Photo of House Guests Dressed for Winter

Although the air feels crisp and fresh outside during this time of year, did you know that winter indoor air quality is actually at its worst?

In the warmer months, we’re a lot more relaxed about having open windows and doors when we’re at home. This allows cross ventilation of air to occur and keeps indoor air quality fresher and free of stale, stuffy air.

As the temperature outside starts to drop, however, we do everything we can to tightly seal up our homes so that precious heat doesn’t escape. While this is great for staying warm, it comes at the expense of lowering the air quality inside.

If you’re not careful during the winter your home can become filled with airborne contaminants and irritants that can drastically affect your health.

To help shine some light on this matter, we’ve put together a list of the most common things you’re bringing home this season that cause winter breathing problems without you even realizing it.

1. Holiday Decorations

Once the holiday season approaches, there’s a mad dash to get our homes decorated with Christmas lights and other festive decor. But, the truth is that these decorations may be hurting the air quality inside your home.

If you’re like most of us, you store your holiday decorations in an unfinished basement, attic or garage. For about 11 month out of the year these items are sitting in poorly ventilated areas that tend to collect layers of dust and microscopic mold.

Bringing these decorations up to your living quarters and removing their contents causes these contaminants to freely distribute throughout your home. These irritants lower the air quality inside and may eventually cause you to experience breathing problems and/or feel sick.

Keep all of this in mind as you’re decorating for the holidays. To cut down in indoor contamination, the best thing you can do is take all of your decorations outside and clean them off before bringing them indoors.

Additionally, adding an air purifier to your home will help remove dust and mold particles before they have a chance to enter into your lungs. This short article explains how to choose the best air purifier for dust allergy control .

2. Christmas Trees and Seasonal Lights

Placing a real Christmas tree inside your house can also cause winter air quality problems. It’s often that these trees contain mold spores, pollen and pest remnants that trigger allergy symptoms.

As the winter season passes, the quality of your air degrades with a Christmas tree indoors. Researchers discovered that mold spore levels can increase up to five times the normal level within a two week span (source WebMD.)

If you cherish the idea of having a real Christmas tree in your home, here are some steps you can take to reduce its contaminants.

  • Clean the trunk thoroughly with water and bleach before bringing it indoors.
  • Use a leaf blower to get rid of as much pollen and an surface particles as possible before you bring it in the house.
  • Set the tree up later in the season and dispose of it as soon as possible. Mold spores increase the longer it sits in the home.

If you set up seasonal holiday lights around the outside your home, just remember that these items also collect mold, dirt and grime throughout the winter season.

When bringing lights and other outdoor decorations back into your home, make sure to store them separately from interior decorations. Putting them in a tightly sealed container is the best option.

That way the harmful particles that have attached themselves to the outdoor items don’t contaminate your interior decoratins and end up inside the home next year.

3. Air Fresheners and Candles

Lighting candles and spraying a festive air freshener are two simple ways people make their homes feel more cozy during winter.

Unfortunately, these things are notorious for worsening the air quality inside your house.

Air fresheners produce a large amount of airborne contaminants that irritate the lungs, nose and throat, as well as leave a residue of particles around the room that can be stirred up later.

Candles, while pleasant, emit smoke and that smoke doesn’t just disappear. Over time, the particles collect on furniture, carpets, drapes, etc. and are get reintroduced into the environment and eventually end up in your lungs.

A few alternatives to air fresheners and candles you can use this winter to keep your home smelling nice include:

  • Simmering a pot of lemon, rosemary and vanilla on the stove. This aroma will make your whole house smell amazing.
  • Creating decorative cinnamon stick candles that you don’t light.
  • If you can’t do without lighting a candle, try a DIY orange peel candle instead. It stays lit for hours and smells like citrus.

4. Visitors and House Guests

When you’re welcoming house guests this winter the last thing on your mind is air pollution.

But whether you realize it or not, these visitors may be making the air inside your home a lot worse than you might think.

Even if you do have your guests take off their shoes before entering the house, a multitude of other contaminants may still be on their way in.

Chances are that your visitors are not keeping as tidy of a home as your are, which means that their home environment is filled with harmful particles. And, these particle collect on their clothing, luggage and other materials that they bring into your house.

While it would be silly to make your guests change clothes as soon as they get through your front door, three things you can do to minimize winter indoor air pollution include:

  • Have guests remove their shoes at the door.
  • Take the coats of visitors and place them in a closet or closed room.
  • If a guest is staying over, immediately put their belongings in a closed room.
  • Use an air purifier to collect any particles that made their way inside on your guests’ clothing. Here’s a great article on how to find the best room air purifier for allergies.

5. Dogs, Cats and Other Pets

If you have pets that only stay indoors, then you’re a step ahead of most people for having better air quality at home this winter.

However, if your pet has free range to come in and out as it pleases, or you take your dog or cat on frequent walks, then the air quality you’re breathing inside is at risk.

Similar to visitors and house guests, your pets also collect contaminants on their hair from the outdoors and bring these irritants inside. Mold, pollen and other allergens stick to their fur, and eventually end up on your floor, couch and furniture, which can cause all sorts of winter breathing problems.

Deciding to keep your pets inside as much as possible is one way to cut down on winter indoor air pollution and potential breathing problems. Additionally, bathing your pets on a weekly or bi-weekly basis will keep your home as contaminant free as possible.

For those of you who are also looking to get rid of pet dander around the home, here are 5 simple ways to get rid of pet dander that actually work.

6. New Furniture, Cabinetry and Carpeting

With the wintertime comes the holidays and with the holidays comes great deals.

Whether it’s Black Friday, Cyber Monday or some other special holiday event, businesses are always looking for ways to make a sale during the winter season. This is especially true for home furnishing stores and it makes perfect sense for people to use this time of year to make new interior upgrades to their houses.

If this is the case for you, be aware that certain furniture and carpet materials are built and treated with chemical agents that can reduce indoor air quality. If you have allergies you’ll be more notably susceptible to these irritants.

Things like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also used in furniture cushioning and carpet backings, and harm the air quality inside the home. As well, certain wood materials and cabinetry include pressed wood that can harbor VOCs, mold and dust mites. VOCs health effects can range from mild to very serious, depending on how much concentration is inside the home.

Before making a purchase of this kind this winter, find out if the manufacturer discloses what chemical agents and materials the household  items are made with. If you can opt for a safer alternative, this is the best route to go, otherwise just know that your home may be at risk for air quality issues.

To be safe, an air purifier is good thing to have around the home in order to minimize the harmful impact of contaminants that are released by these furnishings.

7. Firewood

A lot of people rely on firewood to heat their homes during the cold winter months. Others, just enjoy a cozy fireplace and burn wood for aesthetic appeal.

Keep in mind, however, that the firewood you bring inside your house may contain harmful mold particles or insect remnants. And, when burned it can affect the winter indoor air quality you breathe by releasing toxins into the air.

Additionally, the smoke that’s produced by firewood can also become trapped inside the furnishings that are in the room, which lowers the air quality around you considerably.

As we’ve mentioned throughout this post, an air purifier is the best option for removing irritating particles from the air. It’s also a great way to neutralize smoky odors while continuing to enjoy a wood burning fireplace. If you’re interested in simple home remedies to tackle smoke odors, check out our post for home remedies for getting rid of smoke smell.

If you depend on firewood to heat your house or just like to use it for supplemental heat, you may be interested in learning about other ways for How to Conserve Heat in Your Home (and Save Money) This Winter.