What is indoor air pollution?
Indoor air pollution includes dust, dirt, or gases in the air inside buildings. This can be at home, work, or school. Indoor air pollution can be harmful to breathe in.
Many common indoor air pollutants are small enough to get into the lungs and can make the symptoms of your lung condition worse.
Types of indoor air pollution include:
Who can be affected by indoor air pollution?
Anyone can be affected by indoor air pollution. If you live with a lung condition, you’re more likely to be affected by poor air quality as your lungs are more sensitive. Not everyone has the same reactions to indoor air pollution.
If you have a severe lung condition you might find it harder to move around, so may spend more time indoors. This means you may have more contact with air pollutants like cigarette smoke, cleaning products or mould.
Children are more at risk from poor indoor air quality, as their lungs are still developing. Children’s airways are smaller, so inflammation caused by indoor and outdoor air pollution can cause them to narrow more easily than adults.
Heating your home
Cost of living
We know that the cost of living crisis is affecting people across the UK. Find out how to get help with heating costs.
Wood burning stoves and open fires
Burning wood and coal on a stove or open fire releases particulate matter (PM). This can irritate your nose and throat and make you cough. If you have a lung condition, you might find your symptoms get worse.
In the long term, your risk of getting lung cancer and conditions like asthma is also increased from breathing in smoke from burning coal or wood.
Burning wood on stoves and open fires releases more PM air pollution than road traffic in the UK. If possible, you should not use wood burners, especially if you have a lung condition.
Burning wood and coal also adds to outdoor air pollution.
Central heating is a safer, cleaner option than open fires or wood burning stoves. It also helps to avoid sudden temperature changes when you’re going from a warm room to a cold one. Central heating can still give off some pollutants, especially if it’s an old boiler, or hasn’t been serviced for a while.
If you’re using central heating, try to keep your home well-aired, especially if you’re drying washing indoors. Drying your washing on or near radiators creates a warm, humid environment where dust mites and mould can thrive.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that can kill you within a few hours. It has no smell or taste. It’s created when fuels like gas, oil, coal, or wood don’t burn fully. Putting a carbon monoxide alarm in the same room as your boiler, cooker or wood-burning stove could save your life.
If you rent, your landlord legally must fit your home with a carbon monoxide alarm.
Remember to have all your gas appliances such as boilers, cookers and fireplaces checked annually. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has more information about gas safety.
If you have mild carbon monoxide poisoning, the first symptom you might notice is a headache. You might also notice flu-like symptoms, but without the temperature.
If many people in one building get flu-like symptoms without a temperature, then there could be a carbon monoxide leak – so act immediately. Switch off all gas appliances and open all windows. Call the gas emergency number 0800 111 999 or the Health and Safety Executive Gas Safety Advice Line on 0800 300 363.
Gas and electric cookers release particulate matter (PM) into the air you breathe. If you use a gas cooker, the most important thing is to keep the room aired when cooking by using an extraction fan and opening windows. The PM released can make symptoms of your lung condition worse.
Electricity is seen as the cleanest energy to use for heating and cooking, as it releases fewer particles than gas. You may want to consider switching to an electric cooker if possible - especially if you have a flare-up of your symptoms from using a gas cooker.
Smoke and vapour
Cigarette and cannabis smoke in your home can remain at harmful levels for up to five hours. Breathing in this smoke may cause your nose or throat to get irritated, and you might cough or have trouble breathing too. We have more information about why smoking is bad for you.
Vapour from e-cigarettes
The vapour from e-cigarettes is thought to be less harmful than tobacco smoke. But some people with lung conditions can be sensitive to it, and it can be an asthma trigger. Find out more about the effects of second hand smoke and vaping on children.
Scented candles and incense
Scented candles and incense give out particles and other pollutants when they burn. Incense sticks give out over 100 times more fine particles than scented candles. There is also evidence linking incense burning to some lung conditions, so try and avoid using these regularly.
Candles are much less of a health risk - but some fragranced candles may contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Try using an extractor fan or opening windows while burning candles, if possible. It’s a good idea to light candles in well-aired, large spaces instead of smaller spaces like bathrooms. You might also want to use battery-operated candles instead.
Sprays and aerosols
Chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in many everyday products.
Often these are products with strong smells and perfumes. This could be household cleaning products like furniture polish, air freshener, carpet cleaner, or oven cleaner. Or personal products like body sprays, perfumes, nail varnish and hairstyling products.
Products containing VOCs, particularly those in a spray, can cause irritation to your lungs and may increase your risk of developing an allergy or asthma. If you live with a lung condition, your airways are more likely to be irritated.
VOCs are not always clearly labelled on cleaning products, so it’s best to look for chemical-free or allergy-friendly products.
Find out more about improving your air quality at home.
Some furniture in your house may contain a VOC called formaldehyde.
You may find VOCs in carpets, furniture, shelving and flooring. Some people say the smell of a new sofa or soft furnishing sets off their allergies or makes their asthma worse.
Products containing formaldehyde should be clearly labelled according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
Painting and decorating
Some painting and decorating materials such as varnishes, glues, paints and paint strippers contain VOCs.
Some decorating products have a ‘globe’ symbol on the packaging. This tells you what level of VOC is in the product.
If you’re having building work done that is causing dust, you should try and avoid being in your home. The dust can trigger symptoms of your lung condition.
If you have a lung condition, you may find certain building materials trigger your symptoms. Building materials such as asbestos and radon are a serious risk to your lung health.
The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products has suggestions for safe, environmentally-friendly building products.
Asbestos is a risk to lung health. It has been banned in the UK since 1999, but older properties may still have asbestos in them.
Before we knew about the dangers of asbestos, it was often used in buildings for insulation, flooring and roofing, and sprayed on ceilings and walls. Breathing in asbestos fibres can lead to lung conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.
If you find asbestos in your home, make sure you don’t disturb it. If it’s damaged, get it removed by professionals. We have more detailed information on what to do if you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos.
Fibreglass is a type of building insulation. Like asbestos, if you move it, or break it up it gives out dust which can be easily breathed in. Fibreglass is safer than asbestos, but it still comes with risks. It can irritate the airways, and if you have a lung condition and breathe it in, you may find your symptoms get worse.
If you have fibreglass in your home, don’t touch it. If you need to come into contact with it, wear a mask and protective clothing.
Radon is a natural radioactive gas that comes from rocks and soil in granite areas. You can’t see it or smell it. Certain areas of the UK have higher levels of radon. The radon level in the air we breathe outside is very low, but it can be higher inside poorly aired buildings.
High levels of exposure for long periods of time may put you at risk of developing lung cancer.
If your home is built on ground with a higher level of radon, you can take measures to reduce it. Find out more at UKradon.
Indoor radon often varies from building to building. If your home is affected, UKradon has a tool to help you decide if you need to reduce the level and how.