generators and other gasoline-powered equipment, automobile exhaust from attached garages, tobacco smoke, nearby roads, parking areas, or incomplete combustion in gas ranges, boilers, or furnaces.
- Formaldehyde from Pressed Wood Products: Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature and has a strong odor. Exposure to formaldehyde may cause adverse health effects. Most of the time we are exposed to formaldehyde from furniture and other pressed wood products that are found in our homes. Exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may irritate your eyes, nose, throat, airways, or skin. Exposure to formaldehyde over years is linked to rare nose and throat cancers.
- Nitrogen Dioxide: Nitrogen Dioxide acts mainly as an irritant affecting the mucosa of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory tract to those exposed. High-dose exposure may result in pulmonary edema and diffuse lung injury. However, low dose exposure is problematic too being linked to increased bronchial reactivity in asthmatics, decreased lung function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, & an increased risk of respiratory infections, especially in young children. The main sources of nitrogen dioxide inside the home are unvented gas stoves, vented appliances with defective installations, welding in the home, tobacco smoke, and kerosene heaters.
- Large & Ultrafine Particles: These particles are problematic to your lungs & heart. Particulate matter is a complex mixture of solid and/or liquid particles suspended in the air generated through gas-burning automobiles & freeways, cooking with high heat on a gas stove, burning of fossil fuels & candles (see our investigation on better candles), use of fireplaces & unvented space heaters (see our investigation on space heaters), cigarette smoking, and electrical equipment. Once inhaled, particles can affect the heart and lungs and in some cases cause serious health effects, such as coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Pesticides: If you live close by to farmland, golf courses, parks, or shared landscaping that is part of a homeowners association, you may be exposed to high levels of pesticides.
- Radon: This contaminant is very difficult to find in your home without getting professionals out to study it. It’s also expensive to find. Check here to see if your area is a high radon area (like mine is) before you set up an appointment. Radon comes from natural things in the environment, so it’s not a matter of man-made pollution as much as it’s a naturally occurring phenomenon.
- Second-hand Smoke: Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning of tobacco products and the smoke exhaled by smokers. Secondhand smoke, classified by EPA as a Group A carcinogen, contains more than 7,000 substances.
- Wood Smoke: Wood smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine, microscopic particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from wood smoke comes from fine particles that can enter the lungs and cause bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or other serious respiratory diseases. Fine particles can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases and are linked to premature deaths in people with these chronic conditions.
How to Clean Up Your Indoor Air
Step One: Get Rid of All “Fragrances”
The first step in cleaning up your indoor air is about getting rid of anything that is a “fragrance” and when I say that, I mean things that literally say “fragrance” on the bottle or box and don’t say much else about what is inside that fragrance. Look around for things like Glade Plug-ins, Yankee Candles, room deodorizers, perfumes, or any personal care product that labels “fragrance” on the label. The term “fragrance” and perfume can hide a cornucopia of toxic chemicals like phthalates, which are used as scent carriers extending their shelf life and scent when in your air.
Here are all the Mamavation investigations that can help you with the swapping of scented products:
- Hand Cremes
- Soap & Body Wash
- Liquid Hand Soaps
- Nail Polish
- Face Wash & Moisturizers
- Hair Styling Products
- Hair Dye
- Dry Shampoo
- Shampoo & Conditioner
- Shampoo Bars & Conditioner Bars
- Head Lice Treatment Products
- Hair Relaxers
- Peel-Off Facial Masks, Sheet Facial Masks, & K-beauty Facial Masks
- Beard Oil
Step Two: Pick Up Safer Cleaning Supplies
Keeping your indoor air clean means also using “safe” cleaning products to clean. Not to mention how every day “quats” found in cleaning products are linked to autoimmune disorders and a reduction in reproduction. Mamavation has put together several investigations to help you swap out your toxic cleaning products for safer ones.
- All-Purpose Cleaners
- Safe Disinfectants
- Window & Glass Cleaners
- Laundry Detergent
- Fabric Softeners & Dryer Sheets
- Dish Soap
Step Three: Open a Window & Air It Out
The most important thing you can do every day to clean up your air is to open a window. It sounds counterintuitive if there is pollution outside, but the truth is the air pollution from outside gets trapped INSIDE and has nowhere to go and builds up over time. Opening your window every day and allowing those trapped contaminants an escape route is imperative to keeping your indoor air clean.
One of the reasons why the air inside your home is so much more polluted than the outside is the air doesn’t have anywhere to go. It gets stale and all the toxins stay. Outside there is the wind that naturally blows things away.
If you open up the window and create circulation, you are cutting down on toxins right away. Regardless of the weather, open the windows every day to clean the air. It will clear the air of all smells, circulate, freshen the air inside, and also cool off your home naturally.
Step Four: Get a Powerful Air Purifier
These brands are our favorite. They offered particle efficiency data or consumer studies from a 3rd party independent lab when asked. They also have the ability to trap viruses and eliminate them. Their machines are strong enough to filter VOCs, fire retardants coming from your television, ultrafine particles, and allergens. Their machine is proven to handle the viral situation we find ourselves around today (Yes, THAT virus) via actual studies.
- Air Doctor 5000 ($999)–(Use this link for an automatic $300 off each system) We rate this model the highest for next to the entertainment center. Offers 3rd party results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.003 microns, effective at killing the epidemic we are dealing with now (yes, I’m being purposely evasive with wording). Air Doctor sent a study conducted in September 2021 looking at how their machine handles particle efficiency. This machine was studied against the EXACT virus that troubles us now and passed with flying colors. Here is the study for you to see yourself.
- Air Doctor 3000($629)–(Use this link for an automatic $280 off each system) Offers 3rd party results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.003 microns, effective at killing the epidemic we are dealing with now (yes, I’m being purposely evasive with wording). Air Doctor sent a study conducted in September 2021 looking at how their machine handles particle efficiency. This machine was studied against the EXACT virus that troubles us now and passed with flying colors. Here is the study for you to see yourself.
- Air Doctor 1000 ($399)– (Use this link for an automatic $120 off each system) This model is for a smaller room like an office or nursery. Offers 3rd party results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.003 microns, effective at killing the epidemic we are dealing with now (yes, I’m being purposely evasive with wording). Air Doctor sent a study conducted in September 2021 looking at how their machine handles particle efficiency. This machine was studied against the EXACT virus that troubles us now and passed with flying colors. Here is the study for you to see yourself.
- Intellipure Ultrafine 468 ($999)– (use MAMAVATION10 for $100 off and free shipping) We rate this model the highest for the family room next to the entertainment center. Offers 3rd party laboratory results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.007 microns, effective in killing a virus much smaller than the one we find ourselves surrounded by today (Yes, THAT virus.)
- Intellipure Compact ($459) — (use MAMAVATION10 for free shipping)–smaller unit for 500 square foot office or bedroom. Offers 3rd party laboratory results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.007 microns, effective in killing a virus much smaller than the one we find ourselves surrounded by today (Yes, THAT virus.)
- Intellipure Whole House Ultrafine Cleaner ($2,495) — (use MAMAVATION10 for $249.50 off and free shipping)–up to 5,000 square foot home provided there is only one HVAC machine, offers 3rd party laboratory results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.007 microns, effective in killing a virus much smaller than the one we find ourselves surrounded by today (Yes, THAT virus.)
Step Five: Dust Every Week
Chemicals can accumulate in dust, which can also harbor dander, hairs, fine particles, lead dust, and pollutants that can trigger allergies, irritate eyes and throats, and cause illness.
Make sure to sweep and dust regularly, including places like ceiling fan blades, and electronic equipment. Wet mop floors to pick up more dust, since dry sweeping alone can cause some dust to resettle.
Invest in a vacuum with a HEPA filter that traps pollutants, dust, dander, and more helping to clean up the air inside your home.
Also make sure you’re changing up the filters in your air conditioning, ventilation, or furnace filters with HEPA filters as well at least every few months or more often depending on your usage.
Step Six: Buy LOTS of Plants
NASA’s study of beneficial plants for your indoor air quality includes spider plant and Gerbera daisies that can take out chemicals like formaldehyde, and bring oxygen and beauty into the home – they literally start cleaning up the air inside your home for you!
And don’t worry if you have a black thumb – some of these plants are hard to kill! I had a snake plant (or “mother-in-law’s tongue” if that has a little more meaning for you!) that I completely forgot about for a months and it was STILL beautiful and green.
The study recommends 15 plants in a 2,000 square foot home, and most of them can be found easily at a plant nursery or through a florist. We recommend you get closer to 20 plants to get a better effect.
Step Seven: Take Shoes Off at The Door
This is hard for some people to do, even myself. Think of all the things you walk in, on, and over throughout the course of a day. Parking lots, pesticide-sprayed grass, and dirty lots can contain lead or other industrial contaminants. The very first step you can take to clean up the air inside your home is by leaving your shoes at the door. This helps by containing pollutants to the outside of your home without tracking them inside all over your floors. Designate a spot at the door for shoes or carry them to your closet.
In the past, they added lead to all sorts of things we would track inside our homes, like gasoline and paint. Today, even though adding lead to consumer products isn’t as common, lead is still found in the dirt outside everywhere. It comes from flaking paint, spilling of gasoline, other industrial contaminants, air pollution which settles into the soil, parking lots and industrial parks among other things.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead in soil can be ingested as a result of hand-to-mouth activity and that is common for young children. If they are crawling on the floor and you tracked lead in with your shoes, they now have it in their mouths. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, there is no safe level of lead for children. So all the more reason to remove your shoes at the door, and leave them there.
Step Eight: Getting Better Furniture, Mattress, Ovens, Space Heaters, & Flooring
Now that you’ve done all that, you may be ready for some more changes to bigger products you purchase like furniture, mattresses, your stove, space heaters, and flooring. Look for furniture without fire retardants & PFAS when shopping, which we hope to have an updated investigation about soon. When you decide to remodel your kitchen, opt for an electric stove instead of a gas stove. We’ve also looked into other items like mattresses, flooring, & space heaters for you below.
Your furniture, mattress, stove, space heater, and flooring can help or hinder your quest to clean up your indoor air, so when you decide to get new ones, pay closer attention to what you are buying.