Our homes are supposed to be a safe haven where we can rest and renew to face an outside world of dangers and stress. Unfortunately, there are hazards in your home that you may not even see that can be making you sick.
If you are having headaches, breathing problems, or digestive upsets, take a look at these 11 things that may be causing your problems. Even if you are not sick right now, all of these problems should be addressed if you have small children or anyone living in your home with a compromised respiratory or immune system.
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Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew spores are found in nearly every climate around the world. But in warm, humid environments, like our bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements, the spores can grow and multiply to create a colony that can be hazardous to your health. Most mold in homes is a surface mold like mildew, while others can be black or green mold that will penetrate the structure of your home making it unstable.
All types of mold are irritants to respiratory systems and can cause huge problems for those with compromised immune systems. That's why it is so important to identify and remove mold from every surface of your home.
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Air Conditioning and Heating
In our quest for comfort, most homes use a central heating and cooling system (HVAC). And, to keep the cost of using the system, we've made our homes more energy-efficient by sealing leaky doors and windows. While this is ideal for our wallets, it can be hazardous to our health especially for those with respiratory illnesses.
HVAC systems do not pull in the fresh air, it simply filters and recycles indoor air leaving any toxins inside. These can include cigarette smoke, radon gas, mold, cleaning chemicals, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide. In many homes, indoor air can be more polluted than the air outdoors.
For homes that use room air conditioners, they are often sources of mold and mildew spores unless the filters and vents are cleaned frequently. Fireplaces and space heaters also emit particles that are irritants to respiratory systems.
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.
- Limit the use of toxic cleaning chemicals.
- Ban indoor smoking of any type.
- Install an air-to-air heat exchange system.
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Bathrooms are small spaces that are filled with heat and humidity that promotes mold 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 health dangers come from:
- Improper cleaning and hand washing that leaves bacteria like E.coli and viruses on surfaces.
- Cross-contamination from shared use of towels and bathmats that can spread bacteria and fungi like Athlete's Foot.
- The use of harsh cleaning chemicals, spray air fresheners and limiting fresh air.
- Poor water quality
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Your Living Room
The living room or family room gets lots of use by everyone in the house and guests. We snack there, play with pets there, put our feet up to rest there, and handle lots of remote controls to control entertainment systems. It's a place to gather and share everything, including bacteria.
One of the biggest culprits in the living room are those remote controls. Does everyone have clean hands? Lots of illness-producing bacteria and viruses can cling to those surfaces. Take time to clean them with a disinfectant wipe approved for electronics.
The next biggest issues are outside contaminants and dust. Having everyone remove their shoes at the door will prevent outside problems from entering. Using a good vacuum with a HEPA filter regularly and dusting often will keep allergens under control.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Bedrooms are where we retire to rest and restore our bodies. Unfortunately, they are filled with dangers that not only affect your sleep but also your health.
The biggest culprit is your bedding. Pillows and mattresses that are not cleaned properly are filled with particles of the skin cells we shed and the dust mites that feed on that skin. The mites can produce a severe allergic reaction for many. Sheets that are not washed often and correctly contain bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli that can cause infections and spread illness.
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Foodborne illnesses are among 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.
While some of the food we purchase is not safe, most of the issues arise if food is not cooked and handled safely once we get it home. Improper temperatures, storage, washing, and cross-contamination are particularly dangerous to children and anyone with compromised immune systems.
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In addition to food safety, there are other hazards in the kitchen as well. Sinks, drain openings, and garbage disposals that are not cleaned regularly are a petri dish of bacteria of some type of coliform bacteria including E.coli.
Each time you use any type of cutting board, microscopic cuts are formed that can harbor bacteria. It is particularly important to use separate boards for produce and meats to avoid cross-contamination.
Even the cleaning tools you use can do more harm than good. Sponges and dishcloths can harbor Salmonella and E.coli and using them to wipe down kitchen counters simply spreads the bacteria. Proper and frequent cleaning is a must.
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An attached garage can cause problems if solvents, paints, pesticides and automotive products are stored there. Leaking or corroded containers cause the chemicals to react with the air and become less stable and more corrosive. Any opened containers should be stored in a ventilated space that is not connected to your living spaces.
Carbon monoxide from fuel combustion is undetectable to the nose and is a silent killer. If cars are running in the garage or tools that burn petroleum fuels being used, keep all doors and windows open to increase airflow.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Harsh Cleaning Chemicals
Harsh cleaning chemicals can be caustic to the skin, cause breathing issues, and are dangerous for pregnant women. The use of some chemicals, like mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia, can result in toxic fumes that can cause death very quickly.
If you must use a strong product, always follow directions carefully, open windows, and use a fan to increase airflow. Opt first for more natural cleaning methods that are far less toxic to humans and pets.
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Older Building Materials
Fortunately, we've learned a great deal about the dangers of home building materials. However, if you live in an older home it is vital to be on the lookout for older, unsafe materials.
Nearly all homes built before 1940 contain lead paint. As long as the lead paint is not chipping or peeling and has been coated several times with latex paint, it is safe. Do not try to remove or sand down lead-painted surfaces without proper protective ventilation masks.
Lead plumbing pipes: Lead from old pipes will leach into water systems and can cause poisoning. Children and those with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable.
Vinyl flooring: In homes built before 1972, most vinyl tile flooring contains asbestos. If this flooring is cracked or you attempt to remove it, asbestos is released into the air.
Asbestos: Asbestos wasn't banned from home building materials like insulation until the late 1970s. If the material is still in good shape and not crumbling, it is not particularly dangerous. The problems come when it is damaged or removed and the particles fly into the air. Consult a professional before removing any asbestos.
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Wall-to-wall carpet is comforting in a bedroom or living space but it is also a bacteria and dirt magnet. For those with allergies, the dust, dust mites, pet dander in the carpet can cause breathing issues and skin conditions. Hardwood floors with washable throw rugs produce many fewer irritants.
New carpets emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from preservatives like formaldehyde that can be toxic causing respiratory problems and nosebleeds.
Carpet should be vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum and professionally cleaned regularly.