A healthy home is a happy home

When most people think of pollution, they envision smokestacks puffing clouds of filth, oversized vehicles burning fossil fuels and waste leaching into streams. You might be surprised to learn that some of most common and risky forms of pollution can exist within your own home.

Fumes from cleaners, dust from carpets, air-conditioning units and heaters, mold growing under the sink, pesky palmetto bugs, even pesticides tracked in from the outside can create unhealthy pollution concentrations in the place you and your family feel the safest. And most people spend the majority of their time inside the home, which means high levels of exposure and potential health risks, especially for kids, the elderly and people suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. According to Allen Rathey, president of The Healthy House Institute, "The air we breathe indoors is the No. 1 risk factor for unhealthy homes."

Here's the good news. Unlike those smoke stacks and other outdoor pollutants, you can do something about the air quality in your home. Consider the following tips.

1. Stop Pollutants in Their Tracks
"Pesticides and other harmful substances are commonly tracked in on shoes," said Rathey. To keep unhealthy chemicals from entering your home, use large entrance mats, which can trap the particles and prevent them from spreading across the floors. Or take your shoes off before entering.

2. Suck It Up
Vacuum often, and use a vacuum with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. These filters have been shown to remove as much as 90 percent of particulates in the air. Make sure your vacuum doesn't leak dust, and avoid changing the bag or emptying the canister inside. Mopping hard floors with hot water also helps pick up any particles the vacuum misses, especially if you use a microfiber mop.

3. Chemical-Free Clean
Most people own a different cleaning product for every surface in their home—including glass, countertops and bathtubs. However, most common household cleaners also contain harsh chemicals that contribute to indoor pollution. "Move away from chemistry in cleaning and toward more microfiber and water-based methods, like activated water and steam vapor," said Rathey. And try using harmless household substances to clean, such as vinegar or baking soda, which are just as effective as the chemicals.

4. Bring In Fresh Air
It may feel good to let the air conditioner crank all summer, especially here in the Lowcountry. But opening the windows allows fresh air to circulate in your home and lets any polluted air escape. Another all-natural approach to cleaning the air is houseplants. They look nice, filter the air, and eliminate the need for chemical air fresheners and sprays.

5. Vent Your Problems
Installing a ventilation system in your home is another way to clean the air, and is often a lifesaver if you or a family member suffers from allergies or asthma. "The best approach is to install a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator, which ventilates the home using a fan and energy transfer mechanism so you don't lose heat in the winter or cool in the summer," said Rathey.

Home should be a sanctuary, not a health hazard. When you use these tips to keep your home clean, everyone in your family will breathe a little easier.