Boosting Air Quality for Baby

Simple steps to make your home healthier for your little bub--and your whole family

baby nursery with crib

When you become a parent, the simple act of breathing takes on a whole new meaning. Watching your baby's tiny chest rhythmically rise and fall and listening for a comforting exhalation on the baby monitor are two habits you're likely to pick up before you've even realized it. But what about the quality of the air he's breathing?

Concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs, a variety of chemicals emitted from many common household items) are up to 10 times higher indoors than out, even in areas with significant outdoor air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Children and adults spend the bulk of their time indoors, where pollutants such as VOCs, lead, dust and radon concentrate; and all of them can have shortand long-term health effects, including kidney, liver and nervous system damage. But with a few easy precautions, you can improve your home's air quality and breathe easier knowing that your whole family is healthier for it.

Clean floors for cleaner air

Wipe your feet on a doormat or remove your shoes at the door (instruct guests to do the same) so you don't track in contaminants such as animal feces, lead, dust or pesticides. At least twice a week, vacuum carpets using a vacuum with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) filter and mop bare floors. Instead of installing new wall-to-wall carpeting, which can emit VOCs, flame retardants and other harmful chemicals, choose an eco-friendly flooring alternative.

Freshen air naturally

Open your windows for at least five minutes a day to let polluted air out and cleaner air in. And, let your green thumb have free reign: Some indoor plants have been proven to remove indoor plants. Bamboo palm, ficus, common chrysanthemums, marginata, spider plants and peperomia are good options. Use natural herbs and essential oils to freshen the air instead of scented candles or air fresheners, which have been linked to infant diarrhea and headaches in adults.

Keep humidity low

High humidity can promote mold growth, and mold is a respiratory irritant that can cause allergies and asthma. Repair leaky plumbing and seal cracks in basement floors and walls. Open a window or turn on the exhaust fan when showering and cooking. Place dehumidifiers or air conditioners in damp rooms, and clean and replace the filters regularly. Try to keep the humidity level in your home between 30 percent and 50 percent; many dehumidifiers have a built-in hygrometer that gives readings.

Avoid products with synthetic fragrances or perfumes, strong fumes and toxic ingredients

Use nontoxic or less-toxic substitutes for synthetic pesticides, chemical cleaners and renovation products. Hang/dry-cleaned clothes outside or in a well-ventilated area before bringing them inside. Purchase hardwood furnishings or seal new cabinets and furniture built from pressed woods with a nontoxic sealer. Buy used items, which are likely to have already offgassed their most potent fumes. (Buying used also helps the Earth by conserving resources and keeping things out of the waste stream.)

Put safety first

Install carbon monoxide, radon and smoke detectors throughout your home. Make sure all combustion equipment (anything that burns a fuel) is well maintained and regularly inspected for safety; combustion pollutants can enter the home from furnaces, water heaters, stoves, space heaters and clothes dryers. And don't let anyone smoke in your house: Cigarette smoke contains about 4,000 chemical agents, including more than 40 known to cause cancer, according to the American Lung Association.

These simple steps should help you and your family breathe easier. For more, consult the Indoor AIRepair newsletter from the nonprofit Allergy & Asthma Network,

Do you need an air purifier?

If anyone in your family suffers from allergies and/or asthma, consult your doctor to see if he or she recommends using an air purifier. Some good options:

MINUSA2 SPA-700A BY RABBIT AIR, Includes a custom filter with three choices: Toxin absorber, germ defense or pet allergies.

PARALDA BY ALEN, Filters out harmful bacteria, pollen and mold while reducing energy use; it also does not contain lead (some air purifiers do).

500 AIR PURIFIER BY AIR OASIS, Captures dust particles, allergens, mold, bacteria, odors, viruses, VOCs and more.