Could your home be toxic? Here's how to reduce indoor air pollution


Outdoor air pollution in UK towns and cities is a key concern right now,
but what about the quality of the environment inside our homes?

Our safe havens can harbour potentially harmful toxins and poor air
quality too - and while there's no need to panic, it's a good idea to be
aware of how these things can impact our health, and steps we can take
to prevent this.

Here are some of the key points to factor in when it comes to indoor air
pollution in your home...

What is 'Toxic Home Syndrome'?

The idea that our homes can make us ill is far from claptrap (ask
anybody with a lung condition, like asthma for instance, and things like
indoor air quality can be extremely important) and there's even a term
for it: Toxic Home Syndrome.

"Toxic Home Syndrome occurs when individuals and families are exposed to
a potent mix of airborne pollutants within the home, arising from poor
ventilation, causing respiratory and skin diseases to occur more
frequently," explains Southampton University professor of allergy and
respiratory medicine Peter Howarth, speaking on behalf of BEAMA's My
Health My Home campaign (

Things like mould, damp and condensation play a big part in Toxic Home
Syndrome. Symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, headaches and
respiratory problems, while young children and the elderly, or people
with pre-existing health problems, are often most at risk. In more
serious cases, indoor air pollution could even contribute to major
illnesses including cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.

How can you avoid a 'Toxic Home' making you ill?

There's lots more information on the My Health My Home campaign website.
Meanwhile, here are Professor Howarth's five top tips for avoiding Toxic
Home Syndrome...

1. Clean your air: Make sure you have adequate ventilation in your home
to take out the pollutants and moisture that can build up. All sorts of
household products including candles and cleaners contain potentially
dangerous pollutants, and if these aren't removed through ventilation,
they simply build up in your home.

2. Wooden flooring: Carpets harbour dirt, dust mites, pet hair, fungus
and other potentially harmful particles that can aggravate the lungs.
Swapping carpet for wooden flooring makes it easier to keep clean.

3. Go green when you clean: Use eco cleaning products which have fewer
toxins and pollutants in them. Non-eco household cleaners can release
formaldehyde when they come in to contact with the air, a substance
linked to cancer.

4. Curtain call: Change your shower curtain regularly to reduce mold
growth which releases spores and toxins into the air. These can cause or
exacerbate respiratory and skin conditions such as asthma and eczema.

5. Cut the moisture: Shut the bathroom door when showering, wipe down
wet surfaces, put on your extractor fan and cover your pans when
cooking. Excessive moisture allows dust mites and mould to thrive, can
aid bacterial growth and affect the survival of viruses.

Watch what you burn indoors

A 'real' fire, as opposed to modern central heating, might seem like an
appealing style statement, but what you burn indoors could contribute to
toxic air.

"They may look beautiful as a statement feature in your living room, but
wood burning stoves, particularly older models, are contributing to the
air pollution problem. So much so, the UK Government is considering
banning them altogether," says Jayson Branch, creative director at
bespoke radiator company, Castrads ( "As an alternative,
consider a timeless cast iron radiator which won't leave you
compromising on luxury. Both the clean industrial and heavily ornate
models make a striking statement in contemporary and traditional

Consider your candle choices too. "Candles are wonderful when you're
trying to unwind. However, though they look harmless, many scented
candles use paraffin wax, which gives off the toxic carcinogens benzene
and toluene when burned," says Branch. "Opt for candles using only
natural waxes like soy, rapeseed, plant and beeswax, to make your
relaxation all the more satisfying."

Harness some plant power

As well as looking good and nurturing a sense of calm, certain house
plants could even help clean up the air in your home. Homebase's new Air
So Pure range (from £4-£10 each, features plants with
especially good air-purifying qualities, helping 'reduce air pollutants
by up to 80%'.

"The trend for bringing the outside in is still really popular, as more
and more people realise the health benefits of adding a touch of
greenery. Introducing plants into your home not only creates a fresh
look, but it's also a cost-effective way to naturally boost oxygen
levels, improve humidity in your home and enhance your overall
wellbeing," says Homebase greenlife buyer, Gillian Bush.

The plant pros at Dobbies Garden Centres ( are also keen to
highlight how adding greenery can help enhance the health of your home -
so if you're unsure what to go for, pop in and have a chat with the

Meanwhile, here are three of Dobbies' top suggestions:

1. Boston Ferns (Nephrolepis): One of the best plants when it comes to
removing formaldehyde from the air. It's non-toxic so is a great
addition to any house, and the feathery ferns look beautiful spilling
out of hanging or elevated pots.

Where to put it: Anywhere

How to look after it: Keep your fern in a cool environment and give it
lots of attention. They thrive in bright spots but keep the soil moist
and directly out of the sun.

2. Aloe Vera: Already well known for its health benefits, but one of
Aloe Vera's lesser known benefits is how well it can remove benzene and
formaldehyde from the air.

Where to put it: Great for the bedroom as it produces oxygen at night
time while processing the carbon dioxide in the air, giving you purer
air and a chance at a better night's sleep.

How to look after it: Water deeply every two to three weeks and let the
soil dry out a couple of inches on top before watering again.

3. Spider Plants (Chlorophytum): Popular houseplants and great for
eliminating significant amounts of formaldehyde, xylene, toluene and
ammonia from the air.

Where to put it: Kitchens and bathrooms

How to look after it: These are super-easy to grow and will flourish in
bright, indirect sunlight. They don't need lots of attention so are
perfect for those who are a bit forgetful or are just starting out.

Catherine Devane