Improve Indoor Air Quality for Easier Breathing

By Jennifer Nelson

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an important part of managing your symptoms is knowing the quality of air you breathe. As temperatures rise during the summer, air pollution can prove problematic. Longer days, warmer weather and more sunshine can mean stagnant air and increased emissions from cars, planes and other pollutants.

But what about the air inside your home? Of course, you never let anyone smoke indoors and you may use an air filter, but are you taking the right steps to ensure your indoor air quality is the best it can be? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) estimates that poor indoor air quality is one of the top five leading factors affecting respiratory health in the country.

Three major airborne threats in your home are allergens (pollen and dust), irritants (from paints or tobacco smoke) and dangerous chemicals (pesticides). Here are a few tips to improve your indoor air quality:


Keep the outside world from coming in. Leave all footwear in the garage or on the porch. Make sure windows are properly sealed and outdoor air doesn’t seep in, which also will help keep energy costs down, advised Robin Wilson, founder and CEO of Robin Wilson Home, an ambassador for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and a designer focused on healthy space design through eco-friendly materials.

Check ventilation system. If you’re cooking, that means you need an exhaust system near the stove that works well, advises Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association (ALA) in Washington, DC.

Change air filters. Make sure you regularly change the air filters in your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system and furnace. Buy the highest-quality air filters you can afford.

Use natural cleaners. Avoid harsh chemicals, scented cleaning products, air fresheners and anything with fragrance; instead, clean with baking soda, lemon and vinegar. For hard-surface floors, use cloths to attract and hold dust instead of brooms or vacuums that kick up more dust.

Try slipcovers. ”Slipcovers on your upholstered sofas can be washed regularly and have come a long way from slipcovers of 10 years ago,” Wilson said. Limit drapes as they are “dust catchers.”

In the Bathroom

Always lower the toilet seat. Make sure spray from the toilet doesn’t contaminate towels, toothbrushes and soaps. Toss vinyl shower curtains—they hold more mold and throw off gases. Use nylon curtains instead.

Control humidity. Exhaust fans in bathrooms help carry moisture out of the house. Aim for an indoor humidity of less than 50 percent, which helps reduce mold growth and cuts down on dust mites, as they don’t grow in homes with low humidity.

Look for mold. You might typically smell mold, but go through and check for leaks and dampness in the basement and the bathroom. Check for mold in dishwashers, in the water pan under the refrigerator and in sink and bath drains, Wilson said. And change the filters in water dispenser and icemakers. Mold can trigger and worsen COPD.

In Bedrooms:

Use hypoallergenic pillows. Wash pillowcases once a week, your pillow protector at least once a month and replace pillows every three years. Cover your mattress with a hypoallergenic cover and wash it every two months. And make sure your mattress is non-toxic without formaldehyde-based fire retardants.

Get rid of wall-to-wall carpeting. Tile and hardwood floors are a much better choice, but they must be vacuumed or cleaned on a regular basis to eliminate dirt and dust.

Use non-VOC paints. They won’t give off gas or leave an obnoxious paint odor, which stir up asthma or allergies.

Keep pets clean and off beds. Cat and dog allergies are common, so if there are pets, keep them bathed regularly to reduce the dander. Wash hands after petting animals.