The Christmas trees are up, ‘Jingle Bells’ over the sound system fills the supermarket aisle (sometimes on annoyingly short loops), Christmas markets and parties crowd the weekend calendar, and everyone’s talking of how ’tis the season… Till indoor pollutants you were unaware of start making their presence felt because of the amount of time you spend indoors, or migraines fom the indoor heating ruin your weekend, or the seemingly interminable sickness cycle in the family competes with your stock of festive good cheer, or air pollution shows up to spoil the party.
A few years ago, PureLiving President, Louie Cheng wrote a piece on how to survive China’s winter indoors, and we think it’s the right time to take another look at that.
So here’s the comprehensive ‘how-to’ list on staying safe, healthy and comfortable indoors through the China winter.
1. Indoor air pollution and toxins : When pollution levels are high outside (not unusual in winter), indoor air can be equally bad. Even more lethal are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde (both identified as carcinogens) from furniture, textiles, carpets, cleaning products, etc. that cause discomfort, sinus and lung irritation, can compromise the immune system, and even cause far more serious consequences to health.
What to do?
- The easiest and most efficient thing to do is to have your home tested for indoor pollutants, and then act on the solutions recommended by the testing agency.
- NASA research has also found that certain species of plants excel at removing VOCs that build up at dangerous levels indoors, especially during the winter, when windows stay closed. The plants absorb pollutants such as formaldehyde, benzene, and carbon monoxide, where microbes in their root system convert this into food. Meanwhile, they improve air quality by producing oxygen and adding humidity for comfort. Plus, they look and make us feel good! A recent TED presentation shows how an Indian company improved productivity and reduced energy costs 70% with plants alone.
Contact us for home testing for indoor pollutants, or for information on how our plant program helps you select the right plants (and have them delivered straight to your home!)
2. Dry air : The ideal humidity level indoors is between 35-60%. Low humidity (frequent in the winter) may cause discomfort and dry skin.
What to do? – Use indoor plants to add humidity for comfort. Plants with high transpiration rates like peace lilies, golden pothos, and English ivy add moisture to the air while creating fresh air. Be careful not to allow air to get too moist because above 60%, dust mites, pests, and mold can flourish.
3. Humidifier risks – Bacteria and mold can grow in the reservoirs of the humidifier, and these are then aerosolized and spread into the air, where you breathe it in.
What to do? – If you must use a humidifier, know how to use it correctly. Make sure that you clean it frequently with several drops of vinegar or a baking soda solution.
What to do? – Use a HEPA vacuum and wet wipe surfaces that collect dust frequently. A High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner filters out particles down to .3 microns, about 150x smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Without HEPA filters, ordinary vacuums just spray the particles back out into the air where they can be inhaled.
5. Condensation and wetness : During the winter, the temperature difference between the outside and inside air leads to condensation forming. In the same way that your eyeglasses will fog up when you come indoors on a cold day, water will form on cold objects such as windows or the concrete walls commonly found in China. Dampness almost inevitably leads to mold and insect growth.
What to do? – The best way to avoid this is to reduce indoor air humidity, increase indoor air temperature, increase ventilation with fans where water condenses, and wipe up around window frames. See here for dehumidifiers recommended by PureLiving
6. Ensure your water is safe before succumbing to the temptation of a long, hot shower : No better way to warm up in winter than with a nice hot shower, right? In which case, you should first know your water. The American Journal of Public Health links chlorine and chlorine byproducts to “significant increases in certain types of cancer, asthma and skin irritations…” and determined that “up to two-thirds of the harmful exposure was due to skin absorption and inhalation of chlorine in shower water”. The higher the heat and length, the greater the vaporization and inhalation. China’s water is very high in chlorine, and also often a likely candidate for heavy metal poisoning owing to the miles of badly-maintained pipes that it travels in order to get to our homes.
What to do? – Although you can take quicker, colder showers, inexpensive shower filters (as little as 400rmb) are a better choice. Check out our product catalogue or contact us to purchase a top-rated shower filter.
7. Portable combustion heaters indoors : Three simple words. DO NOT USE. As the temperature drops, it’s tempting to use portable space heaters to keep warm. However, portable heaters running on butane or propane, gas-generator powered, or otherwise using some sort of combustion should never be used indoors. These are silent, annual killers, and tragically, carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for thousands of deaths each year like the 12 schoolchildren here, and the students and family in the Beijing winter here
What to do? – Use an electric one (assuming no fire hazard). And remember that even if you don’t have portable combustion heaters in your home, you should be aware of your surroundings – charcoal and coal are used to heat many Chinese homes and stores, exposing you to the same noxious fumes.
8. Carbon monoxide, the invisible killer : Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless, and can kill in minutes. And a source of it is, unfortunately, not rare in China, especially in winter.
What to do? – Any China resident who lives on the ground floor, has a furnace, or is otherwise close to a source of combustion, should have an inexpensive carbon monoxide detector. Look for a model that meets the following criteria:
- UL listed (mandates sensitivity and alarm characteristics)
- Plug-in with backup battery power
- Has digital display allowing monitoring instead of simply on-off
- Uses a sensor with life of 5-10 years instead of the cheaper 2-3 years
What to do? – Open the windows for ventilation, but know when to do so. Obviously, you should do this when levels of outdoor pollution are at their lowest. This website is our desktop favourite for hourly reports and trends, while this one is a great app for your mobile device. In general, the safest times are early morning or evening. It is advisable to run an air purifier for an hour or so after ventilating to remove outdoor pollutants common in the air here.
Read here for how to choose an air purifier.
10. There’s so much you can’t see or smell in the air you’re breathing and the water you’re drinking : In winter, we spend more than the general average (upto 90%) of our time indoors, making it even more essential to know the uality of our environment, and whether it’s actually our room causing us to get sick with colds, headaches, asthma, allergies, etc. Have a complete health check of your home done for indoor pollutants, allergens, and other unhealthy substances. PureLiving’s testing packages are independent, accurate, trusted and certified. We help you identify problems and their root sources, and also recommend the best solutions, based on your specific needs and budgets. Get an expert opinion before you spend your money on expensive purifiers and gadgets that may not work or may not be the right solution or may even be overkill for what you need.