What Causes Air Pollution at Home

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In Brief: What Causes Air Pollution at Home

Sources of air pollution at home include – exhaust from vehicles, factories, power plants, cooking and heating, VOCs, dust, paints, household appliances, fuel burning, tobacco smoke etc

A number of factors and activities can result in indoor air pollution which can cause a range of negative effects on our well-being and health.

If you are trying to understand what is indoor air pollution and how it is caused, you have come to the right place.

This article will explain what is indoor air pollution and what are some of the common reasons/sources which cause it and how indoor pollution can have a bad effect on health.

What Causes Air Pollution at Home

The phenomenon of lowering of air quality inside indoor spaces due to the presence of pollutants is known as indoor air pollution.

Indoor air pollution can result in a number of health problems.

People who get exposed to indoor air pollutants for long periods are often those most at risk of the adverse effects of indoor air pollution.

Sources that release gases or particles into the air are the major cause of indoor air pollution.

Source of PollutionMajor Pollutants Contained
Exhaust from vehicles. Factories, and power plantsContains gaseous as well as particulate pollutants.
Gaseous pollutants: Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and sulphur
Particulate pollutants: Smoke
Chemicals and VOCsacetone, xylene, formaldehyde, benzene, etc
Heating and cookingCarbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, smoke
Candles and incenseCarbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, VOCs
Copy machinesNitrogen and ozone
Tobacoo Smoke/Secondhand SmokeTobacco smoke contains over 7000 substances and many are carcinogenic.
Some of the harmful contents in tobacco smoke include: nicotine, carbon dioxide and monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene, etc.
Carpet fumesOrganotins, Permethrin, Formaldehyde and Brominated flame retardants
DustSloughed-off skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic.
Pollutants from air purifiers and pesticidesOzone
Pesticides contain a large variety of dangerous chemicals.

Chemicals and VOCs

The large variety of household chemicals we use to clean and decorate our homes can contain chemicals VOCs – volatile organic compounds- which can cause indoor air pollution.

VOCs evaporate into the air when we use them or sometimes even while they’re being stored. Some examples of VOCs are acetone, xylene and formaldehyde.

Detergents, furniture polish, air fresheners, carpet cleaners, oven cleaners, pesticides and fungicides, paints and paint strippers, varnishes, glues, etc can produce VOCs

Studies suggests that exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of developing an allergy or asthma.

Heating and Cooking

Cookers, heaters, stoves and open fires may release pollutants into your home. Inhalation of any kind of smoke is harmful for health.

Heating and cooking can release both particulate matter (PM) pollutants as well as gaseous pollutants into the air.

PM includes microscopic particles of dust and dirt while gaseous pollutants comprise of gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, etc.

Exposure to these pollutants can lead to lung and heart disease.

Vehicles, burning of fuels, power generation

The major sources of air pollution in modern times are vehicular exhaust and pollutants released into the air from factories, power plants etc.

These activities release both particulate pollutants like smoke and gaseous pollutants like oxides into the air.

Such activities can be seen as external activities which can ultimately result in indoor air pollution as the air inside buildings does not remain isolated from the outside surroundings.

Candles and Incense

Candles and incense sticks may also emit particles and other pollutants when they burn and can negatively affect health.

Evidence suggests that exposure to pollutants released by these sources may lead to lung disease. SOo high levels of exposure should be avoided.

A single candle in a living room can also substantially increase the particle concentration in the air while it’s burning, but over a 24-hour period, the increase is minimal.

Copy Machines and Other Office Equipment

Copying machines and printers can affect air quality.

A study suggested that employees in photocopy centers stand at an increased risk of heart disease, and several studies showed a link between photocopiers and sore throats, skin irritation, asthma, and other health problems.

The fact that copy machines emit several toxic gasses, like nitrogen dioxide and ozone might explain this.

Certain laser printers can also be potential health hazards.

They emit tiny particles small enough to enter the human bloodstream by burrowing deep within our lungs. This may damage your lungs and heart.

Tobacco Smoke/Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning of tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars or pipes and the smoke exhaled by smokers.

Secondhand smoke is classified as a Group A carcinogen by the EPA. It contains more than 7,000 substances. Secondhand smoke exposure commonly occurs indoors, particularly in homes and cars.

Secondhand smoke could be deadly. Since 1964, the CDC estimates that a quarter of a billion nonsmokers have died from health problems related to secondhand smoke exposure.

The health effects of secondhand smoke on nonsmoking adults and children are harmful and numerous.

Secondhand smoke causes cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), lung cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, and other serious health problems.

Carpet Fumes

When a new carpet is installed, it may release chemicals from its vinyl backing and from the glue used to fasten the carpet to the floor. This release of chemicals is known as off-gassing.

A study suggested that carpets may release chemicals such as organotins, permethrin, formaldehyde and brominated flame retardants.

Some of these chemicals have been associated with headaches, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and asthma-like reactions.

Pollen and Dust

Pollen is another potential source of indoor air pollution. They may be produced by indoor as well outdoor plants.

Pollen may enter indoors through winds and air currents. Although naturally occurring pollen can be considered as a particulate pollutant.

Pollen can produce allergic reactions in many people, especially children and in asthmatic people.

Common household dust is a mix of sloughed-off skin cells, hair, clothing fibers, bacteria, dust mites, bits of dead bugs, soil particles, pollen, and microscopic specks of plastic.

Two-thirds of household dust comes from outside, in the form of dirt stuck in on feet, and airborne particles like pollen and soot.

Dust is also an indoor pollutant as it can trigger allergic reactions in many and can worsen asthma.

Gaseous Pollutants

The major gaseous pollutants are oxides of carbon (CO2,CO), nitrogen (NO2), and sulphur. A variety of human and industrial activities can release these chemicals.

Burning of fossil fuels, biomass, mining, agriculture, flying of aeroplanesetc can release these gases into the air. Once released into the air these gases can easily enter indoor spaces.

Carbon monoxide is created when fuels like gas, oil, coal or wood don’t burn fully. Continued exposure to this gas can kill you within a few hours. It reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

Indoor Air Pollution from Air Purifiers and Pesticides

Some air purifiers might also cause air pollution in indoor spaces. Devices that generate ozone when used as air purifiers can cause air pollution.

Certain ionizers, ozone generators and electrostatic precipitators may release ozone.

When the ozone emissions by these devices go above the values suggested by public health standards they can be quite harmful as ozone can cause damage to the respiratory system, irritation, asthma etc.

Exposure to pesticides can occur through the normal use of sprays, strips filled with pesticides, and foggers.

Exposure can also occur after using contaminated dust.

Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, muscle weakness, and nausea. Some pesticides may cause cancer.


How does indoor air pollution happen at our house?

Sources that release gases or particles into air are the major cause of indoor air pollution. In short a variety of things as well as activities can cause indoor pollution. Some of it include smoking, pesticides, cooking and heating, air fresheners, deodorants, pollen, burning of fossil fuels, vehicular pollution etc.

What are the symptoms of bad air quality in the home?

Bad indoor air quality can result in a range of health problems. Some potential effects of bad indoor air quality include (but are not limited to): coughing, difficulty in breathing, sneezing, allergic reactions, skin dryness, irritation, headaches, nausea, bad sleep, dust build-up, unpleasant odor, hot and cold spots, etc.

What are the major sources of air pollution?

There are multiple sources and reasons for air pollution. Some of the major sources of air pollution in modern times are: vehicle exhaust fumes, fossil fuel based power plants, exhaust from industrial factories and power plants, agricultural and construction activities, natural causes (eg; volcanoes, pollen, dust etc).


We hope that this article has helped you in creating a clear picture of indoor air pollution and the various factors and activities which cause it.

If you have further queries or doubts regarding indoor air pollution and its causes, please mention them in the comments section.

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