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Coping With Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is irritating to everyone: But people who have respiratory problems are even more sensitive to indoor irritants and are more prone to developing complications.

Listed here are a few common irritants found in the home and some helpful tips for decreasing or eliminating them.

Tobacco smoke

Allow no smoking in your house. Place polite "no smoking" signs in areas readily noticed by family members and guests. If someone does want to smoke, kindly ask them to step outside to your front porch or patio.


Your kitchen, bathroom, and any work area--where fumes may accumulate--are good places to install exhaust fans. Remember to open a window whenever you are staying in these areas for any length of time. Clean the fans periodically.

If you use a gas water heater, get someone to inspect it regularly. Check the pilot lights on your gas stove, and make sure that gas flames are burning blue.

Examine your furniture to determine whether it is made of plywood, fiberboard, or particleboard for evidence of a pungent gas such as formaldehyde. Also, check your carpet, upholstery, and draperies for evidence of pungent odors.

Dust and dirt

Appliances have many parts that collect dust and other indoor irritants, so give them a thorough cleaning as often as needed. Be sure to include these parts when cleaning: heat exchangers, dryer filters, coils on the refrigerator, water pans under the refrigerator, furnaces, and ducts. Also, clean or replace air conditioner and heater filters as often as needed.

Aerosol products

Aerosol products can be irritating for some people with respiratory problems. Therefore, use roll-on deodorants and nonaerosol pump sprays. If an air freshener is needed, use a "solid"type product.

Dusting powder

Babies can inhale the talc from the powder, possibly causing respiratory problems, and the fragrance from the powder can be irritating in itself.

Household chemical cleaners

Use baking soda or vinegar and water as household cleaners. For a job that absolutely requires a chemical, let someone else do the cleaning. Don't use pesticides indoors; assign this chore to others (such as a professional exterminator), and be sure to leave the house for the recommended period of time.

Poor air circulation

Keep the doors of all rooms open to allow for proper circulation. Open a window for a few minutes several times a m day during the winter months, and leave a window slightly open during the summer. Ceiling fans are a good way to increase circulation, but don't forget to clean them regularly.


Cooking and running water produce enough humidity in the home on a daily basis. If you feel you need additional humidity, have someone install a central heat humidifier; refrain from using room humidifiers or room ultrasonic humidifiers.


Don't use your fireplace as the main source of heat in your home. Whenever using the fireplace, make sure the damper is open and that thc chimney is cleaned periodically. Burn only firewood in your fireplace--not paper or charcoal.


Houseplants are a major source of mold (a common irritant) because plant soil is usually damp. If you like growing plants in your house, choose a terrarium that is enclosed. Also, be aware of bushes and trees located next to the windows where you sleep or sit frequently. They encourage dampness and mold growth.

Mold and mildew

If you have tiles in your bathroom, wash and replace grout frequently. Check anyplace that moisture accumulates. In cellars, basements, and garages, waterproof the cement floofs. In your kitchen and bathroom, use sheet vinyl instead of vinyl squares for the floor.

Asbestos and radon gas

Make sure your home is free of asbestos and radon gas by contacting your local health department for assistance.

Respiratory equipment

When you breathe with the help of this kind of equipment (compressors, oxygen concentrators, etc.), you run the risk of breathing in dust as well as any germs that might be growing there. Clean all equipment thoroughly and frequently. This includes cleaning any filters that might be a part of the equipment. Clean medicine nebulizers after each use by using one-part white vinegar to three-parts water. Let the pieces air-dry thoroughly on a clean towel before using them again.

Hang all tubes up to dry, and keep oxygen cannulas clean and free of debris by cicaning them in the same manner as your nebulizers. Replace your cannulas every two to four weeks (or more frequently if necessary). Consult with your medical supply company if you have questions about any of your home respiratory equ ipment.

Reviewed: May 26, 2005


2024 American Association for Respiratory Care