What Are the Most Common Indoor Air Pollutants?

Reviewed on 7/19/2021
major indoor air pollutants
Learn about the most common indoor air pollutants, potential health risks, and how to improve indoor air quality

Many people think of air pollution as being outdoors, but indoor air pollution is a serious problem that is responsible for 3.8 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since most of us spend close to 90% of our time indoors, either at home or in the office, we are exposed to a variety of pollutants that can affect our air quality. In order to take appropriate measures, it’s important to be able to identify major indoor air pollutants, which may include:

What causes indoor air pollution?

Causes of indoor air pollution, where gases or particles are released into the air, include:

  • Burning of oil, gas, kerosene, coal, and wood
  • Tobacco smoking
  • Deteriorating building materials and furnishings
  • Asbestos-containing insulation
  • Damp carpets
  • Furniture made of certain pressed wood products
  • Central heating and cooling systems
  • Home humidification devices
  • Outdoor sources such as radon and pesticides
  • Use of:
    • Unvented or malfunctioning stoves
    • Furnaces or space heaters
    • Cleaning solvents
    • Paint strippers

Inadequate ventilation further exacerbates indoor pollution. When your home is not ventilated properly, indoor air pollutants stay suspended in the air instead of getting pushed out. High temperature and humidity levels can also contribute to indoor air pollution by increasing the concentrations of air pollutants, especially microbes and fungi.

What are the health risks of indoor air pollution?

If you suffer from chronic lung problems such as asthma or bronchitis, exposure to indoor air pollution can increase your chances of flare-ups. Long-term exposure can also be problematic for young children, elderly people, people with poor immune systems, and people suffering from heart diseases.

Exposure to indoor air pollutants can also irritate your nose, throat, eyes, and lungs. More dangerous air pollutants, such as radon and tobacco smoke, can even put you at risk for lung cancer.

How to minimize indoor air pollution

You can minimize indoor air pollution by ensuring that your home is well-ventilated and humidity-controlled:

  • Good ventilation means keeping your doors and windows open, although this may not be always possible if you have allergies or if temperatures are extreme. 
  • Air purifiers can help. Make sure they contain high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters.
  • Regularly check that your air conditioning, ventilation, heating, and humidification systems are functioning properly. 
  • Moisture control is paramount when it comes to controlling mold and bacteria. Indoor humidity levels should be set to 30%-50% so that the mold spores do not germinate.

Other tips for minimizing air pollution at your home or offices include the following:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Regularly check to ensure your gas stove is well-ventilated
  • Get chimneys cleaned regularly to get rid of soot and dust inside the vents
  • Remove carpeting if possible
  • Remove shoes at the door
  • Dust surfaces and vacuum frequently
  • Limit the use of air fresheners
  • Wash bedding once a week, preferably in hot water
  • Have car emissions tested regularly
  • Keep trash covered to keep away pests
  • Test your home regularly for radon
  • Use carbon monoxide detectors
  • Keep exhaust fans operational in your bathrooms and kitchen.
  • Use dehumidifiers
  • Cover scented candles (with a lid)
  • Minimize unnecessary items in your home


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Tran VV, Park D, Lee YC. Indoor Air Pollution, Related Human Diseases, and Recent Trends in the Control and Improvement of Indoor Air Quality. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(8):2927.

The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Guides/Home/The-Inside-Story-A-Guide-to-Indoor-Air-Quality/


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