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Enhancing Home Air Quality Through Appliance Choices and Maintenance

Enhancing Home Air Quality Through Appliance Choices and Maintenance

Air pollution is a major concern, especially with the risk of respiratory conditions in cities with heavy traffic, and the impact of carbon emissions on climate change. We look at this bigger picture and sometimes forget about the indoor air quality within our own homes. A build-up of internal emissions and chemicals in the indoor environment can lead to serious health issues.

One way we can make a difference and improve the health of our loved ones is to consider the role of appliances in maintaining a healthy indoor environment. Many of us have a host of convenient machines at home and may run a fridge, washing machine, and dishwasher in the same afternoon. The problem is that all three have the potential to add pollutants to our kitchens and make the air worse.

Understanding the Impact of Appliances on Home Air Quality

Our home appliances are always there for us when we need them and make our lives so much easier. We can set up a cycle at any time and let all the hot water and chemicals do all the hard work. However, every cycle creates by-products and releases them into the atmosphere. This often means poor air quality in your kitchen or utility room. The longer we expose ourselves to this low-quality air, the higher the chance of health implications for ourselves, our children, and our pets. The more we understand about the risks these machines have on indoor air quality, the easier it is to make the right adaptations.

We don't realize the extent of the damage caused by these washers, dryers, fridges, or dishwashers because we can't see it. There is no immediate visible change in the air or strong chemical smell. Yet, there are lots of symptoms that could be caused by a change in air quality. People who regularly feel like they have itchy or dry eyes and throats may benefit from improving their air. The pollutants emitted by appliances can also lead to regular headaches, sinus issues, and fatigue.

It all comes down to the chemicals and other particles that end up in the air via vents and other gaps in these white goods. Chemicals may come from substances used to enhance performance, such as refrigerants, cleaning solutions, and even some additives in the water supply. Reactions with heat and water create dangerous vapor and make it easy to breathe in something dangerous. There are also the risks of other particles like microfibres, dust, and insect fragments from vents.

The Impact of Washers and Dryers

Let's start with an appliance we already know is a massive contributor to environmental damage. We hear a lot about the effect of washing machines through water pollution and the release of microfibres into waterways. There is also the fact that Residential washing machines can emit as much as 179 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

What we don't always consider is the effect on indoor air quality. The vents can push polluted air back into our kitchens and utility rooms and cause some of the health effects mentioned above. The biggest concern here is the drying cycle. As soon as we bring in all that heat we create steam and vapor that has to go somewhere. Either it goes straight out of the vent into the outdoor atmosphere or it hangs around inside. Those emissions can carry chemicals from the water, especially when using scented laundry products like dryer sheets and fabric softener. These artificial fragrances can be carcinogenic. Then there are those microfibres. A study by Northumbria University in 2022 found that drying a load of laundry in a machine releases almost as many microfibers into the air as it does down the drain during the washing cycle. Those fibers could lead to lung irritation and other reactions.

There are steps we can take to reduce this impact. The first is to simply reduce the number of cycles. Where possible, wash fewer larger loads per week and air dry as much as you can. You can also switch to more natural products when using the dryer to cut down on those pollutants.

The Impact of Refrigerators

Another culprit that puts indoor air quality at risk is the refrigerator. We don't always think of this as being a particularly dangerous appliance because it sits there quietly instead of running any energy-hungry cycles. The problem is that these machines use chemicals to create the conditions necessary for keeping food fresh.

Refrigerators use fluorinated hydrocarbons. You may see this referred to as Freon sometimes, as is a commonly-used brand. These fluorinated hydrocarbons are highly hazardous to the ozone but can also pollute the air inside our kitchen. Exposure can increase if you have any heavy-duty freezer or air conditioning units running.

Exposure to gases emitted by these refrigeration units can lead to headaches and nausea. Extreme and prolonged exposure can also cause skin irritation and respiratory problems. The problems are worse when you have a fridge with a bad seal or other malfunctions. This can allow more contaminants into the air, including any spores from mould.

There isn't much that we can do to reduce our use of refrigerators because we need to keep them running all the time. However, we can make sure to keep them clean to ensure no mould or bacteria is mixing into the emissions.

The Impact of Dishwashers

Another concern for air pollution is the use of dishwashers. We know that dishwashers are environmentally problematic because of the amount of water used in each cycle. However, it isn't always practical to rely on hand-washing dishes alone, so we put up with this problem and try and save water elsewhere. Unfortunately, it seems there is an additional risk from indoor pollution. Dishwashers vent around 6 liters of air per minute into a kitchen, which is a lot during a long cycle of washing and rinsing.

Researchers at the EPA and the University of Texas carried out experiments on dishwashers to see what harm they did to indoor air quality. They found a range of pollutants in the air, including chloroform and radon. The former comes from evaporating chlorine from the water supply. The main concern here is the heat from the drying cycle. The hot air that runs over the wet dishes to have them ready to use can cause problems when reacting with the treated water. The water vaporizes, sending chemicals into the air via steam.

We need that heat setting to help sterilize dishes washed under 120 degrees. However, we can avoid the drying cycle to reduce the impact. It also helps to consider switching to natural dish soap so there are fewer irritants in that steam. Small changes can go a long way.

General Tips for Appliance Care and Air Quality.

There are things we can do to reduce the risk of indoor air pollution entering our homes and causing health problems. The first step is to see how we can adapt our usage, such as the changes to products and cycles as mentioned above. From there, you can look at how you maintain and clean your appliances. Are dryer cycles taking longer than they should because of clogged vents? Is your fridge emitting more than just coolant because it's badly sealed or too dirty? Look into scheduling regular cleans with environmentally safe cleaning products and getting machines serviced to handle bigger issues with the vents and mechanics.

As there is only so much we can do to minimize the release of chemicals from household appliances, we also need to look at ventilation and air purifiers. A good ventilation fan can move a lot of air out of the room and improve air quality significantly. If you don't have one, you could use the hood over your stove to get the air flowing a little easier or simply open a window during every dishwasher and dryer cycle. Air purifiers can reduce the impact of the emissions in the immediate area.

The problem with the ventilation approach is that you will end up sending that polluted air outside into the natural environment. You're protecting the lungs of all those in your household, but still contributing to a bigger environmental issue. So, the best approach is to look at replacing appliances with eco-friendly alternatives. You can switch to something that uses fewer chemicals and has a more efficient system once a machine becomes too dangerous and ineffective. Check the ratings of any models you like the look of to see how safe they really are.

Making the Right Adaptations to Protect Your Family

The impact of our home appliances on indoor air quality is a concern. It is an unseen health risk potentially doing more harm than you realize. However, with the right preventative measures and some adaptations, you can improve the air in your home and make a difference. Look at how you use each machine, try some eco-friendly cleaning products, and upgrade to a better model when the time comes.