By now you know smoking ruins the air in your home and can render it fatal to some. And even though you probably don't always follow the advice you know you are supposed to wash all your bedding and blankets at least once a week in hot water to kill dust mites.

But do you know many of those popular air "fresheners" are actually air polluters, that you should let dry-cleaned items air out for a few days before bringing them inside your home and that some air "cleaners" actually emit ozone, a potent lung irritant?

Bad indoor air quality at home can ruin your day, not to mention your quality of life -- especially if you have asthma or allergies -- but you can easily clean it up with a few lifestyle changes.

There is help.

A new Internet-powered assessment can give your home's air quality the once over and let you take a test to determine if you are taking the necessary steps to improve the air you breathe most.

The American Lung Association's new online Indoor Air Quality Assessment and its partner Test Your IAQ Knowledge exam are two of the latest examples of how the Internet's information technology can ferret out specific information tailored to meet household needs.

Indoor Air Quality Assessment

The lung association's air quality assessment walks you through a series of questions designed to create a sort of air quality profile of your home based on its age, type of home, location and your living habits.

Chances are, the assessment will confirm information you already have, but it's just as likely it will unearth clean air facts you missed.

For example:

  • You may need to change the way you clean. Dust mites are everywhere and they trigger allergic reactions from sneezing to asthma attacks. A central vacuum cleaner vented to the outdoors is best, but a vacuum cleaner with a microfilter bag or High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter helps remove allergens too. When possible, swap out washable reusable heating and air conditioning filters for washable electrostatic filters that are more effective at capturing small particles that can get trapped in your lungs. Wash the filter at least monthly, more frequently for high pollution conditions, say, during building construction or renovation.
  • Hard surface floors like wood, tile or linoleum are easier to clean than carpeted floors. Real hard wood flooring is a better deal -- when it comes to breathing easy -- than engineered wood products used in flooring which can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Paint and use other finishing products with reduced or no VOCs will lower the amount of chemical emissions introduced into the home.
  • Wool or feather stuffed bedding attracts more dust mites than synthetics. Damp mopping or using a damp cloth to clean hard surfaces at least once a week is a better approach than "dusting" which just stirs up the mites and other particles.
  • From cleansers to pet shampoos, some household cleaners leave behind harmful chemicals or give off gases that can irritate or harm your lungs. Read the small print on lables before purchasing any household chemical, including health and beauty products and air "fresheners." If it has an Environmental Protection Agency number, the product is classified as a pesticide but that doesn't mean it's safe. Labels like "organic" and "natural" do not mean a product is safe for everyone.
  • The best way to freshen air is to clean up the source of odors and ventilate, such as running bathroom exhaust fans. Add ventilation when you use household products indoors. Run fans that exhaust to the outside, such as those in the kitchen or bath, or open windows and place window fans to the blow air out.
  • Relative humidity higher than 50 percent helps not only mold and dust mites thrive, but cockroaches too.
  • All combustion appliances that burn gas, oil or wood emit carbon monoxide and other dangerous gases. Properly installed appliances vent the fumes outside, but you should have a carbon monoxide detector in your home, like smoke alarms, installed as close to sleeping areas as possible.
  • With some pointed questions, the lung association's assessment also "checks" your home for radon, ozone emitting air "cleaners" and lead. It explains how to test for radon, suggests avoiding ozone emitting air "cleaners," no matter how minute the emissions, and warns about the dangers of lead, not just in paint in your home but in soldered items, stained glass making, antique furniture and other seemingly innocuous items.

Test Your IAQ Knowledge

You can use your assessment to bone up on your indoor air quality knowledge before taking the test or you can take the test in a closed-book session to determine what you need to know.

You probably know less than you think.

For example:

  • The air inside your home, where you spend most of your time, can be two to five times more polluted than air outdoors.
  • If someone in your family has allergies or asthma, it's important to encase their mattress and pillows in dust proof or allergen impermeable covers and replace wool or feather-stuffed bedding materials with synthetic materials.
  • Dust mites feed on skin flakes. Clean up one yuck and you get the other.
  • Don't be so quick to turn off that noisy exhaust fan in the bathroom or kitchen. It helps remove both moisture and air pollutants. Install a quiet, low-energy model.
  • Adding a whole-house air filtration and ventilation system (like the so-called Energy Recovery Ventilator) is like giving your home a set of lungs. The system provides your home -- the hearth -- with a continuous supply of fresh, filtered air.
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