What Are Indoor Air Pollutants and How Can They Hurt Your Health?

indoor air pollutants

What comes to mind when you think about air pollution? If you’re like most people, you get the image of a big smokestack with gray smog coming out. Or the layer of haze over a city on a hot summer day. 

But outdoor pollution is only one kind you need to worry about. There are indoor air pollutants too. They’re just harder to see. 

Some of them are irritants that don’t do a lot of longterm damage, like dust mites that make you sneeze. Others are more harmful and mostly invisible, like asbestos. 

Are you feeling worried now? Learn about the most common air pollutants, what they do to the body, and how to make sure your home has clean air, below. 

Common Indoor Air Pollutants 

The most common indoor pollutant is dust. If you’re the one in charge of cleaning your household, you know just how fast dust accumulates, even though it seems like you just wiped everything down last week. 

Keeping up with your household dusting is an excellent way to help control your indoor air quality, but it’s not perfect. 

First of all, when you wipe up dust, you’re agitating it, meaning that what doesn’t get on your rag or duster gets into the air. It then re-settles somewhere else – or worse – gets sucked into your air vents. 

Dusty Ducts 

Your air vents are one of the dustiest places in your home. Think back, when was the last time you cleaned them? 

If you said never, you’re not alone. Your ductwork is too expansive and inaccessible to clean regularly yourself. And since you can’t see the dust buildup in your vents/ducts, it’s out of sight out of mind. 

The solution to your dusty vent problem (that you just now found out you had) is to call a professional HVAC company. They have the right equipment to clean out your vents for you, reducing the number of air pollutants in your home. 

As an added bonus, having your ducts cleaned will save you money on your electricity bill. Getting rid of all that buildup will help the airflow around your home more efficiently. 

It’s a good thing for everybody!

Health Effects of Dust 

What happens when you don’t dust often enough, or your air duct system is (unknowingly) circulating dusty air throughout your home? 

You can experience

  • More asthma attacks
  • Eye irritation
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion 

Doesn’t sound fun, right? As if you needed more convincing, we just gave you five more reasons to get your HVAC system cleaned. 

And if you don’t want to or can’t afford to have it cleaned right now – at least change your air filters! That will help a lot. 

Thirdhand Smoke 

You’ve heard of second-hand smoke, but have you heard of thirdhand? It’s what happens when someone smokes in a home, and the pollutants that they’re smoking absorb into the walls, carpet, and other integral parts of the house. 

It’s why, no matter how much you try, you can never get the old smoke smell out of a room that someone once smoked in. 

And yes – thirdhand smoke exposure puts you at higher risk for smoking-related diseases, even if you’ve never picked up a cigarette in your life. 

Even if you’ve replaced all the carpet and repainted in a smoked-in home, it’s worth cleaning out your ducts and buying an air purifier for the worst rooms. 

You can’t undo a room’s history, but you can try to clean the air for the good of you and your family. 

Exposure to thirdhand smoke may… 

  • Cause cancer
  • Damage DNA
  • Increase respiratory symptoms (see above)

Always ask your realtor if a home was smoked in before you move somewhere and try to minimize your exposure to spaces where people smoke. 

Pet Dander 

We all love pets. Our technicians aren’t mad when they show up to a job, and there’s a cute dog for them to pet. And as much as you love your pet, they’re making the air inside your home dirtier. 

Some pets are worse than others, like cats. Cats release dander more than dogs, which contributes to the dust problem in your home and gets circulated in your HVAC system. 

Dogs aren’t dander-free either; they just don’t release as much. Add that dander to the regular shedding that household pets go through, and you have an air pollutant. 

Pet dander buildup can cause 

  • Allergies
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Itching
  • Eye irritation 

We don’t want you to get rid of your pet – but you’ll need to keep up with your dusting/cleaning more often and consider getting an HVAC system cleanout two or three times a year. 

More Harmful Pollutants 

Dust, pet dander, and smoking-related allergens are the ones most common in American homes, but they’re not the only ones. 

If you have an older home, one that has water damage (whether you know about it or not) you may be exposed to 

  • Asbestos molecules
  • Black mold
  • Mold spores 
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Cleaning chemical residue
  • And more … 

Keeping Indoor Air Pollutants at Bay 

There’s no household in the US, no matter how clean, that is free of indoor air pollutants. They’re everywhere – it’s your job to keep them at bay (enough), so they’re not a problem. 

You can do that by regularly cleaning, changing your air filters, keeping up with HVAC maintenance, and getting an air purifier. 

You should breathe better if you use all the tips above. If you need help with the HVAC related stuff, we can help.

John Daner

John Daner

HVAC Technician with 12+ years in the field.