Quick fixes for unhealthy indoor air

ConsumerReports.org

As temperatures fall, windows and doors stay shut, leading to stale, pollutant-prone indoor air. In fact, indoor air is often more problematic than the air outside, even for people living in smog-ridden, traffic-choked cities. But there are simple ways to mitigate the effects without going to the expense of a whole-house air purification system.

Vacuum regularly. This is one of the best ways to eliminate dust, dander, mold, mildew, and other allergens in the home. The models that do best in Consumer Reports' vaccum Ratings, from brands such as Kenmore, LG, and Miele, suck up particles from carpets and bare floors without releasing them back into the air. It's also a good idea to encase your pillows, mattresses, and box springs in dust-mite-proof covers, and wash very dirty or dusty laundry in the hottest water.            

Buy a humidifier. This portable device can relieve itchy eyes, sore throat, and cracked skin by keeping humidity levels in the home between the optimal 30 and 50 percent. You can spend hundreds on an expensive model, but in our humidifier Ratings, top performers from Crane and Safety 1st sell for $50 or less.

Maintain heating equipment. An annual inspection by a professional heating and cooling contractor is recommended. If your home has a forced-air system, you should also change the filters monthly during the heating season. Think twice about paying for duct cleaning, since it's rarely worth the cost, and in fact the industry is rife with scams.

Check the ventilation. Exhaust hoods or fans in the kitchen and bathroom will reduce your exposure to the volatile organic compounds that result from cooking, cleaning, and even using hair spray and nail polish. If you plan to paint over the winter, check our Ratings for an interior paint that contains the lowest level of toxins.

Consider an air purifier. If, after following all the above advice, you're still concerned about pollutants, you might think about an air purifier. These devices do especially well at filtering pollutant particles such as dust, tobacco smoke, and pollen. Our top-rated portable air purifier, the Whirlpool AP51030K, does a very good job for $350.

—Daniel DiClerico

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