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5 Common Indoor Air Pollutants and What to Do With Them

leaves near a vent

When you hear the phrase “air pollution” what comes to mind? For many, it’s images of factory smokestacks or smog hanging around congested downtown areas. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution can be 2 to 5 times worst than outdoor air pollution. Since Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, this poses a serious public health threat if left unaddressed. 

One of the best ways to prevent or reduce indoor air pollution is to stay informed about what can be hanging in the air within your home. As certified HVAC contractors, we know a thing or two about indoor air quality. Here is our list of common air pollutants to look out for and what you can do to minimize them. 

What is the Danger of Indoor Air Pollutants?

Before we jump into the different kinds of pollutants to look out for, let’s review why indoor air pollution is so detrimental for you and your family to ignore. Associated health issues tied to poor indoor air quality run the gambit. Symptoms can present as mild respiratory irritation or as severe conditions like respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer. The more severe health complications typically affect infants, children, older adults, and those with cardiovascular or respiratory diseases. 

5 Common Indoor Air Pollutants

There are many different types of pollutants that can find their way into your home. Some can come from the air outside, some come from household products, and some are produced within the home. Here are 5 of the most common indoor air pollutants to look out for: 

Carbon Monoxide 

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that’s produced by any piece of machinery that burns fossil fuels. Common sources are vehicle exhaust and gas furnaces. In concentrated amounts, carbon monoxide can deplete your body’s oxygen supply. Exposure can result in headaches, dizziness, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, and sometimes death. 

If you have a garage that’s attached to your house, carbon monoxide could sneak into your home – especially if you tend to leave your vehicle idling in a closed garage. Heating systems that are not properly maintained are another potential source. 

You can easily avoid carbon monoxide in your home in a few simple steps. A combination of proper ventilation in your garage and home, as well as regular HVAC maintenance, can minimize carbon monoxide levels in your house. You can also install a carbon monoxide detector to avoid any health-related issues when a leak occurs. 


Radon comes from trace amounts of uranium naturally found in the ground. Houses that are built in accordance with local and international building codes should have adequate protection against radon. But older homes and homes that aren’t built under these stringent conditions could be at risk of having high amounts of radon present. 

It’s normal to have trace amounts of radon within a home. While any amount of radon can be dangerous over time, the EPA states that homeowners should take action when levels reach radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L. Action is vital because concentrated exposure could be a cancer risk. 

Anyone buying a home should test for radon before moving in. If you live in a house that’s at least 30 years old, you should also have it tested for radon levels. If you live in a high radon area, it might be wise to invest in a radon detector and a radon-reduction system in the basement. 

Cigarette Smoke

Particulates from cigarette smoke never really leave the indoor space. Even if you don’t smoke inside, these particles can travel inside and get stuck inside. While proper indoor ventilation can help, these particles are really difficult to remove. 

Over time, cigarette smoke can clog up your HVAC filter faster. If left unattended, this can exacerbate your HVAC system and cause serious damage to the system. The best way to deal with this pollutant is to keep up with filter replacements. Do so at least every 6 months.  

Lead Particles

Lead is a toxic metal that has been banned from household products, particularly paint. As time goes on, lead particles will find their way into the air and linger as suspended particles. 

Lead has been known to cause a number of health problems, from brain damage to birth defects. Luckily, the worst cases of lead poisoning happen primarily through contact with contaminated soils or other materials.

If your home was painted before 1978, make sure that you and your children stay away from chipped paint. A good way to reduce the number of lead particles in your indoor air is to repaint. Ask your contractor about encapsulants. It can be applied to old paint and acts as a protective layer over lead-based paint.

Mold and Mildew

Mold and mildew grow in dark and moist areas. Bathrooms, crawlspaces, basements, and attics are all common places where mold may grow. If you experience water damage and don’t address it promptly, you’ll likely be met with a mold outbreak. 

In high concentrations, mold and mildew can trigger allergies and respiratory problems. Those in sensitive groups, such as individuals with respiratory diseases, are at a higher risk of encountering adverse health side effects as a result of mold exposure. 

A properly-sized air conditioning system can dehumidify your home, making your home less hospitable for mold. You can further control indoor humidity by properly venting moisture from the kitchen and bathroom.

Other Pollutants to Look Out For 

  • Asbestos
  • Biological Pollutants
  • Formaldehyde
  • Nitrogen Dioxide 
  • Pesticides
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • Wood Smoke

Improving Your Indoor Air Quality 

One of the best ways to improve your indoor air quality is to keep up with filter replacements. Your filter works to remove harmful particles from the air as it circulates through your HVAC system. It captures pet danger, car emissions, VOCs, mold spores, and so much more. But if you don’t change it out every 6 months, it can’t do its job properly. This can lead to poor air quality and issues with HVAC efficiency. 

To learn more about how to reduce indoor air pollutants or if you would like to know more about our HVAC installation services, call WM Buffington Company today. We can inspect your system and see if it’s helping or hindering your indoor air quality! 


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