Indoor environments play an enormous role in our health and wellness. According to the EPA, the average person spends a whopping 90% of their time indoors. Our homes just happen to be one of the top spaces we spend time in. Between sleeping, watching our favorite TV shows, cooking meals, and the millions of other daily tasks we check off, these spaces occupy a lot of our time. Working to better these environments just kind of makes sense, right? But it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Creating a list of low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality is a great way to enhance our homes and health.
Let’s face it, sometimes money is tight! That being said, adding simple yet cost-effective steps to improve our indoor environments is something everyone can achieve and excel at. The more we do to decrease pollution in these spaces, the more they’ll support our ongoing wellness.
However, don’t try to knock out every single step in one swoop. That can easily end up creating feelings of stress, guilt, and anxiety. Which is definitely something we don’t want! Instead, focus on adding one thing at a time to your home maintenance routine. Eventually, you’ll have a foundation of low-cost ways to improve your indoor air quality and can invest in pricier steps later on when the budget allows.
Why Focus on Low-Cost Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality?
The average person breathes 20,000 breaths per day. That’s a lot of breathing and a lot of air! While it’s not a factor we often consider, the air is one of the main routes of exposure we face.
If that air is packed full of microscopic particles or other contaminants, that can (and probably will) negatively impact our health. Every time we inhale, those contaminants enter our bodies. The longer we’re surrounded by that toxic air, the more unhealthy stuff our bodies will be exposed to.
Now, picture a home. If your house has a contamination issue and poor indoor air quality, every time you step into the building, you’re exposed to high levels of these pollutants. Your immune system will attempt to keep up and get rid of them, but it’s a tall order to fill. Over time, the immune system can get overwhelmed or malfunction, leading to a long list of chronic symptoms.
Working to reduce pollutants and opportunities for indoor contaminants like microbial growth to develop can help keep our indoor air quality clean and healthy. And again, it doesn’t have to require a pile of money. Many proactive steps can be budget-friendly!
Top 13 Low-Cost Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality
1. Clean, Clean, Clean
We can’t exactly put a bubble around our homes, so particles like mold spores and mycotoxins will inevitably blow inside. It’s up to us to actively work to keep particle levels low in our homes. Cleaning regularly (including appliances!) helps remove particles like spores, bacteria, and toxins, improving air quality and decreasing the likelihood of microbial growth.
With that in mind, set up a daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal cleaning schedule to keep your home in great shape. This is one of the main low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality, so it should be right up there at the top of your list!
For more information on areas to target in your home and how to clean, check out these blogs.
Don’t forget to schedule spring and fall cleaning as well! This is a great opportunity to tackle all of the spaces that don’t get a ton of attention throughout the year. This can include the tops of door frames, cabinetry, wall decor, behind kitchen appliances, and all of the hard-to-reach places.
Essentially, focus on anything that’s not often seen.
2. Reduce Dust
Yes, this should be tackled while cleaning, but it’s such an important aspect of home health that it deserves its own time in the spotlight!
Gravity brings particles like mold spores, mycotoxins, and endotoxins down to horizontal surfaces like floors, doorframes, and furniture. So basically, where dust collects, so do these indoor contaminants.
Regular dusting can help reduce the number of particles that get kicked into the air when the surface is disturbed. HEPA vacuum cleaners and microfiber towels are two tools that should be in your cleaning arsenal to help eliminate these particles from your home. The fewer particles there are on the home's surfaces, the cleaner the air and your indoor space will be.
3. Properly Maintain Houseplants
Indoor plants provide a long list of benefits that can improve our happiness and well-being. Some studies have shown that they can directly improve our wellness by reducing stress, boosting productivity, and improving our sense of well-being. However, microbial growth can turn these leafy friends into a home health hazard.
Keeping up with houseplant maintenance can ensure that these green beings aren’t polluting our indoor air quality. That way, we can enjoy their benefits without experiencing negative health impacts from poor air quality.
Check out this blog post for steps you can take to ensure your houseplants remain safe.
4. Use the Right Cleaning Products
Building the right cleaning product arsenal is a key piece of the home health puzzle. You want to make sure that the tools in your toolkit are up to the task of actually removing microscopic particles from surfaces; otherwise, you’ll be spending all of that time and effort cleaning but not actually improving your environment.
A few great options to get you started include:
- Microfiber cloths: Microfiber cloths are invaluable cleaning tools because they are 100 times more effective at removing particles than cotton towels.
- Botanical laundry additive: This product helps rinse away bacteria and mold spores that get trapped in the fibers of the item. As an added bonus, it also helps remove particles from the washing machine itself.
- Botanical cleaners with surfactants: Instead of harsh chemicals like bleach, which can actually lower indoor air quality, trigger health reactions in sensitive individuals, and harm the environment, botanical products utilize natural ingredients to deal with contaminants. Surfactants in the products then help remove particles from the surface so they don’t get left behind and continue to build up.
- HEPA vacuum cleaner: The filtration portion of the machine is what sets HEPA vacuums apart. While other machines will filter out the majority of smaller particles, they can’t stop some of the ultra-fine and microscopic particles like mold spores. The technology behind HEPA filters allows them to filter out and remove smaller particles instead of just blowing them back into the surrounding environment. To reach the EPA standard and be qualified as a HEPA filter, they must filter out 99.7% of particles that pass through that are 0.3 microns in size.
While these products do require an upfront expense, it’s important to add them to your list of low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality and purchase them when you can.
5. Change Air Filters
Air filters are the first line of defense both for the HVAC system and your indoor air. These barriers help eliminate contaminants so that they don’t continue to circulate throughout the indoor space. It also helps remove them before they reach the HVAC, which can help avoid microbial growth in the unit itself.
That being said, if they’re past their time to be replaced, chances are that they’re packed full of all sorts of particles. This will affect their ability to filter, leading to lower indoor air quality. It can also put strain on the HVAC system as it works overtime to pull air through the clogged filters. That scenario can lead to you spending money fixing or replacing the unit, which is definitely not something that’s in line with low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality!
All filters are different, so check with the manufacturer’s instructions on how often to change them. Set up a reminder to switch them out on time, but also routinely look at them to see if they need to be changed ahead of schedule. If you’re not sure whether to change the filter earlier, a few signs to look out for include discoloration of the filter, odd odors, higher electricity bills, a decrease in airflow, or dust around the vents or condenser coils.
It is also a good idea to switch to the highest-rated MERV filters possible for the specific HVAC system. The details on what can be used can be found in the HVAC manual. The key thing to keep in mind is that the smaller the particles these filters can eliminate, the better. When you’re dealing with microscopic particles like mold spores and mycotoxins, you want filters with the technology to actually eliminate them from the air. Otherwise, they’ll just circulate straight back into the home.
6. Balance Indoor Humidity
Indoor air quality is closely connected to humidity levels. If the humidity is out of whack, it can lead to a long list of problems in your home, including decreased air quality.
So, what level should you aim for?
The ideal humidity level in a home should be between 35 and 50 percent. Too high or too low humidity indoors can cause wellness issues and problems with the home's health.
When the humidity is too high, it can cause microbial growth, poor indoor air quality, and structural issues in the building. However, you also don’t want it to be too dry! That can lead to adverse health reactions and structural issues like wood separation.
Ideal humidity should be maintained not only for comfort but also to maintain a safe indoor environment that promotes ongoing wellness.
A few steps to safely increase humidity include the following:
- Ensure that doors and windows are sealed properly
- Cook on the stovetop often
- Place dishes of water near heat sources
- Invest in a humidifier that has a humidistat
A few steps to safely decrease humidity include the following:
- Use the air conditioner
- Focus on airflow in high-moisture rooms like the kitchen and bathrooms
- Fix any leaks
- Invest in a dehumidifier
Check out this article for more information on maintaining indoor humidity in your home. This should absolutely be a priority when creating a list of low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality.
7. Reduce Moisture
Indoor contaminants like mold can grow in as little as 24 to 48 hours, provided a wet surface and food source. Once established, it will release microscopic particles into the surrounding air as long as the colony exists. This lowers indoor air quality and creates a toxic environment. Aka, it’s something we want to avoid!
That’s why one of the best low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality is to reduce moisture-rich opportunities that can allow for microbial growth.
A few of the top steps to reduce moisture includes:
- Wiping up spills
- Addressing leaks and water damage ASAP
- Squeegeeing the shower after use
- Making sure windows and doors are sealed properly
- Allowing appliances to dry out thoroughly after using them
- Making sure bathroom items dry out completely (towels, loofahs, bath mats, toothbrushes, etc)
- Separating the shower curtain and liner
- Not putting away wet dishes into cabinets
8. Check for Problems
The sooner you can catch a problem, the better. This will help avoid contaminants from moving in and, if they’re already present, decrease the number of particles released that will lower your indoor air quality.
So channel your inspector gadget throughout the year and make sure that your home is in tip-top shape.
Here are things to look out for.
Checking for microbial growth involves using the senses.
With so many species existing in the world, mold colonies can come in a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. Some of the most common colors include green, white, grey, blue, red, black, brown, or a combination of them. As for textures, they could be fuzzy, powdery, velvety, or slimy.
If any type of unidentifiable growth pops up, it's safe to assume there’s a mold problem that needs to be addressed.
An Unidentifiable Odor
If you don’t find any visible mold, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem. The growth could be in a hidden location, like underneath flooring, or be too small to be seen by the naked eye yet.
In this case, rely on your nose. Mold growth often creates a damp, musty, earthy smell due to the release of gases called microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC). If you smell this, there’s a good chance that you’re dealing with a contamination situation.
Hotpot areas to check include:
- The toilet tank (lift the lid and peek inside)
- The attic
- The basement
- Grout and caulk
- Windowsills and doorframes
- Exhaust vents
- Sink faucets
- House plants
If you happen to find contaminants in one of these places, make sure that you handle the situation properly so that your home doesn’t become a toxic hazard zone.
Check out this blog post to guide you on how to eliminate a contamination situation. If it’s a smaller problem, like in bathroom grout or on an appliance, check out our blog for steps on how to quickly and effectively resolve the issue.
- Underneath sinks
- Inside cabinets
- Around the toilet and shower
- Hot water tanks
Bonus tip: Another great idea to determine if there’s a hidden leak is to assess your water usage and bill. If these are abnormally high, there could be an issue somewhere in your home. In that case, consider hiring an inspector to come in and assess the building. You can also set up leak detection devices to help monitor any hidden problems.
Water damage is an open invitation for microbial growth. Again, mold can grow on a surface with a food and water source within 24-48 hours. Finding and resolving problems quickly can reduce the chance of a contamination situation occurring or of one going unnoticed for long periods of time. This can cause your indoor air quality to plummet.
Things to look out for include:
- Wet insulation
- Rusty nails
- Discoloration on the ceiling, walls, or carpet
- Stains on wood
- Frost buildup underneath the roof
One of the key components to improving your indoor air quality is preventing moisture from making its way indoors. The less moisture there is, the fewer opportunities there will be for microbial growth. Ensuring the home's exterior is prepped to act as an appropriate barrier is a huge part of this push to avoid water intrusion.
Take a close look around your home to determine if there are any cracks, gaps, or other issues that could allow moisture inside.
Places to check include:
- Door frames
If you find any problems, take care of them ASAP so moisture intrusion does not occur. This is one of the simplest, low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality.
9. Stay on Top of Caulk and Grout
As these are often near areas with some form of moisture, it’s important to keep them clean to remove any mold spores or particles that colonies can use for growth. Tackle these areas with hydrogen peroxide and microfiber rags. Spray the hydrogen peroxide on the surface, let it sit for at least 10 minutes, and then wipe it with a microfiber towel.
While cleaning, take a close look at the grout and caulk to make sure it’s not cracked or aging. Cracked spaces can trap moisture and edible options like dust and organic matter, allowing mold to grow. Keeping up with the lifespan of grout and caulk is important as well. The older it is, the more porous it becomes, offering small gaps that are perfect habitats for mold to grow. If any problems are visible, fix them or replace the grout or caulk as soon as possible to prevent any contamination issues that will negatively impact your indoor air quality.
10. Increase Ventilation
Thanks to modern building practices pushing for net-zero energy efficiency, there’s very little airflow between indoor and outdoor environments. This means that particles or pollutants that enter the structure will remain there until they’re forcibly removed.
Cleaning is a great way to eliminate these pollutants, but ventilation helps as well. Every so often, turn off the HVAC system and bust open those windows and doors to let fresh air in. This will help replace the potentially pollutant-filled indoor air with fresh outdoor air. Once they’re closed, a good idea is to clean and turn the air purifier on to remove any dust and particles further.
This being said, if it’s pollen season, if there are high levels of pollution in the air outside, or if it’s raining, it’s best to keep those windows closed and focus on cleaning and air filtration. Contact an expert if you have questions or concerns.
11. Reduce Clutter
The more belongings we have, the more surfaces there are for dust and microscopic particles to collect on, and the harder it is to properly clean a home. Every year, evaluate your belongings and ask yourself if you truly use each item before deciding whether to ultimately keep it or move on from it. Doing so will stop dust from collecting and harboring on those belongings, which ultimately translates to cleaner indoor air quality and improved wellness.
Also, don’t forget the inside of any cabinets! The less stuff we keep in these areas, the easier they are to clean and the more accessible they will be to check for issues like water damage and microbial growth.
12. Wash Porous Belongings with a Botanical Laundry Additive
Porous items are particularly difficult to clean because microscopic particles can settle within the fibers of the surface. Using a botanical laundry additive can help remove microscopic particles from the surface so they don’t continue to build up and potentially become airborne when the surface is disturbed.
Some things to target include:
- Shower curtain
- Mattress protector
This is an excellent and easy step to add to your list of low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality and create a healthier environment.
13. Service the HVAC
The HVAC is essentially the lungs of a home. As such, it’s important to ensure that it’s operating properly and not bogged down with issues like microbial growth. When the system flips from cool air to warm air, condensation can build up within the ducts or the unit itself, which offers the perfect home for things like mold.
If a lucky spore lands in this moisture, it will begin to colonize the space, leaving you with hidden mold growth within the home. This growth will just continue to thrive undisturbed until those warmer or cooler months occur. When you flip the thermostat to the alternate setting (heat or cold), all of those moldy particles will be blown throughout your home. These particles will decrease your indoor air quality and contaminate the surfaces inside.
The change in temperature can also lead to mold growth on other parts of the unit, such as the condensation coil and drip pan.
Routinely scheduling a professional to come in and service the HVAC in the spring and fall, before the warmer or cooler weather settles in, can help avoid this contaminant catastrophe. This individual should test for microbial contamination while assessing the unit so that if there’s a problem, it can be resolved before turning on the unit and blowing it throughout the home. They should also clean the coil, make sure the blower, furnace, and cabinets are clean, and ensure that everything is operating correctly. Think of it as a biannual tune-up and cleanup.
A clean and healthy HVAC system helps maintain a clean and healthy home.
What’s Next After Low-Cost Ways to Improve Indoor Air Quality?
While you’re focusing on low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality, also start to think about creating a fund dedicated to purchasing other tools that can help create a healthier environment. Think of these as investments not only in your home environment but also in your health.
That’s a purchase that keeps on giving! With that in mind, here are a few of the top things to consider investing in when the funds become available.
Dust Testing Kit
Testing indoor dust will help to determine exactly what’s hanging out in your home and potentially causing problems. Highly contaminated dust is not only a health hazard, as all of those particles can enter the body when they’re kicked up into the air when the dust is disturbed. It also indicates that there’s an underlying contamination problem somewhere in the home.
The Dust Test is the first stop on your journey to help improve indoor air quality in your home. It will help you know if there’s a problem before spending thousands of dollars trying to find one (both medically and in your home). And, if there is a problem, The Dust Test will indicate what you’re being exposed to before your inspector comes so that you can ensure they will find where it’s coming from.
One of the best ways to improve the indoor air quality in your home is by investing in technology that will actively filter out contaminants.
As noted earlier, it’s impossible to completely prevent particles from entering your home. Cleaning is a great way to remove them, but air purifiers also help to get rid of the rest of these particles. The fewer particles there are, the healthier your indoor air quality will be.
Not all air purifiers are built the same, though. You want to go with a unit that removes the maximum number of contaminants possible and does it all of the time, not just some of the time. That way, they don’t recirculate back into the environment and potentially make their way into the bodies of those spending time inside. Air purifiers should at least meet HEPA status, meaning that they remove 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns. If it can remove smaller particles, that’s even better. Some can also work to reduce other contaminants such as formaldehyde, VOCs, bacteria, viruses, and biotoxins. Also, pay attention to the space recommendations on the particular unit to ensure it’s equipped to filter the air for the size of the home.
Opting for a whole-home air purification system that can eliminate the smallest contaminants possible is the best option to help improve indoor air quality in your home. Some purification systems go beyond HEPA status, removing even more contaminants from the air and creating a safer indoor environment.
HomeCleanse Cleaning Kits
To make life even simpler, HomeCleanse offers kits packed full of products that we use to decontaminate our clients’ indoor spaces. This will provide everything you need to safely and efficiently cleanse your home and improve your indoor air quality.
Fixing Structural Issues
Cracks in the foundation or issues with the roof can allow for moisture intrusion into the home. As we’ve discussed, this can allow for microbial growth and lower indoor air quality.
Saving to create a fund dedicated to addressing any structural issues as they pop up is an excellent way to ensure that your home remains safe. The sooner you can fix the problem, the better off your indoor environment will be. While this may not be one of the low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality, it can help avoid living with an issue that can allow contamination situations to develop.
Your Healthy Home
At the end of the day, no one wants to hang out in a home with poor indoor air quality. That being said, creating a healthier home doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg! These low-cost ways to improve indoor air quality can be incredibly effective at making sure your home supports your wellness.
The only downside is that we’ve got to channel our inner Cinderella and Inspector Gadget every so often. But just blast some music and remember that this is an incredibly important part of improving your health! Even if indoor air quality is an area of wellness that we don't often consider.
Health begins at home.™