Fresh Air

A Breath Of Fresh Air by Emily D

A human being can go three weeks without food, about three days without water and roughly three minutes without air. Humans consume proportionally more air than any other substance (water, bananas, toast) which means the quality of air we take in is an important factor to well-being.

Outdoor air pollution is pretty easy recognize: we see vehicle exhaust, and industrial pollutants with the naked eye. In contrast indoor air has been shown to be 2-5 times as contaminated as outdoor air in some places, and indoor air is often much more stagnant. Being aware of the causes of indoor air pollution is important. Even more important is learning how to improve you and your loved ones exposure to clean air – indoors and out!

In this article, you’ll learn about common causes of indoor air pollution, a few environmentally friendly alternatives and how this aligns with the Moksha Pillar, Be Green, from my experience of working at Moksha Yoga Burnaby.

What Causes It

The main cause of indoor air pollution comes from materials that are off-gassing. Also know as “out-gassing,” this refers to the release of chemicals from various substances under normal conditions. Normal conditions means this is happening all the time. For example formaldehyde, which evaporates from paint, has a boiling point of only 19 degrees Celsius.

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. These organic chemicals are numerous and varied, and include both human-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds. Inhaling these chemicals or absorbing them through the skin and mucus membranes can be harmful.

Harmful chemicals in our indoor environment include: ammonia (a powerful irritant), chlorine (a respiratory irritant), phthalates (fragrance) which are endocrine disruptors, triclosan (an aggressive antibacterial agent that can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria) and sodium hydroxide (lye) which is extremely corrosive. These compounds not only affect you if you are in close contact, but they will most likely get flushed into the drain and end up in the local water supply and eventually our rivers and oceans.

Many examples of off-gassing exist in our homes; some actually surprising. Like that new mattress, fart jokes aside, nighttime gas in the bedroom is not cool and it’s actually coming from polyurethane foam! Some seem kind of obvious, like the use of chemical surface cleaners that come with a 3-page booklet of hazard symbols more confusing than Ikea instructions. Some seem to be out of our control, like the VOCs coming off that sweet shade of ivory paint used in the bach pad you just moved into.

Some other common items include:

Dryer sheets – Despite having cute fluffy, squishy bears on the pack, these are not your friends. These products add VOCs, like chloroform and phthalates to fabrics and clothes that are then off-gassing close to your body all day long.

Air Fresheners – Oddly enough these products are actually designed and marketed with the intention to put chemicals in the air. Phthalates are hormone-disrupting chemicals that can be particularly dangerous for young children and unborn babies. Exposure to phthalates can affect testosterone levels and lead to reproductive abnormalities. The State of California notes that five types of phthalates—including one that is found in air freshener products—are “known to cause birth defects or reproductive harm.”

Carpets – Not only have materials that are off-gassing, but they are a haven for mites/mold/ mildew. All of these factors affect allergies, and air quality. See if you can switch to an easy to clean hardwood, or invest in a hypo-allergenic vacuum. Also a great excuse to dance around to Katy Perry in your underwear!

Household Cleaners – all full of VOCs… sorry to break it to you but despite that sparkly smile, Mr. Clean is a liar. Baking soda & vinegar are equally effective cleaners, and don’t come with all the health risks – plus over time, you’ll definitely be saving some cash!

Candles – Regular paraffin candles are petroleum-derived and can release chemicals like benzene, toluene and soot into the air. These types of candles do more harm than good for indoor air quality. Instead, choose pure beeswax candles, which burn with almost no smoke or scent and clean the air by releasing negative ions. These negative ions can bind with toxins and help remove them from the air. They can also remove common substances like dust and dander. This is helpful for people who have asthma or allergies.

What are some remedies

How many people go out into nature and the first thing they do is take a deep breath? I know one of the first things I say when I get outdoors after some time in the city is always along the lines of “it smells so friggin’ GOOD out here!” That’s a pretty solid clue that plants are one of the best ways to support cleaner indoor air conditions. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and use light & water to change CO2 into breathable, filtered oxygen. Indoor plants absorb VOCs from the surrounding air and take them, unchanged, into their root system where they are broken down by the root and soil microbes.

A study by NASA indicates that house plants can significantly improve indoor air quality. You can download the scientific report here. A user-friendly info-graphic is here. The recommendation from NASA is to use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in a 1,800-square-foot house.

  • Aloe Vera – this sun-loving succulent helps clear formaldehyde and benzene. Plus it helps to heal burns and cuts.
  • Spider Plant – battles benzene, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide. Very resilient and it produces runners (smaller plants) that can be transplanted.
  • English Ivy – reduces airborne fecal-matter particles. So get that one in the loo asap!
  • Snake plant (also called “Mother in Law’s Tongue”) – “This plant is one of the best for filtering out formaldehyde, which is common in cleaning products, toilet paper, tissues and personal care products. Put one in your bathroom. It will thrive with low light and steamy, humid conditions while helping filter out air pollutants.
  • Warneck Dracaena – combats pollutants associated with varnishes and oils.
  • Heart Leaf Philodendron – is a workhorse for removing all kinds of VOCs
  • Peace Lily – this plant tops NASA’s list for removing all three of the most common VOCs (formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene)

Clean air around the house

Here are some alternative options for the off-gassing culprits found in many homes:

Choose an eco friendly mattress made from a variety of quality materials like natural rubber, latex, or organic wool and cotton. A less costly option is to use a mattress protector made from the materials listed above, to create a barrier between you and the yucky foam.

Instead of dryer sheets use felted fabric balls or cedar balls. Added to the dryer, they aid in moisture absorption. Add a few drops of essential oil to one of these and boom, you’re going to rock some sweet smelling sheets.

Salt Lamps are made from Himalayan salt crystals. When lit, the lamp emits negative ions that fight against positively charged particles that typically cause you to feel stuffy and sluggish. The lit salt crystal clears the air naturally of allergens like smoke, pet dander, pollens, and other air pollutants. It dilutes odors so that you can breathe easier. People with asthma often find it helpful in reducing their symptoms. You can keep the lamp lit for as long as you like to maintain this purifying effect. They are also a beautiful light source!

Using essential oils to clean your house is not only effective, but you also benefit from the aromatherapy of the oils used. Eucalyptus purifies the air, but also aids in focus. Lemon oil disinfects, deodorizes and also invigorates.  You can even get playful and make all- purpose cleaning spray. Try something like a vinegar and water mixture with oils of Peppermint, Lemon, Wild Orange, or try Thieves Oil.

Thieves Oil is an essential oil blend, based on a story from around the 15th century, when the bubonic plague was running rampant through Europe and Asia. Four thieves from Europe were notoriously robbing the infectious dead bodies of all their possessions. The thieves, miraculously, never contracted the highly infectious plague and this led to deep inquiry in court after they were caught and charged. The court offered them a deal: their secret for a reduced sentence. Taking the deal, they told stories of their herbal knowledge and the powerful medicinal properties of plants. The specific herbal blend that they had created, concocted from aromatic herbs, was highly effective in killing all of the airborne bacteria. Some of the stories told speak of it in a vinegar form, while others talk about a blend that was in a mask over their faces. In 1997, Weber State University did a study that found the Thieves Essential Oil blend to have a 99.96% success rate at killing airborne bacteria.

Moksha Pillars: Be Green, Be Healthy

I went from working in a print shop (read: bleached paper, hot plastic laminates) to spending days at Moksha Yoga Burnaby. Moksha Pillar Be Green took precedence when making build out decisions.

  • Low VOC paints are used throughout the building.
  • Hempcrete is used as wall material, both inside the hot rooms and out.
  • Diffusers are in every space. These work much like Salt Lamps – releasing negative ions, as well as Eucalyptus oil that keeps the air clean!
  • There’s a cool symbiotic relationship between the studio and the plants which I’ve come to love and appreciate. They thrive from all the humidity that wafts through after each class, and students drink in the clean air – which is especially noticeably after a rocking Moksha class and everyone comes out with deep breath awareness.
  • The cleaner, Benefect, which all Moksha/Modo studios use, is an essential oil based botanical antimicrobial which kills over 99.99% of bacteria. The difference between this and other chemicals is that microbes do not build up tolerance or resistance to essential oils. This means we can keep mopping up sweaty rooms without having to increase product usage or bring in a harsh chemical!
  • We use a handmade, all natural laundry detergent (find me later for the recipe, and yes it uses essential oils).
  • As well, the old BS & V (baking soda and vinegar) solution to clean pretty much all surfaces.

Breathe Clean, Breathe Healthy

On average we spend an about 80-90% of our time indoors – between work, home, and recreation. Take a look around your home, at the materials that you’re in contact with everyday that could be causing your lungs some heartache. Is there anything you could change-up or products you could update? Make your list, ask Siri how to take care of a Peace Lily, and then head outside for a breath of fresh air!


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