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Indoor Air Quality

Studies have ranked indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental risks to public health, since many people spend more than 90 per cent of their time indoors. Factors that can increase indoor air pollution include poor building design and maintenance, inadequate ventilation, gases released from household consumer products or appliances and activities such as smoking.

Health effects of air pollution may include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Worsening of pre-existing conditions such as bronchitis, emphysema and asthma
  • Heart attacks, heart failure and other forms of heart disease
  • Premature death

York Region provides the following services related to indoor air quality and other potential health hazards:

  • Investigate complaints relating to mould/indoor air quality issues in schools, child care facilities, public settings and rental housing
  • Inspect seasonal farm worker housing
  • Inspect indoor ice arenas

We also educate the public about air quality and advocate for healthy public policy.

Clean Air at Home – Five Simple Steps

Many harmful pollutants that we cannot always see or smell may be floating in our air at home. Mould, dust, tobacco smoke and fumes from cleaning products are some examples. Breathing these pollutants can seriously harm everyone’s health. Children are at a greater risk of getting sick because their bodies are not fully developed.

Pollutants can bother children’s eyes, nose and throat and cause allergies and breathing problems like asthma. Over time, they can build up in children’s bodies and cause serious health problems later in life.

But the good news is that there are simple, low-cost steps you can take that will immediately start cleaning your air.

Follow these tips on how to:

  1. Control moisture, clean mould
  2. Get rid of dust
  3. Let bad air out, fresh air in
  4. Reduce the use of toxic cleaning products
  5. Keep tobacco smoke out

These small steps make a big difference.

Clean Air at Home guide cover
View the Clean Air at Home guide in pdf format

Step 1: Control moisture, clean mould

Mould at home can cause serious health problems for children.

Mould grows when there is too much moisture in the home from things such as showering, cooking, flooding and leaks. It can grow on fabric, drywall, cardboard and anything else that can hold moisture. Keep all surfaces at home as clean and dry as possible.

Take these steps to control moisture:

  1. Turn on the fan or open a window before you shower and for a few minutes afterwards.
  2. Turn on the fan or open a window when you cook on the stove.
  3. Wipe water droplets off bathroom tiles, windows and other surfaces where water can collect.
  4. Clean up floods immediately and dry the area completely. Throw away all items that cannot be fully dried.
  5. Get rid of clutter in your home.
  6. Make sure the air vent at the back of your clothes dryer is connected to the outside of your home or building.

Take these steps to clean mould:

  1. Scrub small areas of mould with water and mild detergent as soon as you see them. Dry the area quickly and completely.
  2. If you have an area of mould that is bigger than one square meter, plan to clean and fix the problem. Discuss how to fix the problem with your landlord if you are a tenant, or a professional if you own your own home.
  3. If you cannot clean up the mould right away, do your best to keep your children away from the mouldy area.

Step 2: Get rid of dust

Did you know that dust is one of the main sources of children’s exposure to harmful pollutants at home? After all, children explore the world by crawling, touching and putting things in their mouths.

Dust is made up of more than dirt. It can include a mix of toxic chemicals, pollen, pet dander, allergens, dust mites and other pollutants. When children breathe in dust, it gets into their lungs and can seriously harm their health.

Take these steps to get rid of dust:

  1. Clean floors (tiles, hardwood etc.) with a damp mop or cloth, and vacuum carpeted areas at least once a week. Do this more often if you have a crawling child.
  2. Clean surfaces with a damp cloth. A dry mop or cloth doesn’t get rid of dust. It just pushes it back into the air.
  3. Take off shoes and wipe pets’ paws at the door to reduce dirt and dust entering your home.
  4. Get rid of clutter to reduce dust and make cleaning easier.

Step 3: Let bad air out, fresh air in

We may not know it, but many things we do at home put pollutants into the air.

Follow these tips to let bad air out and fresh air in:

  1. Turn on the fan or open a window when you fry, sauté or grill food.
  2. Turn on the fan or open a window when you clean and use products like nail polish or hairspray, and craft materials like glue and paint.
  3. Make sure your air vents are not blocked by objects such as furniture to maintain good air flow.
  4. Make sure your appliances, such as gas stoves, and heating and cooling systems are working properly.
  5. Check your ventilation systems and replace or clean the filters and fans often. The manufacturer’s instructions or your landlord can tell you how often to do this. (Ventilation systems may be found in your bathroom, kitchen and furnace rooms.


  1. If you use an open window to let fresh air in, think about possible sources of outdoor air pollution around your home. These might be heavy traffic or parked cars with running engines. You may want to open the window when car traffic is less heavy.
  2. Carbon monoxide is a harmful gas that can build up in the home. It forms whenever you burn fuel like propane, natural gas, gasoline, oil, coal and wood. It is also contained in second-hand smoke. Never use a barbecue or portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home or garage.
  3. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home and check that the batteries are working.

Step 4: Reduce toxic cleaning products

Many cleaning products we use at home put toxic chemicals into the air and our living space that can cause serious harm to children’s health. These products can be cleaning sprays, liquids and powders, drain cleaners and air fresheners. The good news is that there are effective, simple, low-cost household products that you can use for many types of household cleaning jobs, especially if you use a little extra muscle!

Take these steps to reduce toxic cleaning products:

  1. Use non-toxic cleaning products more often. Consider using non-toxic alternatives such as baking soda and vinegar instead of commercial cleaning products. See the Non-toxic Cleaning and Fragrance Charts below to learn more about using non-toxic alternatives.
  2. Avoid products like cleaners that come in an aerosol spray can. These can leave chemicals in the air longer. Use other types of products instead such as powders and hand pump creams.

Non-toxic Cleaning Chart

For everyday tasks, try using non-toxic products like baking soda and vinegar.

To clean: What you need How to use it

Surfaces and floors


Use a damp mop or cloth to clean floors and a damp cloth to clean surfaces.

Windows and glass

Vinegar or lemon juice mixed with water

Mix one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice with four cups of water. Spray onto surface and wipe clean with a cloth.

Sinks, tubs, tiles, stove top

Baking soda and water

Sprinkle baking soda onto surface, scrub with a wet sponge or a cloth and rinse with water.

Toilet bowl

Baking soda or vinegar

Sprinkle baking soda or pour vinegar into the toilet bowl. Scrub with a toilet brush.


Baking soda and water paste

Do not heat the oven while cleaning.
Put paste on all sides of the oven and leave to sit overnight. Be careful to avoid the heating element. Scoop out the baking soda and wipe clean with a damp cloth. Use a scouring pad for tough spots.


To polish: What you need How to use it


Lemon juice and vegetable oil

Mix one teaspoon of lemon juice with two cups of vegetable oil. Apply mixture to furniture with a soft cloth.


To deodorize: What you need How to use it


Baking soda

Sprinkle baking soda onto rug and vacuum after 15 minutes.


Baking soda

Keep an open box of baking soda inside the fridge.

Note: The products listed in this chart are not disinfectants. It is recommended that you clean and then disinfect areas contaminated with blood or bodily fluid, as well as commonly touched surfaces like door knobs, toilet seats and handles, and bathroom faucets.

“I like my home to smell clean”
Some of us use scented cleaning products and air fresheners like candles, sprays or plug-ins to give our home that clean smell. But did you know that many of these products have chemicals that can pollute your air instead of clean it? These chemicals can cause allergies and make asthma worse.

Non-toxic Fragrance Chart

Your home doesn’t need to have a fragrant smell to be clean! But if you enjoy a fragrance at home, here are some natural options to try.

To fragrance: What you need How to use it

Indoor air

Essential oils* Cinnamon and cloves Potpourri, herbal or floral bouquets

Try one of the following:

  1. Mix water with a few drops of essential oil in a spray bottle and spray into the air
  2. Simmer cinnamon and cloves in water on the stove
  3. Use potpourri, herbal or floral bouquets, or cotton balls scented with essential oil

Cleaning solutions

Lemon Essential oils*

Add lemon juice, lemon peel or a few drops of essential oil into your water and/or vinegar cleaning solution for a fresh smell.

Closets and dressers

Cedar chips or herbs

Place cedar chips, lavender flowers, rosemary, mint or white peppercorns in your closets and dressers.

*Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids that come from plants. They come in many scents like lemon, lavender and grapefruit and can be bought at natural food stores. Read the label before using them and keep them away from children and pets.

Step 5: Keep tobacco smoke out

No amount of tobacco smoke is safe for children to breathe. It has many toxic chemicals that can cause serious harm to children’s health.

It is well known that tobacco gets into the air we breathe. But did you know it also gets trapped in furniture, fabric, carpets, toys and clothes? It can stay on these things in your home and get pushed back into the air for weeks. Tobacco smoke can also stick to your hands, skin and hair even if you smoke outside.

Take these steps to keep tobacco smoke out:

  1. Make your home smoke-free
  2. Don’t allow anyone to smoke in your home
  3. If you smoke, do so outside and wash your hands when you return
  4. Set up an outdoor smoking area away from all doors and windows so others won’t be exposed

Are you concerned that smoke from your neighbour’s place is entering your home? If you are, talk to your landlord or property manager.

For more information:

Smoke-Free Housing Ontario

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