Open your windows – and four other ways to improve the air quality at home

Sirin Kale
Photograph: Cathy’s fotografie/Alamy

Open your windows

It is an obvious solution, but it works. “Fresh air isn’t the enemy. Open your windows,” says Dr Appelles Econs, an allergy specialist at the Burghwood Clinic. Keeping your windows shut all day will allow chemicals and allergens to build up inside.

Even if you live in a polluted city, you are going to have to open the windows from time to time. “You don’t want to be stuck in a house with no ventilation all day,” says Dr Paul Young of Lancaster University. “If you live near a super-busy road, you may not want to have the window open all the time, but you are going to need to ventilate.” Opening your windows at night, when the traffic has lessened, can be a good option.

Plants will help, but not much

Research by Nasa in the 1980s found that plants do remove toxic pollutants from the air. However, these studies were carried out in closed environments, similar to conditions in space. Back on Earth, plants will improve air quality, but not as much as you may think. “Unless you have a rainforest in your home, the effect can be minimal,” explains Prof Pawel Wargocki of the Technical University of Denmark. “You need to have many plants to see a meaningful effect on air quality because buildings are not fully airtight environments – there is always air coming in from outside.”

Minimise pollutants in your home

“When cooking, make sure you have your ventilator fan on,” says Young. “And don’t smoke inside – smoke can hang around for a long time inside.”

Consider the products you are using to clean your home. “Even if their containers are firmly closed, cleaning chemicals produce volatile organic components,” says Econs. If possible, keep cleaning products outside the house, in a garden shed or garage. Econs is not a fan of air fresheners or room sprays, for the same reason.

Consider the materials you are using

Wooden flooring, rather than carpets, may improve air quality. “Many fresh carpets are cured with formaldehyde,” says Econs. “Wooden floors are more healthy by comparison.”

Dust mites can live in soft furnishings, such as cushions and mattresses. The faecal pellets they produce can trigger allergy-like symptoms. “Get a barrier mattress cover,” advises Econs, “which can help prevent dust mites from living in your mattress.”

Beware excess moisture

“The greatest factor affecting air quality in British households is indoor humidity,” says Econs. Minimise humidity by ventilating – and deal urgently with any mould on the walls.

“After showering, remove local moisture,” says Wargocki, by wiping down surfaces and turning on the bathroom extractor fan. And when it comes to washing clothes, try to dry them outside if possible, or at least in a well-ventilated space.