There’s nothing like breathing fresh air. Unfortunately, you’re not likely to get one in your home. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), indoor air pollution ranks among the top five environmental dangers to the public. But surely, it’s not as bad as it is outside, right? Actually, it’s much worse. The EPA states that indoor air can be two to five times--and sometimes up to 100 times--more polluted than outdoor air. Considering that most Americans spend 90% of their time indoors, this is bad news. So, what are these killers of indoor air quality? There are several, but we’ve compiled a list of the most dangerous one's for you to look out for, their sources, and how to avoid them,

1) Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless and odorless toxic gas that can, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), cause:

a) Headaches
b) Fatigue
c) Shortness of breath
d) Nausea
e) Dizziness

High levels of CO poisoning cause:

a) Mental confusion
b) Vomiting
c) Loss of muscular coordination
d) Loss of consciousness
e) Ultimately death

So how does carbon monoxide get into your home? Your furnace, fireplace, gas stoves and ovens and fuel space heaters produce carbon monoxide (CO) during the combustion process. Deadly amounts of carbon monoxide can leak into your home due to improper installation and ventilation, and a lack of professional maintenance of your heating equipment. Since carbon monoxide is indiscernible to your senses, the only way to detect it is with a carbon monoxide detector.

2) Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)
Not a shocker, right? Tobacco smoke is a killer pollutant. According to, “Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds. More than 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer.” The solution to avoiding this is simple: stop smoking. OK, that’s not so simple for some people. But do realize that smoking isn’t just a health risk for the smoker, but for everyone who lives around the smoker as well. If you live with a smoker who refuses to quit, then the best you can do is to increase the ventilation in the area where the smoke is by opening windows or using exhaust fans.

3) Radon
According to the EPA, this silent killer causes 7,000 to 30,000 lung cancer deaths each year That’s more lung cancer in nonsmokers than from secondhand smoke! So, what is Radon exactly? It’s a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that seeps out of the earth under your home, well water, and building materials. How do you know if your home has high levels of radon? Well, there are no immediate symptoms of it, so you need an air quality test just to make sure. Don’t worry, radon testing is inexpensive.

4) Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a colorless, pungent-smelling gas. It can cause:

a) Watery eyes
b) Burning sensations in your eyes and throat
c) Nausea
d) Difficulty breathing
e) Cancer in animals and may cause cancer in people
f) Asthma attacks among those who have asthma

So how does this air quality killer find its way into your home? Formaldehyde is found in urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins which are used in adhesives to put together wood based products (like furniture). Formaldehyde is common in hardwood plywood, wall paneling, particleboard, and fiberboard. According to the EPA you should always “ask about formaldehyde content of pressed wood products, including building materials, cabinetry, and furniture before you purchase them.”

5) Organic solvents
Organic solvents are what you find in a variety of household products including:

a) Paints
b) Varnishes
c) Wax
d) Anything used for cleaning, disinfecting, or degreasing

These products can be hazardous to your health if used improperly. Immediate symptoms of exposure to organic solvents include:

a) Eye and respiratory
b) Tract irritation
c) Headaches
d) Dizziness
e) Visual disorders
f) Memory impairment

Always read the warning labels on products containing organic solvents. Most of them will say you should use them in well-ventilated areas. So, use them outside, or with an exhaust fan and windows and doors open. Also, throw away partially used containers of old products with organic solvents and store the chemicals outside your home. Even when you’re not using the product, it can leak gas, which can build up in your home. Find out if your local government or any local organizations have sponsored special days for picking up old toxic household wastes.

Kill the killers of your air quality

With spring cleaning around the corner, now is the perfect time to take back your air quality by getting rid of the air quality killers lurking in your home. While these five contaminants are among the most dangerous, they’re certainly not the only ones you should watch out for. To learn more about the harmful pollutants in your home, check out this guide to air quality put together by the EPA.

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