Organic food is more expensive.
Homemade meals take more time.
Filtered water costs far more than free from the tap.
And buying stainless steel containers to avoid plastic is undoubtedly a significant upfront cost.
But, when it comes to our families, many of us are willing to sacrifice the extra time and money in the name of health. Here’s the problem. A lot of us miss the one thing that surrounds us 24/7 – the air in our homes.
And really, if our home’s air is making us sick, isn’t that diminishing the good work we’re doing in all those other areas like food, water, and environmental toxins?
Do I Need to Purify the Air in my Home?
Smoke from brushfires, windblown dust, emissions from factories and vehicles, burning fuel – sources of outdoor air pollution are well known. Most people will accept that our outdoor air isn’t as good as it could be, but our environment has natural air filters – rain and plants, among other things – that vastly improve our air quality.
But what about indoor air quality? Dirty air vents, pet dander, and hair, dust, pollution from cooking (which we do a lot of!), contaminants from the outside, plus anything that is sprayed or that is off-gassing in the house and all trapped in there in cozy little nooks. And let’s not forget bacteria and viruses. The sad truth is that even if you clean your home daily, you cannot out clean indoor air pollution.
In fact, the EPA says that indoor air can be up to 100 times more toxic than outdoor air, which is a scary thought! But think about it, indoor environments often face ventilation struggles, plus the indoor air doesn’t have the benefit of the natural filters existing outdoors.
I flipped open the Costco magazine the other day (seriously, there are still print mags in the world!) because Rachael Ray was on the cover with a new book. I want to be on her show someday, so I need to stalk her a little when I get the chance LOL!
But I got totally distracted (Squirrel brain: Did someone say there’s another tab open? Eleventy-seven tabs? 53 notifications? Are you still reading? You’re more focused than most!) by an article on air filtration called “The Air Apparent.”
I knew most of the info because I had the chance to learn from Peter Spiegel, the founder of AirDoctor, but nonetheless, I had to read it. Highlights for you:
“According to the EPA, health effects related to exposure to indoor pollutants may not show up until years later.“
Bottom Line – Cleaning up your air has to be part of your game plan to avoid respiratory illness, pulmonary problems, and cancer.
And on a personal note, now that we have at least two kids with dust allergies, and probably a third (maybe a fourth coming up here, sigh…), it’s incredibly important for me to take every precaution I can to clean the air.
How Can I Improve my Home’s Air Quality?
Air pollutants are ubiquitous, but there are several ways to help improve indoor air quality. Here are a few –
At the beginning of the school year, Leah’s sixth-grade teacher had one Post-It left on the wall for parents to help donate to the classroom.
“Green plants,” it said.
I was both apprehensive and happy to help.
Apprehensive because I knew I would have to choose the right air-filtering plant, which is a little more complicated than, say, buying Post-Its to replace the ones on the wall! But also, I was happy because I know that having green plants in the classroom improves air quality and can help bring a sense of peaceful feelings to the kids.
Indoor plants naturally recycle the air by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen for us to breathe. Choosing the right one CAN be a little tricky, but, lucky for us, NASA studied which plants are most effective at cleaning the air of toxins like formaldehyde and carbon monoxide.
Here is a list of the top 15 air purifying plants, along with some specific purposes that each of them can combat, and, for you science geeks, you can find the original study from 1989 here. (link opens as PDF).
Indoor plants can be grown in pots or special fabric pockets. Plants need abundant natural light to grow indoors but grow lights are a great option if natural light in your home or other indoor space is low.
Charcoal Filter Bags
Activated charcoal is a bit a favorite in the natural health community. You can find it touted as a natural teeth whitener and included as an ingredient in natural deodorants and cosmetics as well as face masks and cleansers. But it’s also known to support the natural filtering of indoor air.
A great way to harness the power of activated charcoal is to use bamboo charcoal bags. Charcoal bags can dehumidify the air, which would help combat mold and mildew. Other benefits of charcoal bags include absorbing odors, allergens, and pollution. The bags come in different sizes to meet various square footage needs. To refresh the bag, it merely needs to be placed in direct sunlight every 30 days.
Pure beeswax candles release negative ions that have the unique ability to bind to suspended allergens in the air, cleaning the air. Burning beeswax candles can reduce contaminants like dust, dander, and other allergens.
Many local artisans make pure beeswax candles, so be sure to look for them at farmers’ markets, craft fairs, and festivals. They are also readily available online or you can even make your own. Here are some instructions for DIY beeswax candles.
Getting an Air Purifier
Getting an air-purifying machine is a bit of a bigger move and a more significant investment, but an indoor air purifier has many benefits. Simply put, air purifiers can catch a lot of the toxins and impurities that other methods can’t.
Several years back, when we first moved into our new home (which was around 20 years old at the time), I noticed my husband was dealing with persistent congestion and sneezing attacks – sneezing over a hundred times in a single day! His symptoms would subside at work but then return with a vengeance on the weekends.
My husband was having a crazy reaction to the air in our house, and it made me wonder what it might be doing to my kids. Because this seemed like a potentially significant air quality issue, I decided to go straight to an air purifier.
I didn’t know for sure how an air purifier worked, or what I could expect from it. I didn’t know how big it would be (about the height of a nightstand, but only 12 inches or so thick). I wasn’t sure if I would need to do maintenance or buy filters, or what. I just knew I wanted to do something.
Air Purifier Benefits – Do they Really Work?
For the first few weeks, we only ran the air purifier in bedrooms. My son’s room was newly painted about 6-8 weeks before, and I could always still smell the paint off-gassing, particularly when the door was closed at night.
Putting the air purifier in his room had a curious effect – I thought I could smell the paint (or something) more strongly than ever. Could the machine be cleaning the air so well it ends up pulling the chemicals off the walls? That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
We took the purifier out of the bedrooms and into the dining room/kitchen area, and that did end up teaching me some lessons and opening up a lot of questions.
Because I was around the machine more often, I noticed when it ran, such as:
- When Leah and I dusted the blinds in the adjacent living room, it responded immediately.
- When I ran the Nutrimill grain mill in the kitchen, the flour dust caused the air purifier to kick in.
- When we vacuum (you can see the air purifier in the background of the photo above).
- When I turned on my electric griddle to cook pancakes.
Within a minute of plugging in that griddle, which is unfortunately nonstick, the air purifier across the room kicked on and didn’t turn back off for two full hours after I finished cooking the pancakes.
You can read all you want about Teflon and canary birds and 500 degrees F and safety and hazards and everyone conjecturing about whether it’s dangerous and how dangerous and at what temperature and when it’s a big deal and not a big deal…but until you’ve had a machine that knows when you’re dusting, knows when you’re poofing flour into the air, and knows when you’re vacuuming kick on and clean your air vehemently for two-and-a-half hours, you don’t really understand much about Teflon.
We had another impressive display of the air purifier’s benefits when we moved a mattress from the basement to my little boys’ room. The whole room smelled like basement the next day, gross!
I put the filter in there, and it immediately smelled better, although I also was able to have the window open a full day, so I wasn’t sure what had made the impact. Two days later, when I walked in, it smelled like basement again! I was concerned. But then I discovered the boys had turned off the air filter!
As soon as I turned it back on, it did its job, and the room smelled fresh again. To me, that was a definite success and quite impressive.
Fun Toy Too…
As it turns out, our air purifier is also an excellent, although expensive, toy for little boys who like to play with balloons. They have discovered that one balloon can float above the filter for days if no one touches it. 🙂
Do Air Purifiers Remove Viruses from the Air?
An air purifier can be an effective way of reducing circulating virus particles in your household air. Air purifiers use HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters to mechanically force air through fine mesh to trap harmful particles – including viruses.
When using an air purifier for this purpose, it is important to be sure the unit you select is large enough for the area you are using it in. Keep in mind that while an air purifier can trap a virus particle, the particle must make it to the air purifier first. The more rapidly the purifier can exchange the air in a room, the better.
Air exchange rates are measured and reported on the packing of an air purifier. The measurement is called the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and the higher the number the better. In general, it’s best to look for a purifier with a CADR of 240 or higher.
Which is the Best Air Purifier?
While we started with another brand that is no longer on the market, we now have 5 AirDoctor air filters – one in each of the bedrooms and one for the main floor.
The AirDoctor is very quiet – they claim up to 30% quieter than other air purifiers. I appreciate the air quality monitor, which lets you know if your air quality is good, moderate, or poor and then automatically adjusts the filtration level based on air quality.
Air purifiers that use regular HEPA filters are able to capture particles that are 0.3 Microns – the AirDoctor has an UltraHEPA filter to capture particles down to 0.003 Microns – 100 times small than regular HEPA filters.
Each AirDoctor is powerful enough to filter all the air in a 2400 square foot room once every hour. It eliminates 99.97% of particulate pollution (dust, mold, pollen, etc.) and virtually all the chemical pollution too (personal care products, air fresheners, off-gassing from paint and furniture, and more) as well as bacteria and viruses.
The CADR is 326 for smoke, 343 for dust, and 373 for pollen – so well above the guideline of 240. Plus, there’s an indicator showing when it’s time to change the filter. Now, I know this may not seem like a big benefit, but let me explain.
Sometimes I get my undies in a bunch if a new appliance or machine I’m considering needs any of my time…like cleaning or changing the Berkey filters or switching a filter on an air purifier every six months.
But, I realized there’s an efficiency to letting machines clean my air.
I have a brown thumb – no really, the brownest. My track record with keeping plants alive is dismal. And It only takes a few minutes of my time once a week to water a poor little plant, which hardly could clean any percentage of the air in our house.
So I think that a few minutes every six months to do maintenance on the AirDoctor is quite a good deal as far as time efficiency.
The ‘change filter’ indicator reminds me it needs to be done every time I see it, so I don’t have to try to remember when the filter was changed last (not gonna happen) plus that little light makes it harder to ignore.
And, unlike my indoor plants, the air filter won’t die in a month and make all my minutes worthless. #facepalm
Because an air purifier is a larger investment, I didn’t get to test out 26 different brands as I did with the the best natural sunscreen review (you know I would if I could!). Still, I feel comfortable saying that if you are concerned with the air quality in your home the AirDoctor is a great find and one of the best!
I’m well known for honest, thorough product reviews…
…and you can always tell a real family has run these products through the gauntlet.
When I review a type of item, I try to review a LOT of different brands! From over a dozen reusable sandwich bags to over 120 natural mineral sunscreens, I’m your girl for straight-up info about natural, real foodie items you’re considering buying.
Click here to see more product reviews and you’ll also love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!