8 Myths About Indoor Air Quality and the Facts You Need to Breathe Easy

There is a lot of misinformation circulating about indoor air quality. Knowing the truth is important for protecting the health of everyone in your home.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
Woman laying in living room with air purifier


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Indoor air quality. We’ve all heard the term, and most of us think we know what it means. However, much of the information you’ve heard about indoor air quality might not be correct. If you’ve been under the impression that the indoors can’t be affected by air pollution, think that air fresheners will clean the air in your space, or believe that you can freshen up your home by opening the windows, you have fallen victim to some of the many myths about indoor air quality.

To learn more about indoor air quality and what you actually should—and shouldn’t—believe, keep reading. We’ll debunk several of the most common indoor air quality myths.

1. Myth: Air pollution is only a concern outside, not inside.

Car exhaust

When many people hear pollution, they think of billowing smoke from factories, exhaust from vehicles, and other contaminants in the outdoor air. They believe that they are safe from these and other pollutants once inside their home. However, this unfortunately isn’t the case.

Several potential forms of indoor air pollution could be threatening your health when you’re home. One form of indoor air pollution comes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Several household items can emit VOCs, including personal care products, cleaning supplies, new furniture, and more. Beyond the VOCs, it is also possible for outdoor pollutants to enter a home, so unfortunately you can’t consider your home immune from the threat of pollution.

RELATED: 8 Dangerous Secrets Your Home May Be Hiding

2. Myth: Indoor air quality doesn’t impact your health.

Woman blowing her nose

If you’ve been thinking that only outdoor air quality can have a negative impact on your health, you’ve unfortunately been mistaken. Indoor air quality can most certainly affect your health. Indoor contaminants can cause a range of health problems, including asthma, headaches, dizziness, and irritation of your throat, eyes, or nose. If left untreated, poor indoor air quality can potentially lead to more serious, long-term health issues, including respiratory problems, cancer, or heart disease.

RELATED: Breathe Deep: 5 Ways to Improve Your Home’s Air Quality for Better Health

3. Myth: Opening the windows can help purify the air in your home.

Woman looking outside window

“I’m going to open up the windows to purify the air in the house.” Sound familiar? If you’ve said this before, then you’re one of many people who incorrectly believe that letting outside air in will purify the inside air. While opening the windows can bring some fresh air in and make your home’s temperature more comfortable, it won’t actually purify the air in your home or remove harmful contaminants.

Any contaminants in your home will not be diluted enough by the outside air to make a real difference in the indoor air quality. And, you could even introduce new pollutants if the outside air is highly contaminated.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Bring the Outdoors In

4. Myth: Air fresheners improve indoor air quality.

Person using air freshener

Unfortunately, it is also a myth that air fresheners do anything to improve the indoor air quality. In reality, all they do is mask odors. And, even more, they could actually be making the air quality in your home worse. Regardless of whether you prefer using scented candles, aerosolized sprays, oils, or other types of air fresheners, you’re likely introducing more chemicals into your home, rather than making the air clean, even with products labeled as green. In reality, air fresheners could introduce potentially hazardous pollutants, such as VOCs, into your home’s air.

RELATED: The Best Air Fresheners

5. Myth: All HEPA filters are the same.

Man changing air filter

You’ve probably heard that high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are the most effective option for purifying the air in a home. They are known for their ability to capture tiny particles of dust, dander, hair, and other pollutants. But, did you know that not all HEPA filters are the same? You might see some products with “HEPA-type” filters. While these can trap some pollutants, they won’t offer the same performance as a true HEPA filter. True HEPA filters are tested for minimum efficiency and to verify that they trap at least 99.97 percent of particles 0.3 microns and larger. If you’re looking to purchase an air purifier, choose one with a true HEPA filter over one with a HEPA-type filter, like the Shark HC502 3-in-1 Clean Sense Air Purifier MAX, our favorite in the best air purifiers tested guide.

RELATED: Solved! Do Air Purifiers Really Work?

6. Myth: Changing the HVAC filter isn’t important.

Man pulling out dirty hvac filter

Failing to keep up with important home maintenance tasks—like changing the air filter for your HVAC system—can be one of the reasons your home is making you sick. If you don’t stick with the schedule of replacing your filter about once every 3 months, the old filter can become clogged with dust, dander, and other indoor air pollutants. When it is clogged, it cannot easily trap additional contaminants from the air, meaning they will all be circulating within the home.

When you neglect to change your HVAC filter regularly, you’ll also be forcing it to work harder than it should. This can place too much stress on the system, potentially leading to higher energy bills and costly repairs.

RELATED: The Best Air Filter Subscription Services

7. Myth: If your house has mold, you’ll be able to smell it.

Mold testing

Just because you don’t smell mold, don’t assume it is absent from your home. While many people associate a musty or damp smell with mold, not all types of indoor mold smells the same. Moreover, not everyone is always able to detect an odor, even when there is a serious mold problem in their home. If you suspect you have a problem—even if you can’t smell it—testing for mold is a good idea. We like the MIN Mold Test Kit that includes lab analysis and expert consultation on your results. Once you have an answer, you can remediate the problem and make the air in your home healthier to breathe.

RELATED: The Dark, Dirty Truth About Household Mold (And How to Rid Yourself of It)

8. Myth: You can’t monitor indoor air quality without expensive tools.

Air quality app

We live in a time of advanced technology. Fortunately, this technology can help us in many ways, one of which is monitoring the indoor air quality in our homes. If you’ve been worried that you need to spend a ton of money to hire a professional or invest in expensive products to check the air quality of your home, think again. There are several affordable indoor air quality monitors like the Airthings 2390, the high-tech pick in our researched guide to the best air quality monitors. Air quality monitors will help you track VOC levels, radon, carbon dioxide, humidity, temperature, and more.