Home pollution making you sick?

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A truck spewing exhaust prompts many of us to hold our breath when it passes by on the street. But when it comes to pollution, your own home might be just as insidious.

People spend 90 percent of their time indoors, and your home can be two to five times as polluted as the air outside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Poor indoor air quality can cause health problems such as asthma or sinus issues. And a lot of those problems are triggered by what is in your house, including cleaning products, furniture and carpets.

Mold grows as a result of too much moisture, dust mites set up camp in pillows and mattresses, and outdoor grime and pollution are tracked in on your shoes. So what can you do to minimize your exposure?

Consider these home-improvement tips:

Check your ventilation. Moisture results in mold, particularly in the bathroom. Test your bathroom's ventilation fan by placing a sheet of paper against its vents. If the paper sticks, the fan is strong enough. If not, the motor might be old or the ducts may need clearing.

Keep dry. Make sure the crawl space is maintained and dry, that rainspouts are directed away from the house's foundation and that the ground is graded to drain away from the foundation.

Buy a good vacuum. Air-quality experts dislike carpeting in general, but if you have carpeting, use a vacuum with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter and a dirt sensor, a light that lets you know when all the particles from a patch of carpet are vacuumed.

The fewer cleaning products, the better. Castile (vegetable oil) soap, vinegar and baking soda will take care of most cleaning duties. The Washington Toxics Coalition Web site (www.watoxics.org) has information on toxins in the home, and Green Seal (www.greenseal.org) evaluates household products for their environmental impact and toxicity.

One easy way to reduce toxins is to pick cleaning products without hazard warnings on them.

Prevent lead paint exposure. Homes built before 1978 generally have lead-based paints, which produce lead dust when they chip.Wipe down surfaces in your home weekly with a lightly dampened cloth to minimize dust.

Watch out for the fireplace. Wood-burning fireplaces are probably one of the biggest pollutants in your home. Fires spew carcinogens and carbon monoxide into the air, and wood smoke damages lungs.

Eliminate dust mites. Dust mites like warm, moist places, such as pillows, but also live in furniture. Vacuum upholstered furniture, buy covers for your mattress and pillows and wash your sheets weekly in hot water. The water must be 130 degrees to kill dust mites, so if your water heater is set lower, increase the temperature about an hour before doing your laundry.

Change filters. The EPA recommends changing filters on central heating and cooling systems and air cleaners according to manufacturer recommendations. If instructions are not available, change every month or two.

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