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Indoor Air Pollution Comes From Surprising Sources

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Some of the sources of indoor air pollution may be familiar and logical. Mold, paint fumes and pet dander are obvious culprits for health hazards in the built environment. However, some other sources may be harder to identify and have a surprising effect on health. Weeding out the easy-to-find sources of contaminants is a good first step, but to do all you can to improve the quality of the air you breathe at home, you may have to go to some unexpected places.

Cleaners a Cause for Concern
Although household cleaners can be helpful in removing messes and leaving your home smelling fresh, they may be putting more in the air than just a fresh scent. More people are becoming aware of the potential for harm that the chemicals in some cleaners pose, but even the well-informed may be surprised at just how many iffy ingredients they contain.

In a 2009 study, the Environmental Working Group found that 21 cleaners commonly used in schools released a total of 457 separate chemicals into the air. Among those were six known to cause asthma, 11 known or believed to contribute to cancer and 283 that haven't been studied for their effects of health. Even products labeled "green" released potentially hazardous chemicals, though they contained fewer than conventional cleaners. 

To help keep these chemicals out of your home, Consumer Reports recommended cleaning with the windows open whenever possible and using a fan for more ventilation. The source also suggested using natural cleaners, such as baking soda and vinegar, for some jobs.

Common Scents 
Products containing fragrances, such as air fresheners, beauty products or cleaners, may also pose hidden risks. They often contain volatile organic compounds and phthalates, which have been linked to cancer and other health problems. Incense and any other burning material can also produce soot, which can be dangerous for those with allergies or asthma.

You don't have to put your candles away, but it may be best to keep them in well-ventilated areas. However, Consumer Reports also suggested using an air purifier, as it's not always possible to keep windows open and doing so may even let more pollutants in. HEPA-type air purifier filters are the most effective at removing most common allergens and irritants, while carbon filters can be helpful for removing smoke and odors from the home.