Any closed room becomes stuffy. If that same room then has a gas heater or new paint, carpets or furniture, it is also likely to be filled with a range of undesirable gases.
Air out rooms during the day, and then leave doors or windows open a crack when possible, and when they are being used.
Extractor fans are a must in the kitchen, laundry and bathroom. They will help to remove gases, create airflow and help keep moisture down, avoiding mould.
Where possible, make sure rangehoods vent air to outdoors, or if you have a recirculating model, have the filters changed regularly according to the instructions that come with your appliance.
Indoor plants look awesome, but they also help to clean the air. Even NASA agrees – they've studied plants for use in totally closed environments. Many of them don't just generate oxygen, they can also help to clean toxins from the air. Try one of these in your house:
Make sure you have at least one carbon monoxide alarm in your home. These work much like smoke alarms – when levels get dangerous you'll receive a warning sound.
When you're selecting any products, from paint to carpet, cushions to cupboards, read the label for information on levels of VOCs (see below) and formaldehyde. If there's no information on the product, check the company webpage.
What are VOCs?
VOCs, volatile organic compounds, are often talked about, but little understood by most of us, so we asked Dulux interior paint expert Josh Plautz to explain.
“VOCs are relatively small molecules that can be present in many consumer products, including paints and coatings. When you walk into a freshly painted or renovated house, often the odours you're picking up are the result of VOCs coming from materials. Over time they'll diffuse and be vented to the outdoors,” he says.
What are low-VOC paints?
“A low-VOC coating is carefully formulated to avoid the use of VOCs, meaning they won't be present in the first place. The change has mainly been made possible by the switch to water-based paints. This means you can get back to using rooms faster and your family has lower exposure to these chemicals – great news if you want to avoid unwanted chemicals or have any sensitivity to odours.”
Shopping for a new vacuum cleaner? Look for models with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter, which traps all sorts of nuisance dusts and materials.
Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ chief executive Letitia O'Dwyer says HEPA filters are among the best you can get. “Machines without HEPA filters are more likely to recirculate fine dust back into the air through their exhaust vent,” she explains.
“However, while filters catch most of this, some air can bypass them, and vacuuming itself can raise particles into the air that won't get sucked into the vacuum.” She advises that people sensitive to particulate allergens don't do the vacuuming, and don't enter the area for at least 20 minutes afterwards.
Regularly use microfibre or damp cloths to collect dust from surfaces, especially from forgotten spots such as windowsills and skirting.
And say goodbye to that old feather duster, too. “Feather dusters are perfect for hard to reach nuisances like cobwebs, but also stir dust up into the air, leaving it to resettle a few minutes later,” says Letitia.
“An electrostatic duster or dry cloth can have the same effect and will be better for your air quality.”
For hard floors such as timber or tiles, she recommends using a damp, electrostatic or steam mop to prevent stirring up dust.
Remember to clean or replace filters and screens in vacuums, rangehoods and extractor fans, and switch to low-VOC cleaning and bathroom products.
Use granulated moisture-absorbing products to reduce damp and humidity in areas with poor air circulation such as wardrobes.
Bedding and towels can harbour various allergens and dust mites. Make sure they are laundered at least weekly and use a hot wash. If skin allergies are an issue, switch to fragrance-free laundry products.
Invest in a good-quality air-purifier. Their effectiveness depends on a range of factors, including the size of the room and conditions.