Are There Pollutants in Your Home?

Most people assume their home is a very safe environment compared to public spaces or a work environment.  They believe that there is less risk of being exposed to hazardous pollutants because they have complete control over their home. 

Unfortunately, some recent research demonstrates that the home can be filled with pollutants including toxic chemicals and bacteria.  This article will examine the kinds of pollutants that you may find in your home and what you can do to remove them.

Poor Air Quality in Homes

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently posted an article describing the poor quality of indoor air in most homes.  They suggest that the air quality within many homes can be more polluted than the outdoor air in large industrialized cities!

Maintaining a clean indoor home environment is very important because most of us spend a significant amount of time there.  After all, we sleep, eat and relax in our homes for many hours each day.

Poor indoor air quality occurs when particles and gasses become trapped in a home.       Ventilation can help remove those pollutants by venting them outside, but a thorough cleaning regime is also required.

Materials like carpet, curtains and furniture are very effective at trapping particles which are then released over time.  Dust, bacteria, diet mites and other debris will gradually accumulate and gradually worsen your home’s air quality.

Other materials which may worsen the air quality in your home include:
  1. Combustible materials including oil, gas, coal and wood
  2. Building materials that are breaking down and releasing particles into the air
  3. Chemicals relating to household cleaning, personal care or hobbies
  4. Contaminants in your home’s cooling or heating systems
  5. Pesticides and outdoor air pollution that becomes trapped in your home
  6. Gas which is released from recently manufactured items

Pollutants in Vacuum Cleaners

vacuum pollutants

Carpets are notorious for harboring pollutants including dust, dust mites, hair, pet dander, dirt, bacteria and mold.  Most homeowners vacuum their carpets regularly in the hope of removing these pollutants.  Unfortunately, domestic vacuum cleaners may not be particularly effective and can even become hosts to bacteria.

Researchers from Australia tested 21 vacuum cleaners made by 12 different manufacturers for their ability to collect and hold dust particles.  They found that every vacuum cleaner released some fine dust particles and bacteria into the air.

They found that the newer and more expensive vacuum cleaners released fewer pollutants into the air compared to older vacuum cleaners.  The research was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Scientists believe that bacteria can stay alive inside of a vacuum cleaner for as long as 8 weeks.  The dust particles that vacuum cleaners stir up can also act as allergens, which aggravate allergies and health conditions like asthma.

Pollutants in Carpet Cleaners

Another common way in which pollutants enter the home is via cleaning chemicals.  When homeowners use chemical carpet cleaners, they may not fully understand what they are being exposed to.

Off the shelf cleaners can include toxic substances like perchlorethylene and ammonium hydroxide.  Perchlorethylene is suspected of causing cancer and ammonium hydroxide can cause irritation to your eyes, respiratory system and skin.

Pollutants in Your Carpet

Even new carpets can bring some hazardous pollutants into your home.  New carpets may  contain volatile organic compounds that are gradually released over time.

These compounds can include formaldehyde, styrene, ethyl benzene, benzene, toluene, and acetone.  Carpets often usually these chemicals because they have been treated with chemical flame retardants, pesticides, and stain protectants while in the factory.

The largest release of these substances typically occurs in the first few days after the new carpet has been installed, however scientists suspect residual levels may continue to be released for years. 

Many homeowners are choosing to use “green” carpets which do not emit potentially dangerous chemicals.  There are carpets available which use natural fibers and do not use chemicals in the manufacturing process.

As your carpets get older, other pollutants begin to build up, including years of accumulated dirt, dust mites, pet dander, urine, food, feces, chemical cleaning products, and pesticides.  The only way to deal with these pollutants is through regular cleaning.

Reducing The Number of Pollutants in Your Carpet

If you decide to have carpet in your home, there are a few steps you take to make it as safe as possible:

  1. Choose a carpet that is made from a natural fiber like wool, coir, jute or hemp
  2. Choose a carpet with a Green Label Plus certification
  3. Buy a high-quality vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
  4. Only use non-toxic cleaners like vinegar and water
  5. Make people take their shoes off before entering your home
  6. Have your carpet professionally steam cleaned regularly, using environmentally safe cleaners



The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality | Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) | US EPA. (2016). Retrieved 3 May 2016, from

Knibbs, L., He, C., Duchaine, C., & Morawska, L. (2012). Vacuum Cleaner Emissions as a Source of Indoor Exposure to Airborne Particles and Bacteria. Environmental Science & Technology, 46(1), 534-542.