Is Your House Making You Sick?
By Sadira Sittampalam
While a lot of our focus on pollutants has been on the outside world, indoor pollution is a very real thing that does affect your health. If you are having continuous headaches, breathing problems or digestive issues, you should consider having a look at this list and pinpoint exactly what could be causing these issues. This list is also handy to put a stop to any of these hazards through prevention.
In a country like Sri Lanka, either you have a well-build house with some pretty naturally cool rooms, have got used to the heat or you have an air conditioner. The problem with air conditioners is that most of them do not pull in any fresh air; it simply filters and recycles indoor air leaving any toxins inside while also leaving traces of water in the ducts. The toxins can include cigarette smoke, radon gas, and mould, cleaning chemicals, volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide. Thus, many homes could have more polluted air than the air outdoors. Air conditioners can also be the main source of mould and mildew spores unless the filters and vents are cleaned very frequently.
Therefore, to improve the air quality in your home, bring in some fresh air by opening windows and doors when possible. Use vent fans to pull out indoor air when bathing or cooking and limit the use of toxic cleaning chemicals. You should also limit (or ban) indoor smoking and get your air ducts professionally cleaned every year.
While you may be one of those people that have a pretty spotless bathroom, there are still a lot of things that can get you sick. Bathrooms are just small spaces that are regularly filled with heat and humidity which promotes mould growth, human body soil and waste and chemicals from personal care and cleaning products. Health hazards lurk on nearly every surface and in the air. The biggest dangers come from, improper cleaning and hand washing that leaves bacterial like E.coli and viruses on surfaces; the use of harsh cleaning chemicals, spray air fresheners, candles and oil diffusers; limiting fresh air; poor water quality and cross-contamination from shared use of towels and bathmats that can spread bacteria and fungi-like athlete’s foot.
So always ensure that you thoroughly clean all surfaces in your bathroom with an appropriate cleaning product and don’t forget to clean those damp bath mats and towels either. After you have a bath, remember to also open the windows to clear out any bad air.
Mould and mildew
From the previous two items on this list, you can see that mould and mildew are some significant problems that you could have in your home but why is it so hazardous? Well, mould and mildew spores are found in nearly every climate around the world, but the spores can grow and multiply to create a colony that can be hazardous to your health in particularly warm, humid environments like bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements. All types of mould are irritants to the respiratory system and can cause some really major problems with those who already have compromised immune systems. Most mould in homes is a surface mould-like mildew, but others can be black or green mould that could penetrate the structure of your home and make it unstable, which is a whole different type of risk.
This is why it is so important to identify and remove mould from every surface of your home. The problem with mould is that it grows anywhere that is damp, so while you might be able to get rid of the mould with some chemical sprays, you need to address the cause of the dampness first, as otherwise, the mould will just keep coming back.
Bedrooms are where we go after a long day’s work to restore our bodies. Unfortunately, they are filled with dangers that can affect both your health and your sleep. The biggest culprit is your bedding. Pillows and mattresses that are not cleaned properly are filled with particles of skin cells that we shed and what feeds on that skin? Dust Mites. These mites often produce a severe allergic reaction for a lot of people. However, more problems can be seen if you are one of those people that skip washing your sheets very often. Over time, your sheets can build up bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli that can cause infections and spread illness.
This is why you should wash your sheets and towels weekly in hot water and make sure they are thoroughly dried. Vacuum and dust weekly to also get rid of them in your curtains and furniture.
The living room
Your living room is probably the room that gets used most by everyone in the house as well as guests. It is a central area for people to gather. However, what we are also gathering and spreading is bacteria. We put up our feet on the coffee table, we eat snacks on the coffee table and leave plates out, we play with pets and we handle lots of remote controls for TVs, speakers etc. The biggest problem here is what you would least expect - the remote control. All of the other activities you do where you get all kinds of contaminants onto your hand are all transferred onto the remote control. Lots of illness producing bacteria and viruses can cling to those surfaces, which is why you should clean them with a disinfectant wipe that has been approved for electronics.
The next problem is outside contaminants and dust. While it is customary to remove your shoes when you enter a house, take the time to remind anyone who keeps their shoes on when they enter that they are only spreading contaminants all over your house when they do that. In general, you should use a good vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly and keep dusting your house to keep any allergens under control.
The kitchen and food handling
Foodborne illnesses are some of the most common health hazards in our lives. For most people, they give a few hours of digestive upset, but they can cause serious problems and even death.
Most of the food we purchase is relatively safe. Most of the issues arise if food is not cooked or handled safely after we get it home. Improper temperatures, storage, washing and cross-contamination are particularly dangerous to children and anyone with compromised immune systems. The best way to deal with this is to check up on all items you buy and see how you should properly store them, in what temperatures and how to clean it appropriately - especially meat items. Every time you use a cutting board (no matter the material) microscopic cuts are formed that can harbour bacteria. This is why you should use separate boards for produce and meats to avoid cross-contamination.
More problems can arise if there are other hazards in the kitchen such as sinks and drain openings that are not cleaned regularly. They can contain various types of bacteria including E.coli. Even cleaning tools that you use can do more harm than good. Sponges and dishcloths can contain more bacteria and therefore, using it to wipe down kitchen counters simply spreads the bacteria further. Dishwashers are always a better alternative to sponges. However, you can simply keep replacing your sponge regularly if you cannot get a dishwasher for whatever reason.