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You know that a germ-y kitchen counter is unhealthy, but how healthy is the air you breathe? Home cleaning should include cleaning indoor air.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air pollutant levels may be two to five times as high as the pollutant levels outdoors. Indoor air pollutants include tobacco smoke, vapors from household products and building materials, various biological pollutants, carbon monoxide, and radon. These contaminants can be harmful to your health, even fatal in high concentrations.

Clean dust and biological pollutants

Normal levels of dust in a home do not generally cause health problems. But high levels can result in allergic reactions ranging from nasal congestion to asthma. That’s because house dust contains a whole slew of biological air pollutants, including viruses, bacteria, molds, mildew, pollen grains, pet dander, and dust mites.

In addition to keeping dust and other particulates in check with regular vacuuming, it’s also important to monitor and control the level of moisture in your home. High relative humidity and damp surfaces encourage the growth of molds. Too much moisture in the air also creates a fertile breeding ground for dust mites.

The best way to control humidity is with proper ventilation and dehumidifiers. Your goal should be to keep the relative humidity under 60 percent, and ideally between 30 and 50 percent. Externally vented exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms can go a long way toward controlling moisture levels.

Beware of household products that pollute indoor air

Many common household products contain solvents and chemicals that emit potentially harmful gases during use – and even in storage. So don’t store opened containers of paints, varnishes, and similar materials inside your home. Buy these products in limited quantities for use as needed.

Avoid the use of aerosol products in your home. Also, remove dry-cleaned items from their bags and allow them to air (outdoors if possible) before wearing or storing them to reduce your exposure to perchloroethylene.

Building materials and furnishings are another major source of organic air pollutants. Formaldehyde, for example, is used in mattress ticking and to add permanent-press qualities to clothing and draperies. Formaldehyde is also widely used in the manufacture of pressed-wood products used in paneling, flooring, cabinetry, and furniture. So when choosing home furnishings and building materials, opt for natural materials such as wood and stone that are not manufactured with the use of adhesives.

Test for deadly gases

Each year, nearly 300 people in the United States die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Even more die from carbon monoxide produced by idling cars in the garage. The most important thing you can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to properly use and maintain fuel-burning appliances. A carbon monoxide detector should be used only as a backup. Research the best detectors through Consumer Reports, the American Gas Association, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL). For the most reliable protection, do not buy a detector without UL certification.

As with carbon monoxide, you can’t see, taste, or smell radon. But once radon is in your home, the trapped gas decays into radioactive particles that can be trapped in your lungs when you breathe. Nearly one in 15 homes in the United States has a high level of indoor radon.

Radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and those with asthma are more susceptible. According to the American Lung Association, radon inhalation accounts for around 21,000 deaths per year in the U.S. – six times the number of deaths attributed annually to house fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sometimes radon enters a home through well water, but most often is seeps up through the ground and into your home through cracks in the foundation, floor, or walls or around service pipes. The U.S. Surgeon General and the EPA recommend that all homes be tested for radon.

The most common type of radon test kit used today is based on charcoal canisters, which only provide a short-term measurement (days) and require being sent to a lab for analysis. But radon levels fluctuate significantly from day to day, month to month, and year to year. The best way to test is to continually monitor radon levels with a system like Airthings Wave that includes an easy-to-mount, battery-powered home sensor device and a free mobile app. When Wave detects high radon levels for a period exceeding national guidelines (48 hours in the United States), you will be notified via the phone app and given recommendations for how to reduce radon levels.

How to freshen indoor air

The two most effective strategies for improving air quality are to control the sources of specific pollutants and to improve ventilation. For best quality, the air in your home should be continually exchanged with fresh air. It’s particularly important to ensure good ventilation when using spray disinfectants, cleaners, and repellents. If you can’t open windows, use ceiling and exhaust fans to facilitate the exchange of fresh air.

Air cleaners may be useful as a secondary means of removing contaminants. When buying an air cleaner, look for the clean air delivery rate (CADR) certification seal. This seal indicates that the air cleaner has been tested by an independent testing agency, and it tells you how well the air cleaner reduces pollutants. As well as the size of the room it is suitable for. The higher the CADR number, the faster the unit filters air.

Don’t confuse air purifiers with air cleaners. An air purifier only purifies what’s in the air. An air cleaner uses a filter to capture allergens that tend to float, such as dust and pet dander.