5 Common Threats To Indoor Air Quality and What You Can Do

Are you aware of the potential dangers lurking in the air you’re breathing? Common threats to your indoor air quality are not always obvious. Your best bet is to remain alert to potential problems and then take whatever actions you can to circumvent the problem.

Outside air naturally makes its way inside. When that happens, it brings with it vehicle exhaust, industrial waste, pesticides, and other airborne contaminants. These irritants have no trouble making their way inside any home or place of business.

Some areas are worse than others. But any amount of indoor air pollution can cause serious health issues.

Multiple Sources of Contaminants

But that’s not the only concern with indoor air.

Numerous factors can affect your air quality. Some are obvious like smoking indoors. But it’s not just the smoke itself that’s bad for everyone. When a smoker enters the building, they also bring with them all the smoking-related chemicals that stuck to their clothing.

Other contributing sources of indoor air problems include building supplies, product finishes, furniture, and accessories. Carpeting and area rugs play a huge role too.

Many of these other sources of pollution often go undetected or ignored because they are simply part of the building or contents people are using. We tend to accept these things as part of life – without any critical analysis.

Building Materials

Materials used in home and office construction and renovations can be harmful to your indoor air.

Dust is a huge factor and can be particularly bad when drywall is being installed. Woodwork is another dust generator, so the more of it that can be done outdoors or off-site, the better it is for you.

Common threats to your indoor air quality

Paint on walls and lacquer or urethane on trim pieces can release irritating chemicals into the air that take weeks to disperse. Older structures may have paint that also contains lead.

Good ventilation and frequent vacuuming can help minimize the impact on indoor air caused by building materials.


Wall-to-wall carpeting and large area rugs are the worst offenders. When new, carpeting, under-padding, and the adhesives used in the flooring industry release chemicals that can trigger eye and throat irritation, skin rashes, and headaches.

Each of these symptoms is a possible sign of the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) contained within.

Your best option is to avoid carpeting in all its formats in favor of hardwood floors. If that’s not an option, look for carpeting with a “low VOC” rating.

Another thing you can do is roll out the carpet for a week prior to installation while leaving the windows open, whenever possible. Proper ventilation can help get rid of the smelly gasses emitted into the air from carpet, padding, and flooring adhesives. But it can take weeks, sometimes longer.


With natural gas or propane appliances, you’ll need to take extra precautions to keep the indoor air safe for all. It’s always best to have an appliance specialist take care of the installation for you – not just for the stove, but the outside-vented range hood as well.

Check your appliances for any possible leakage. The last thing you want is to have carbon monoxide spewing into your space – in any quantity.

Having it checked out once or twice a year gives you the reassurance that your gas or propane-fired equipment works safely.


Beware. Dangerous fumes can be emitted from non-stick cookware at high heat. This type of cooking appliance was never meant to be used at high temperatures.

stainless steel cookware

But sometimes people forget – or get impatient waiting for their dinner to cook. And that’s just not safe. I don’t recommend using any Teflon-coated cookware for that very reason. You’re better off using stainless steel, cast iron, or ceramic pans and bakeware.

Heating and Air-Conditioning Systems

Your air systems can contribute to the poor quality of your indoor air if they’re not operating properly. Routine inspections and maintenance from a certified professional is the answer.

Furnaces and air conditioning systems need to function safely and effectively. And that means proper ventilation through regular filter replacement. You want leak-proof operations and that means inspecting for cracks and holes. Check on you chimney’s condition as well.


Furniture and cabinetry pose additional hazards to your indoor air. Watch out for the presence of formaldehyde in the materials commonly used today in the furniture industry. Upholstered pieces like sofas and loveseats, plus other wood furniture may contain this harmful chemical.

Look out for anything that’s made with particle board. You may be shocked by how much furniture and cabinetry is actually manufactured this way. The problem is that it’s loaded with formaldehyde.

Fortunately, particle board (aka pressboard, pressed wood) surfaces and edges are not usually visible. This helps minimize direct exposure.


Kitchen cabinets are typically made with the same core product. This material is covered with a thin laminate (known as melamine) or a layer of wood veneer. It’s good to know what you’re getting when you buy.

particle board core cabinets

Irritating fumes are strongest when the furniture or cabinetry is brand new. Chemicals dispersed into the air can affect those who are sensitive to it for a long time.

For safer options, select fabrics designated as “low VOC”. You can also choose wooden furniture and cabinets made from plywood instead of particle board.

Plywood uses multiple layers of actual wood (not a composite material like particle board) held together by glue.

Solid wood is an excellent choice too, although it’s a more costly alternative.

Finishes on any wood surface can pose problems. For the safest air quality conditions, a water-based finish is best. But finding furniture and cabinet doors prefinished with environmentally-safe finishes can be a challenge in itself – at least at the present time.

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