Woman next to an extremely dusty table.

Legit Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality on a Budget

By Sarah Sumner Kuhn
Published

On the regular, we have concerns about littering, plastic bags, and smog pollution. Of course, these are important. But do you ever think about the quality of your indoor air? Well, we all should. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on average, Americans spend around 90% of their time inside. And the indoors can have 2 to 5 times more concentration of some contaminants than the outdoors.[1]

Whoa…ah-choo!

Improving indoor air quality isn’t just about getting rid of dust bunnies or vacuuming up doggo hair. Although, those are really helpful chores. Poor indoor air quality is associated with health problems from eye and nose irritation to respiratory illnesses and heart disease. Think: Big medical bills later on! So here are some ideas on how to improve indoor air quality, so you can avoid possible healthcare bills in the future. But … what’s lurking in that air? To figure out the best ways to clean up on your air quality game, you should know some of the pollutants that cause problems.

Radon

Radon diffuses quickly outside, so it doesn’t pose much of an issue if you’re outdoors. But when it gets trapped inside, that’s where the big problems begin. No doubt, radon can create a very serious situation. This natural, radioactive gas can cause lung cancer.

The EPA estimates around 21,000 people die from radon-related lung cancer each year. And it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.[2]

Radon Testing

  • The only way to know for sure if your home is harboring radon is by a test. Some local health departments offer tests for free.
  • You can hire a professional to test your house (average cost of $200) or purchase a do-it-yourself kit ($15-25).

How to improve the air

Before I bought my home, the inspector completed a 24-hour radon level test. And ding-ding, high levels of radon were found in my home. It was an easy, but pricey, fix with mitigation. The average cost of radon mitigation is $1,200. (In my case, the sellers paid for it!)

  • Radon mitigation is basically creating a below ground ventilation system.
  • If you have to pay for it, this will set you back several hundred to a couple thousand dollars.

CO

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. When inhaled, the gas molecules dislocate oxygen in the body which leads to poisoning.[3] Carbon monoxide isn’t easy to detect because you can’t smell or taste it. The CDC reports at least 430 people die every year in the U.S. from CO poisoning. And around 50,000 Americans go to the ER each year because of accidental CO poisoning.[4]

Carbon Monoxide Testing

CO poisoning is called “the silent killer” because it’s hard to detect.

  • If general flu-like symptoms like headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and confusion are ailing you or your family all at the same time, immediately leave the home for ventilation.
  • Call 911 ASAP.
  • Arrange for a CO test.
  • You can test for CO with a carbon monoxide detector alarm ($20). I have smoke alarms/carbon monoxide alarms ($36) throughout my house. Remember to charge or replace batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings.
  • You could contact your local fire station and ask if they do free or reduced cost testing.
  • Or do some research on trustworthy inspectors or HVAC companies who will test your home for you.

How to improve the air

The EPA details ways to decrease your contact with carbon monoxide and lower risk before it starts. Any fuel-burning appliances add more carbon monoxide into our homes. To help prevent poisoning:

  • Have a certified technician regularly service your HVAC system, water heater, and coal, gas, or oil burning appliances.
  • Do not run your vehicle in your garage, with or without the garage door open.[5]
  • Make sure gas appliances have proper adjustments.
  • Use correct fuel in your appliances. (Kerosene for kerosene burning appliances, gas for gas burning, etc.)
  • Use an exhaust fan vented to the outside over gas burning stoves.
  • Open your fireplace flue when in use.

Mold

Mold isn’t just common, it can be super harmful to your health. Mold thrives in places with tons of moisture like flooded areas, leaks, pipes and windows. It can make its home on lots of materials like paper, cardboard, insulation, wood, fabric, and more! Gross mold can make its way into your home through windows, vents, and air conditioning systems. But mold spores can also ride in on clothing and pets. And when those spores hit some moisture…game on. Being in contact with mold can affect people differently. Some may have no symptoms. Others may have irritated eyes, stuffed-up noses, wheezing, or skin reactions. And in other people, asthma attacks, fevers, or upper respiratory tract symptoms may occur.[6]

Testing for Mold

  • In general, you’ll be able to see or smell if you have a mold problem.
  • But you can purchase a digital moisture meter ($23) to help detect water damage and aid in prevention of mold.

How to improve the air

Keep an eye out for water damage, water leaks, and any visible mold. If you come across moisture problems, get them fixed.

  • Try to control humidity levels and use proper ventilation when cooking or showering. Exhaust fans ($18), clean vents, and dehumidifiers ($45) are big assets to prevent mold.
  • Remove moldy, porous items from your home.
  • Wood or stone may be scrubbed clean with soap, water, and a brush.
  • Hard surfaces can be washed with dish detergent and water.
  • Make sure surfaces are completely dried.
  • If mold growth is severe, check out professional cleaning businesses near you.

Dust

No one is a stranger to dust. But do you know what it actually is? Dust can be a mix of pollen, soil, tiny organisms, and dead skin cells from animals or humans.[7] Yeah, I went there.

Dust mites are one of the top indoor allergens, and they can make people sick all year long. Eczema, sneezing, stuffed–up or runny nose, irritated eyes, and respiratory problems can be effects of dust allergies.

Testing

Uh, you’re just going to know you have dust. But to see how extreme your dust collection is, you can use a microfiber or Swiffer cloth to wipe down your home.

  • Dust on countertops and shelves, window blinds, fans, and televisions.
  • Carpets, curtains, and fabric furniture can trap dust particles.
  • Pets and people who shed (like myself) add more to the dust bowl.

How to improve the air

Ridding your home of dust may feel like an impossible job, but make these tips a priority to help minimize the effects of it in your house.

  • Purchase a vacuum ($150) with a high efficiency filter.
  • Damp mop or damp cloth dust so the particles aren’t stirred up, just to land on your furniture or floor again.[8]
  • Change your house filters at least every three months.
  • Invest in a HEPA air cleaner ($85).
  • Keep home humidity on the lower side to reduce growth of mites and mold.
  • Try keeping pets out of the house, or at least out of bedrooms.
  • Wash bedding frequently in hot water.
  • Wear a mask when cleaning. It’ll help protect you from allergens.
  • Research professional vent cleaners. The average cost is between $300 - $500, but depends on the size of the home. If you’re getting sick a ton, it might be worth the price.
  • Buy air purifying plants. Per a NASA study, Gerber daisies ($25), the Peace lily ($25), and the Snake plant/Mother-in-Law’s Tongue ($20) can help remove toxins from the air. They’re decorative and healthy!

Breathe easier

Health problems can weigh heavy on our bodies and our wallets. Preventing colds, allergic reactions, and possibly cancers or diseases can save us money and possibly our sanity! Investing in a healthy home could help stave off future health complications. So vacuum and clean often, save up for a high efficiency filter vacuum, watch out for mold and leaks, decorate with some plants, and if something seems off in your home, test the air quality! Oh yes, don’t forget that mask.


  1. Staff. (2018, July 16). Indoor Air Quality. Retrieved from EPA: https://www.epa.gov/report-environment/indoor-air-quality. ↩︎

  2. Staff. (2019, August 21). What is radon gas? Is it dangerous? Retrieved from EPA: https://www.epa.gov/radiation/what-radon-gas-it-dangerous. ↩︎

  3. Staff. (n.d.). Carbon Monoxide Co Poisoning in Your Home. Retrieved from Minnesota Department of Health: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/air/toxins/index.html. ↩︎

  4. Staff. (2020 January 20). Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning Prevention. Retrieved from the CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/copoisoning. ↩︎

  5. Staff. (2020, October 26). Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention. Retrieved from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/features/timechangecodetectors/index.html. ↩︎

  6. Staff. (2020, August 11). Basic Facts about Mold and Dampness. Retrieved from CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm. ↩︎

  7. Staff. (2018, February 2). Dust Allergy. Retrieved from American College of Allergy, Astham, and Immunology: https://acaai.org/allergies/types/dust-allergy. ↩︎

  8. Staff. (2020, July 13). Dust Mites. Retrieved from American Lung Association: https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/dust-mites. ↩︎

Sarah Sumner Kuhn
About
Sarah Sumner Kuhn
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As the youngest of seven children and raised by a single mother, financial security was not a mainstay. My money mindfulness was fueled by fear rather than a desire to be educated or successful. After several years working in retail banking and embracing financial responsibility, I've gained monetary experience that continues to help me grow on the daily.

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