Clean air at home

There are many sources of outdoor air pollution including road transport, energy generation, industry and agriculture. Traffic is the main source of air pollution in our towns and cities. Since the coronavirus lockdown our roads and skies are much quieter, and as result air quality has been found to be improved.

Air pollution is a made up of lots of different types of pollutants. The main pollutants are carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ground level ozone (O3) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM 2.5). All these pollutants can be inhaled and absorbed into your body and are bad for our health.

Here are some ways in which we can help to ensure that we breathe clean air in our homes and gardens during this time of lockdown:

Indoors

 Keep your home well ventilated

 Keeping windows open, when it’s safe to do so, will reduce the levels of pollution that can build up inside your homes.1 If you live next to a busy road, only open the windows that look out onto the roads at times when there is less traffic.2

When you are cooking on gas hobs, make sure that you use your extractor fans and/or keep your windows open to reduce pollution levels in the kitchen.3 Keep the lids on your pans when cooking as you will use less energy and reduce the amount of moisture released into the air.

Poor ventilation can cause condensation to form in bathrooms and kitchens and create the damp conditions ideal for the growth of mould. Moulds release spores that can trigger allergic reactions in some people and breathing difficulties in others.4

 

 Choose safer chemicals

 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals that start as liquids or solids but disperse into the air very easily creating air pollution.5 These chemicals are found in paints and varnishes and smell strongly. They are also found in products such as air fresheners6, hair sprays and cleaning products. Once these harmful chemicals mix with the air, they become very easy for us to breathe in.

Formaldehyde can cause irritation to lungs and is given off by furniture made from combined materials like MDF, as well as furnishings, fabrics, glues and insulation materials. Choose decorating products labelled as low in VOCs and milder cream cleaning products rather than sprays. Avoid artificial scents in personal care products like shampoo and soaps.7

 

 Limit the use of wood burning stoves 

Breathing in wood smoke pollution increases the risk of serious diseases, including asthma, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and dementia. In addition, the fine particulate matter emitted by these stoves damages lung health putting you, your family and your neighbours at greater risk from the symptoms of coronavirus and other respiratory conditions.8

If you do ever need to use a wood burning stove, make sure to always use smokeless fuels, or well-seasoned wood so it burns efficiently and with less pollution. Do not burn wood offcuts that have any chemicals or paint on them as these can release additional pollution. 

 

 Look after your boilers

 When the coronavirus lockdown is ended, make sure that your boiler is serviced annually to ensure that it burns fuel cleanly and to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide being created and building up inside your home. This will keep you safe and save you money.1

 

Clean regularly

 Vacuuming and mopping often will remove dust where pollutants and allergens can accumulate.10 As mentioned before, consider the type of cleaners you use so that they do not increase the level of pollutants in the home.8

If you have a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Air Purifier, use this to remove pollen, bacteria and particulate matter from your home.

In the Garden

 Do not light bonfires

 

Having to stay at home offers people the opportunity to catch up with their gardening. Burning garden waste and scrap timber is a source of particulate pollution and can have a harmful impact on you, your family and your neighbours.11 People suffering from coronavirus and other breathing problems are at greater risk as smoke damages our lungs. In addition, burning waste unnecessarily releases other gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a time when climate change has been recognised as a global emergency.

Whilst the Household Waste and Recycling Centres are closed, and Green Waste Collections may be on hold due to the lockdown, find other ways to make use of your garden waste: Rather than burning garden waste why not save yourself money and make your own compost. Small quantities of woody waste may be cut up and deposited under hedges and on borders or mixed into compost bins. Larger amounts of woody waste may be shredded to create mulch for use on paths and borders or mixed with grass cuttings to make compost. If you have space, branches can be used for dead hedging and log piles left as wildlife refuges to increase the biodiversity of your gardens.

 

 Manage your plants

Plants are great at absorbing air pollution.12 Look after any hedges that you have growing in your garden adjacent to busy roads as they can act as effective barriers to the air pollution released from vehicle exhausts.

Petrol lawn mowers release carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.13 Regular maintenance of petrol mowers will improve their performance and reduce their emissions. Choose cleaner ways to manage your garden, for instance by using manual push mowers, or electric mowers that do not produce exhaust emissions (although pollution is created at the power station where the electricity is generated). Reduce your mowing time by expanding your borders to reduce your lawn size. Why not plant more trees and shrubs to landscape for wildlife or plant wildflowers which require little maintenance.

 

 Save energy

Turning off your home appliances will save energy and reduce the levels of air pollution created at power stations which run on fossil fuels. Why not switch to a renewable energy tariff to show your support for sustainable power generation?

 

For more information see our references listed here:

  1. RCP: Every breath we take. Lifelong impact of air pollution
  2. EPA: Near Road Pollution
  3. Use your cooker hood for a healthier home
  4. WHO: Dampness guidelines
  5. BLF: Indoor air pollution causes
  6. Ten questions about air fresheners
  7. Volatile emissions from common consumer products
  8. Wood smoke pollution
  9. Women who clean at home have decreased lung function
  10. Allergy advice: improving indoor air quality
  11. Garden bonfire rules
  12. Green infrastructure and air pollution
  13. Your Yard and Clean Air

More information about air pollution may also be found at Global Action Plan’s website at https://www.cleanairhub.org.uk/