It’s the holiday season and the malls are filled with shoppers looking for the perfect gifts for family and loved ones. If you are like me, I have a difficult time finding the best gifts. However, when giving a gift to someone who wants to improve indoor air quality, it’s important that the gift will actually help. Many products out there make claims that are not backed up with any science. Let’s take a look at a few.
Himalayan salt lamps
Recently, I noticed that someone had a Himalayan salt lamp in their kitchen. I had to admit that I didn’t know much about it. The name of these lamps pretty much says it all; they are large pieces of salt with a light bulb inside. When turned on they can have a soothing orange glow that can be decorative for any room. Some people like to use them as night lights for their children’s bedroom. However, many companies that sell them make the claim that they have many health benefits due to their creation of “negative ions” into the air. These negative ions supposedly have various health benefits that include increasing oxygen to the brain, reducing indoor air pollution, helping your immune system and curing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Based on a cursory investigation through the EPA and the WHO websites, there is no published scientific evidence to back this up. If you are thinking of purchasing one as a gift, I would recommend buying it for its decorative design only. I would not put a great deal of stock in its healing properties.
You know the old saw that if you were on the “naughty list”, Santa would bring you a lump of coal. Believe it or not, activated charcoal (also known as “activated carbon”) in someone’s stocking might be a practical gift! In addition to being one of the ultimate gag gifts, activated charcoal can be used to absorb certain undesirable odors. Of course, the best way of getting rid of a bad odor is to go directly to the source and eliminating it. However, in lieu of eliminating the source, activated charcoal can be a great band-aid approach for helping alleviate odors with litter boxes, garbage cans, gym shoes, etc… Although it is not the end-all or be-all for all odors, it can be helpful in some circumstances, whether or not you are on the “naughty” or “nice” list and makes for a fun gift.
For indoor air quality gifts, I’m afraid that this would be considered a no-no. Scented candles typically give off elevated levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which could actually pollute the air you breathe. Many people purchase candles made from beeswax which are non-toxic and have a nice smell. But even these can give off lots of small particles, especially when in a jar.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Back in the day when I moved into my first home, I was talked into borrowing a carbon monoxide detector to see if there were any issues with my furnace. After running a few tests, I discovered that I had a major carbon monoxide problem that, if left unchecked, could have possibly killed me if my furnace kept continuously running on a very cold night. I attribute that detector with saving my life. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. Therefore the only way to know for certain if there is a problem is to have CO detectors in your property. If you have multiple levels, have at least one on each floor. Although it may not be the sexiest gift you can give, its life-saving practicality will far outweigh any downsides.
The air that we breathe inside a home has the potential of carrying a wide variety of particles, allergens, and gases that can make us sick. As mentioned before, the best thing that we can do is to go directly to the source and eliminate it. But even after we remove the source, how can we clean the air? The best answer may lie with an air purifier. Portable air purifiers are typically used within a single room and can be helpful in reducing indoor air pollutants. The EPA does advise that when considering an air purifier, it is important to note that they can not remove all pollutants – most are designed to either remove particles or gases, not both.
The EPA reports that “To filter particles, choose a portable air cleaner that has a clean air delivery rate (CADR) that is large enough for the size of the room or area in which you will use it. The higher the CADR, the more particles the air cleaner can filter and the larger the area it can serve. Most air cleaner packaging will tell you the largest size area or room it should be used in. Portable air cleaners often achieve a high CADR by using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.”.
The EPA further states that “To filter gases, choose a portable air cleaner with an activated carbon filter or other filter designed to remove gases. Note that there are no widely used performance rating systems for portable air cleaners or filters designed to remove gases.” https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-07/documents/guide_to_air_cleaners_in_the_home_2nd_edition.pdf
An Assessment from an Indoor Air Quality Professional
If someone you know has a health issue that may be attributed to time spent inside their property and they are not exactly certain what is causing it, we recommend hiring an indoor air quality consultant to assess the situation. Perhaps this is the most thorough indoor air quality gift we could recommend. It is important to hire a consultant who does not have a financial interest in the outcome of the assessment. Otherwise, they may make a mountain out of a molehill in order to sell you a filter or services such as duct cleaning or mold remediation. Make sure that they are accredited and have positive reviews from past clients.
Indoor air quality gifts may not have made your list. But what could be better than giving the gift of clean air and good health? During this season, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday and new year!