Air pollution is a hot topic. Many local authorities (Bath included) are looking at ways to implement clean air zones in our city centres to make them healthier places for our children to grow up. While the focus is on outdoor air quality, indoor air quality gets slightly less press. Until recently, when The Sunday Times alerted us to the fact that:
“toast is more toxic than traffic fumes”
While I’ve done my research on microwaves (and for several reasons chosen not to use one), I’ve never given toasters much thought. But apparently, toasting bread can we worse for our health than standing at a busy road junction. How so?
Well, following research from the University of Texas, it’s come to light that toasters eject toxic particles into the air. From the moment they are switched on, the debris of burnt crumbs, oils and fats that collect at the bottom of our toasters and stick to the heating elements, can turn to ethanol (a by-product of yeast) which is expelled into our kitchens with other carcinogens such as acrylamide.
The university designed a replica three-bedroom house, fitted with air monitors, in order to carry out the study, which measured the levels of air pollution from a range of seemingly innocuous household activities: cleaning, cooking and entertaining friends.
Professor Alastair Lewis of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of York points out in Riba Architectural Journal that the quality of our indoor air lies in 3 main processes: ingress, embedded emissions and occupant activity.
Short of architectural and other interior design solutions it’s easy to make a few quick adjustments in our habits and activities to help eradicate some common household pollutants. So 6 quick and easy ways to improve indoor air quality:
1/ Switch to Beeswax Candles
Many high street candles are made from paraffin wax, a by-product of the manufacture of petroleum. When burned, paraffin wax releases benzene and toluene, both of which can be found in diesel car fumes. Added to that, high street candles often contain synthetic fragrances which can contain VOCs.
Switching to fragrance free beeswax candles is a great alternative. If you use candles to scent your home, then look for brands that are made using pure essential oils. Soy candles are also a good alternative although do check that they are 100% soy, as some are a blend of soy and paraffin wax.
Local favourites are Bath-based Ubiety who use the power of natural ingredients in their range of home and body products to soothe, relax and re-energise (and all profits go to Bath based charity Dorothy House) and Hazel & Blue Candles, hand poured in nearby Wiltshire using only natural ingredients.
2/ Use Essential Oils
Ditch the air freshener and switch to natural essential oils. Air fresheners of the aerosol or plug in variety contain an array of synthetic ingredients. Switching to a diffuser and essential oils may be a little more expensive to start with, but is so much better for people and planet.
3/ Let in Some Fresh Air
Always make sure rooms are well ventilated when burning candles or using diffusers for long periods of time. If you can, open windows regularly (which can be especially beneficial at night to allow outdoor air to replenish the oxygen levels in your home.
4/ Introduce House Plants
Following research by NASA, it’s commonly agreed that house plants are good natural air purifiers. They can help clean the air by absorbing toxins and by reducing moisture levels. Some of the most efficient indoor plants at improving air quality are palms, ferns and the rubber plants. Living moss is also great. In general, the bigger and leafier the plant, the better it is at absorbing pollutants.
Lula at Pilea Plant shop in Frome carries out consultations to help you choose plants that will work in your home or place of work and that compliment your lifestyle.
5/ Use Natural ingredients to Clean
Replace harsh chemical cleaners with natural homemade cleaning products. Reduce the number of chemical cleaning agents you use and switch to natural products to keep your home clean and fresh. While this may take fractionally more time and a bit more elbow grease, having a little and often approach will help with making the switch.
So back to toxic toasters. If you are tempted to ditch yours and switch to using your oven grill instead, be sure to keep your oven clean and free of burnt and charred food – all part of the little and often approach.
6/ Try Steam Cleaning
And beware self-cleaning ovens. These work by using extreme heat (500°C) to reduce food remnants to ash by a process called pyrolysis.
Not only can the interior coating of such ovens produce toxic fumes itself, the process of incinerating food debris can produce carbon monoxide. Maybe for this reason, manufacturers recommend that owners and their pets leave the house during the self-cleaning process.
A simple alternative is to remove the grills from your oven and after vacuuming or brushing out the loose debris, put a heatproof tray of water into the base of the oven and turn up to max. Give it a go!
In the meantime, if you are interested in creating a low toxin, healthy home or workplace and need a little help, do get in touch. Sustainable interior design for happy healthy homes is what we do best.