Smog report: Cleaning up the air in your castle

A new city-by-city air-pollution exposé ( may have you thinking about strapping on that old scuba gear before heading outdoors. It’s sobering news that one in five people still live in communities with lethal levels of smog and particulate pollution — the toxic soup of chemicals, metals, acids, ash and soot that triggers asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and early deaths. Makes you want to close the windows, bar the door and stay home.

Not so fast. The air in your living room might be worse.

Indoor levels of some pollutants can be two to 50 times higher than levels in your front yard. You probably spend nearly 90 percent of your time inside, inhaling byproducts of everything from household cleaners to emissions from your laser printer.

While we work to detox the outdoor air (drive less, urge lawmakers to enforce clean-air standards), we can achieve it at home. Here’s how to write your own clean-air act.

Ban the No. 1 cause of home air pollution. Yep, you guessed it: cigarette smoke. It’s the single largest source of particulate pollution inside homes. The best way to purify your environment — and take down your risk of lung, cervical and other cancers, heart disease, asthma attacks, wrinkles, even erectile dysfunction — is to keep smokers 500 feet away from you and your home.

Skip air fresheners and spray-on cleaners. Regularly breathing in a volatile organic compound called 1,4 DCB, found in room deodorizers, could reduce your lung function by 4 percent. Use aromas from 100 percent essential oils instead. Inhaling chemicals from furniture and glass cleaners can up asthma risks by 30 percent to 50 percent. In fact, one in seven asthma cases may be triggered by cleaning sprays! Try wipes.

Open shut windows. Whether you live in an ultra-modern shelter or a drafty old farmhouse, you need to air out your castle regularly. Always switch on exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom when you’re cleaning or cooking.

Boot indoor particulates. Inhaling particulates — microscopic gunk produced by everything from burning logs to broiling fish — can leave you wheezing or worse. Keep furnaces in good repair and be sure vents to heaters, clothes dryers and ranges are clean and working properly.

Recruit Mother Nature’s air force. Love live plants? Invite them in. They’ll love you back by boosting air quality. English ivy, asparagus ferns and variegated wax plants all filter out respectable amounts of volatile organic compounds from your air.

Avoid “gassy” decor. New no-iron linens and drapes may release formaldehyde, which can trigger allergies, asthma, nausea, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing. Wash all permanent-press curtains and bedding (clothes, too!) before using.

Doing summer fix-ups? Choose low-emission paints, adhesives, sealants, refinishing products, insulation and more. Fumes from the regular stuff can cause headaches, dizziness and eye/nose/throat irritation long after nasty smells are gone.

The YOU Docs, Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, are authors of “YOU: On a Diet.” Want more? See “The Dr. Oz Show” on TV. To submit questions, go to

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