Clearing the Air:

An inside job

by Michael Braunstein

On our list of “first world problems,” we have grown accustomed to the air pollution common to our modern cities. That pollution even extends to smaller burgs and the countryside, presenting real health problems. In a recent Heartland Healing column, we went on about how the air inside our homes and offices is very often two to five times more polluted than the air outside. And we tied that to the statistical fact that average Americans spend over 90 percent of the time indoors. That earlier column gave some general solutions and now we want to get specific. The two major pollutants in our homes are biological and chemical.

(Interesting note: None of the 500 most-polluted cities in the world are in the United States. (Can you say, “Paris Accord”?)**  All, with the exception of one in Bosnia, are either in China, India or the Middle East. In fact, you have to get to the 613th most-polluted city in the world to find one in the USA — Medford, Ore.)*

Let the sun shine in. To keep our inside air as healthful as possible, it’s easy enough to start with the commonsense solutions.

  • Sunlight — Sunlight kills bacteria, not all bacteria, but a good bunch of it. So, unless it’s sweltering out or you work the late shift, there is no excuse for blocking those windows. Broad spectrum sunlight can clean up a lot of the germs.
  • Circulate the good air — If, in most cases, as we noted, the air inside is two to five times worse than the air outside, let some of that old stuff out and the fresh stuff in. Even in winter, crack a window to let some of the good in. Houses breathe. New houses not as well as the old ones, so get fresh air in to mitigate mold and mildew, chemical emissions.
  • Clean up your act — “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is more than a cliché. Eliminating dust, pollen, particulates helps keep mites and other biologicals under control. While you’re keeping your space clean, don’t make it worse by introducing complex chemical toxins to do so.

Say “No” to chemicals. Volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) are toxic chemicals present in everyday items such as household cleaners, fabrics, carpets, paints, clothing, cosmetics and other goods. It is not a trifling problem. The EPA estimates the exposure to these poisons to be five times greater indoors. Benzene, methylene chloride and perchloroethylene from dry cleaning agents are carcinogens. Just don’t bring these things into your home.

I was astonished when shopping for a mattress that I read a disclaimer that it is “common for a new mattress to emit smells that are part of the production process. Sensitive persons should let the new mattress air out for 24 hours before using.” What? And I’m to believe that after 24 hours, if I can no longer detect the chemicals with my nose that the mattress is no longer emitting them? And I’m supposed to spend 8 hours a day lying on that? No thanks. I’ll keep my cotton futon.

Formaldehyde is usually the most common toxic pollutant in the home and is used in permanent press fabrics, carpets, building materials, flooring. It seeps into the air from pressed fiberboard furniture. It’s even in your toothpaste and the vaccination shot your infant got. Every bit of plywood material, including cabinets, paneling, walls and anything made of plywood will emit formaldehyde. It is carcinogenic and one of the greatest of indoor threats, especially because it is so pervasive. Shop wisely.

Dump the non-stick pans, the dryer sheets, the fancy cleaners and anything else that has chemicals.

Green it up. House plants can clean the air. Here are some of the best.

Boston fern — This beauty specializes in removing toxins from your space. It’s one of the best at controlling mold and bacterial growth. They can make it easier to breathe in your bedroom at night by keeping allergens at bay. They are great for kitchen areas and other rooms where moisture is high. Downside is that ferns don’t really like living indoors. (Who can blame them?)

Spider plant — I love these plants ever since I saw my first one growing near the window of a friend’s house at 69 Wood Street in San Francisco many moons ago. Spider plants are hardy and can thrive indoors. Easy to care for and are good at harvesting formaldehyde from the air.

Palms — Any kind of palm is good for the air. Like ferns, though, they aren’t overly fond of living indoors but the return in clean air makes it worth the extra care. NASA tested the areca, the lady palm, bamboo palm and the rubber plant and found them to be tops in efficiency. They can literally take the place of an electric humidifier and recycle air while removing toxins.

Philodendron — If you consider yourself to be minus a green thumb, that you can’t grow anything, the philodendron is the indoor plant for you. Almost impossible to kill and a real workhorse in removing toxins. I have one that I got in 1999 and who knows how long it’s been around before then! They are also expert at filtering formaldehyde and other pollutants. And you can get a cutting for free from a friend and I’ll bet you can start with that.

Just one more thing. Perhaps the dumbest thing a human can introduce to their indoor living space is the modern “air freshener.” They come in all sorts of weird manifestations, often plug-ins. Why would you intentionally introduce unknown chemicals into your lungs? If you want a fresh, pretty smelling home, keep it clean then add a natural fragrance like a pomander or home made potpourri. You know how to google. Use it.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit



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