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Your laundry room smells good

Your laundry room smells good
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If your laundry routine consists of scented detergent, fabric softener, and dryer sheets to keep your clothes smelling cosy fresh, you could have a triple whammy of toxins on your hands. “These products with fragrance often contain phthalates or other harmful chemicals, which may cause health issues over time,” says Adler. Look for products with a short list of ingredients that don’t include the words “fragrance,” “perfume,” or “parfum.”

Your kitchen isn’t properly ventilated

Your kitchen isn’t properly ventilated
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If your stove uses gas, you could be raising the level of toxic fumes while you’re cooking without even knowing it. “Carbon monoxide, a deadly gas released from gas stoves and ovens, can quickly build up in your kitchen, especially without proper ventilation,” Adler says. “Some studies suggest that about half of all gas stoves can raise carbon monoxide to dangerous levels.” If you have an electric stove, you’re not totally in the clear either: Some research has found the simple process of cooking can create fumes as well as fine particles that affect indoor air quality. Make sure you use your hood vent (ideally vented to the outside) or open your windows to properly ventilate and avoid the dangerous gasses, Adler says.

You use plastic shower curtains

You use plastic shower curtains
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That plastic-y smell a vinyl shower curtain – or liner – is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs). At high enough concentrations, they can irritate your respiratory tract as well as cause long-term damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “VOCs are released from a wide variety of sources in our homes: flooring, paints, cabinetry, furniture, carpeting, and even vinyl shower curtains,” Adler says. “Swapping a vinyl shower curtain with a polyester one is a simple but effective way to reduce VOCs.”

Plastic shower curtains can also harbour harmful mould and mildew. “Mildew is not necessarily black or brown or grey – it can also be the pink and orange stuff,” says Melissa Maker, founder of cleaning service Clean My Space and host of the CleanMySpace YouTube Channel. “Turn your fan on and let it run for 30 minutes after you get out of the shower.” Also, close your curtain after showering, instead of leaving it scrunched to one side, to let it dry out, Maker says. In addition, another reason to avoid plastic shower curtains is to get one that’s machine-washable.

You don’t use a HEPA air filter

You don’t use a HEPA air filter
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This one measure can improve your indoor air quality immensely. “The EPA has found that indoor air quality can be five to 10 times worse than outdoor air, and poor indoor air quality can lead to or exacerbate respiratory issues like asthma and allergies,” Adler says, adding that air filtration units are a great tool in improving air quality inside the home. In order for it to be effective, however, it should use both HEPA filters and activated carbon filtration: HEPA filters remove 99.97 per cent of airborne particles down to 0.3 microns in size but won’t remove any VOCs like formaldehyde, benzene, or solvents as these are gaseous; for these, you need an activated carbon filter. Here are 7 more ways to improve the air quality in your home.

You don’t clean humidifiers regularly

You don’t clean humidifiers regularly
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You might think that humidifier is making the air healthier, but it may be doing the exact opposite if you don’t clean it out regularly. “Your humidifier can get crusty and mouldy over time,” Maker says, and it could disperse spores into your air. Mould, which the CDC says is linked to respiratory problems, may grow in dirty humidifiers or if water has been left in them. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says to change your humidifier water daily, use distilled water to prevent mineral build-up, clean the machine per the manufacturer’s instructions, and drain it before storing it for summer. Just make sure you’re not using harsh cleaners, as they can end up in the air too when you run the humidifier. If your humidifier has a filter, change that often as per the instructions as well. Find out more about air purifiers and humidifiers here.

You have hidden sources of mould

You have hidden sources of mould
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Mould can also crop up in places where we don’t expect – and can’t even see. “Mould can grow anywhere that water has infiltrated – common places include under sinks, in attics or roofs that have leaks, or any homes that have experienced any degree of flooding or water damage,” Adler says. “The best prevention is moisture control: Keep humidity levels below 60 per cent, install ventilation fans in bathrooms, immediately and thoroughly dry any wet areas, make sure pipes do not leak, inspect and repair gutters, and increase airflow inside the home.”

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Your window air conditioning unit is old

Your window air conditioning unit is old
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Even if you clean out your window air conditioner’s filter regularly, germs can still grow inside the unit itself. “Air conditioners are notorious for harbouring potentially dangerous mould, and bacteria like legionella [it causes legionnaire’s disease],” Adler says. “Unfortunately it’s nearly impossible to properly clean an air conditioning unit once mould or bacteria are present, so the best solution is to replace it with a new unit.” Can you prevent it from growing in the first place? “Not really – ACs are moist and they are breeding grounds for mould,” she says. “They aren’t always easy to clean.” But if you have central air/HVAC, make sure to have the system maintained according to schedule.

Your home has elevated radon

Your home has elevated radon
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Through a natural breakdown of uranium in the ground, radon gas is released. If your home is sitting above those uranium deposits, it can trap the cancerous gas and expose you and your family. You can’t smell or see it, and its health effects usually aren’t evident for many years. Because of this, the EPA recommends testing your home for radon – you can buy kits online or in hardware stores, or hire a certified pro. If elevated radon is found, reduction systems using a vent and fan can be put in place fairly easily to effectively reduce levels.

You don’t filter your water

You don’t filter your water
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Filtering drinking water is essential, Adler says – but to find the right type of filter you’ll need to test your water first; not all filters remove all types of contaminants.

You don’t sanitise sponges

You don’t sanitise sponges
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The kitchen can be one of the dirtiest places in your home – even if you’re good about cleaning it. In fact, your sponge may actually be part of the problem, spreading germs like sickness-causing salmonella. “Clean your sponge between uses by rinsing it really well with soapy water; every so often, soak it for 30 minutes in an oxygen bleach solution, remove it, and let it air dry,” Maker says. “You can also put them in the dishwasher, or the microwave.” One study found that zapping your sponge in the microwave for two minutes killed 99 percent of bacteria. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends cleaning sponges daily; to minimise contamination, use paper towels instead of sponges to clean up raw meat. Maker says synthetic sponges are easier to sanitise than the more porous natural sponges. Whatever you use, remember to swap the sponge out regularly. Along with sponges, here are 10 things you should wash your hands immediately after touching.

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