We all know how important air quality is. Pollutants cause heart and lung disease, impair cognition, affect your weight, and even lead to premature death. But, bathrooms are such a small part of your living area. Is the air quality in your bathroom really such a big deal?
The answer is… yes! While bathrooms may be a minor part of your home, they can be a major contributor of pollutants.
What impacts the air quality in your bathroom?
The typically small size of bathrooms can make them easy to overlook as a source of pollutants. But, the truth is bathrooms can actually have some of the worst air quality in your home due to 3 major factors: humidity, harmful gases, and PM 2.5.
Humid air increases the risk of mold and mildew taking hold in your home. The two primary reasons your bathroom may be humid are:
Daily activity: Every time you use the shower, take a bath, or even brush your teeth, you are potentially contributing to the humidity in your bathroom. Water that isn’t wiped down will eventually evaporate, making your air more humid.
Condensation: When warm, humid air makes contact with the pipes and toilet tank, pools of condensation form, making your bathroom more humid.
Cosmetics and Hygiene Products: Bathrooms are often where we store the majority of hair and skin products. These products can release VOCs, or volatile organic compounds. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, including acetone, ethanol, terpenes, and formaldehyde.
Cleaning: For obvious reasons, bathrooms get wiped down and cleaned with cleaning products more frequently than most other rooms. Unfortunately, most cleaning products (both aerosols and liquid cleaners) release an unhealthy amount of VOCs into your air.
Sewer gases: Even regular bathroom usage can result in unpleasant odors. But, if you have any leaks in your pipes, sewage gases may be released into your bathroom causing a more serious problem. Sewer gas contains both toxic and non-toxic gases including methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrous oxides.
PM2.5, also known as fine particles, are particulate matter that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. PM2.5 are about 30 times smaller than a human hair.
While the biggest indoor sources of PM 2.5 are cooking and heating appliances, your bathroom may also contain hidden sources of PM 2.5, including chemicals from cleaning products, building materials, air fresheners, candles, and mold.
What’s so dangerous about PM2.5 and VOCs?
PM 2.5 and VOCs in your bathroom will not only lower the immediate air quality, they can also circulate through the air in the rest of your home.
But is that really such a big deal?
Don’t we all breathe in these pollutants every day with no obvious health issues? How are these pollutants actually affecting us?
Breathing in low levels of VOCs for long periods of time may increase some people’s risk of health problems. People with asthma or those who are particularly sensitive to chemicals may see an increase in symptoms.
Common symptoms of exposure to HIGH levels of VOCs include:
|Acute/short term exposures(hours to days)||Chronic exposures(years to a lifetime)|
|Eye, nose & throat |
Worsening of asthma symptoms
Liver & kidney damage
Central nervous system damage
Because PM2.5 are so small, they are easily inhaled and are able to penetrate deep into your respiratory system.
Short-term issues from PM exposure include eye, nose, and throat irritation, coughing, sneezing, and shortness of breath. Long term exposure to PM2.5 can cause permanent respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. PM2.5 particles also elevate the likelihood of premature birth and infant mortality.
PM 2.5 are so deadly that one recent study called them “the largest environmental risk factor worldwide,” responsible for many more deaths than alcohol use, physical inactivity or high sodium intake. In fact, 4.2 million people die every year from breathing in large amounts of fine and ultrafine particulate matter.
What makes it more confusing is that PM2.5 is rarely the direct cause of death. Rather, air pollution is the world’s 4th leading contributing cause of early death, accounting for:
- 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
- 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection
- 24% of all deaths from stroke
- 25% of all deaths and disease from coronary heart disease
- 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Because indoor air isn’t regulated and PM 2.5 are not typically the direct cause of death, it’s easy to see why their presence in your home air is so dangerous.
How can you improve the air quality in your bathroom?
Regulating humidity and removing pollutants are the best ways to improve your indoor air quality. Let’s look at practical ways to handle both humidity and pollution.
Turn on the fan when you use the shower or bath
Fans are great at pulling moisture out of the bathroom and venting it outside. They work best when you turn them on before you begin washing and leave them running for about 20 minutes after you turn the water off.
Open the window
The more ventilation in your bathroom, the better. Opening the windows while you shower or bathe allows the moist air to escape so that your bathroom does not become overly humid.
Keep things dry
Wipe away any moisture on bathroom surfaces immediately so that mold does not have an opportunity to grow. Hanging your wet towels outside the bathroom can also help minimize moisture buildup.
Warm Up Your bathroom
Condensation needs a cold surface on which to form. Keeping your bathroom warm before showering will minimize condensation.
Use a dehumidifier
A dehumidifier works by drawing warm air currents into its coils and then releasing drier air back into your home. A good dehumidifier should be able to bring the moisture in the air down to a relative humidity of 30 to 50 percent.
Fix Underlying Issues
If your bathroom consistently has humidity issues, it’s probably best to consult a plumber to make sure that there are no leaks or more serious water issues.
As we’ve seen, both particulate matter and VOCs in your bathroom can affect your health and lower the air quality in the rest of your home. So, what’s the most effective way to remove these pollutants?
Because outdoor air is generally less polluted than indoor air, bringing in outdoor air can often help improve your air quality. Opening windows and doors and using fans vented to the outdoors can all increase ventilation. However, it’s important to note that if your home faces a busy highway, is near wildfires, or in a densely populated urban area, outdoor air may bring in additional pollutants.
The most effective way to maintain consistently good indoor air quality is to use an air purifier. But, all purifiers are not the same. Some purifiers, like those that emit ozone, can actually make your indoor air worse. Your best bet to remove both PM2.5 and VOCs from your bathroom is an air purifier with a combination of True HEPA filters and activated carbon filters.
With a high-quality air purifier, you can be sure that you and your family will be breathing air that is healthy and free of pollutants… in your bathroom and throughout the rest of your home.