The One Threat That Lurks Unnoticed Inside Our Homes

“Oh, you’re from Delhi! How on earth do you manage to BREATHE in that city?!”

This was an acquaintance, sipping coffee while sitting in the chair opposite me, airing her views on everything about the world around her. She had lived all her life as “an international citizen of India” and really wanted nothing to do with the “filth that lurked everywhere” back in the country where she was born.

She displeased me – oh, a lot – but somehow, I couldn’t think of an appropriate response. What she said wasn’t untrue. Over time, Delhi had become this potboiler of dust, chemicals and grime; it had achieved notoriety as the home of all things evil – from air pollution to crime. And yet, it didn’t seem all that long ago when the air in Delhi had been fragrant with shiuli flowers on Durga Puja, chicken cooking deliciously in the neighbourhood, fresh leaves sprouting in spring.

I came back home that evening and looked around my home. My conversation with that irritating acquaintance had made me feel unsettled. But now I was home. And home is where nothing can get at you, right? Not the monsters who lurked in drains, not the smoke that lurked in Delhi’s air and triggered hateful diseases. Home is safe…

And yet, every other day, I hear of someone suffering from a disease triggered by pollution, when many of these people spend most of their time in the safety of their homes. Women, little children, senior citizens. Scores of people coming down with an eye irritation or a nose congestion every now and then. Nursing an allergy or a flu. Getting hospitalised for bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart problems. People who don’t walk around in traffic and on crowded streets, or inhale the smoke from factories.

 Turns out, our homes are not as safe as we had thought.

According to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 13 of them are in India. And while we realize the seriousness of outdoor pollution, indoor pollution can be even more dangerous! As per studies, indoor air can actually be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air!

Many of us mistakenly believe that if the house smells fresh, thanks to air fresheners, or if we have mopped it up with disinfectant, or got it freshly painted and renovated, nothing can harm us anymore. However, there are several sources of indoor pollution – this silent threat that so many of us overlook.

Most Commonly Ignored Sources of Indoor Air Pollution

  • Scented candles made of paraffin or chemicals
  • Carpets (and other home furnishings too)
  • Pets (all that hair!)
  • Deodorants and perfumes
  • Even some air fresheners (ones that contain ‘phthalates’)
  • Lead-based paint
  • Insecticides and pesticides (yes, that cockroach-killer all of us use liberally)
  • Asbestos (for example: from that house being constructed across the street)

Many of these sources release toxic chemicals into the air, including formaldehyde (one of the most common and harmful indoor pollutants), carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other toxins that have been linked to asthma, respiratory and skin problems, even cancer.

Mom and I are obsessive cleaners; no matter how tired out we are, we try to keep the wardrobe in order, the kitchen counter spic and span. But I’ll admit, if it hadn’t been for recurrent illness in the neighbourhood, or well-timed advice from doctors, many of these indoor pollutants would have escaped our notice.

When young adults in the colony fall ill, some of the elderly uncles say – “We didn’t have all these diseases back when we were young. You modern people are just weaklings…” And while I don’t want to argue that, it is true that we live in a harsher, dirtier world. This is why it is critical to take some proactive steps to let our homes continue being the safe havens they are supposed to be.

7 Things We Do to Reduce Indoor Pollution Inside Our Home

  1. Indoor Plants to the Rescue

We keep some purifying indoor plants at home. There’s a little nursery close to our home in Delhi and they have some beautiful plants that are also excellent at absorbing indoor toxins. Aloe vera and spider plants are our favourite. It helps that nani also makes these cool concoctions with the aloe vera, which are “excellent for your skin radiance”. Oh well.

Aloe Vera

  1. A Clean Kitchen Exhaust

We are a Bengali household and there is plenty of heavy-duty cooking happening through the day. So, we ensure to keep the kitchen exhaust working in good condition, cleaning it periodically to ensure no blockages. My granny thinks we are making a real fuss about the kitchen (which is where she usually lets in no intruders) but she cooperates by handing out dusters and eco-friendly cleaners.

  1. Renovation, Painting & The Right Paint

A house needs to be maintained from time to time not just to keep it looking beautiful but also to keep it clean and disease-free. A thorough renovation should ideally cover repair, pest control and a fresh coat of paint.

The last time we got the house painted, I threw a big fuss about creating a personalised wallpaper for my bedroom. Thankfully, our contractor realized that there was more to renovation than mere aesthetics, and briefed us in-depth about choosing eco-friendly paints and materials. Making the right choice of paint is more important than we realize as this is what we are going to live with, and this is what we will breathe. A wonderful new solution that keeps the air clean and the house beautiful is Royale Atmos, Asian Paints’ latest offering. What’s unique about this rich matt-finish paint is its activated carbon technology which actually helps clean the air of harmful air pollutants. This paint has been tested to clean the air of formaldehyde, nicotine, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide, and what’s more, it can continue to reduce air pollutants for up to 2 years after application!

Royale Atmos

Plus, Royale Atmos also absorbs various foul smells and makes the indoor air fresher. This means you have a paint that also acts as a soothing air freshener.

  1. Cleaning – and The Right Cleaner

Like I mentioned before, we are a bit obsessive about cleaning. Part of the reason is because we have many cats living with us, some of whom are generous shedders. So, there’s a lot of mopping and using-the-broom happening every day. I am also a bit finicky about the cleaner we use, so I make sure to get an eco-friendly one as opposed to one laden with synthetic chemicals. (This is partly why we end up spending hours in grocery shopping as granny has a fairly long list of requests. For example – “If it smells like phenyl, I will ban it. I am not going to have the house smelling like a hospital!”)

  1. Limit Pollutants From Outdoors

We make an effort to limit the contaminants entering our house from outdoors. So, we keep large footmats outside every door and stand there smiling till people wipe their feet. There is no smoking allowed in the house.

Cats on the footmat

Note: The above picture explains why we need to change our footmats periodically 😉

  1. Stop Spraying About

Deodorants and perfumes make my head swirl. Back when I was a child, it was diagnosed as some innate pet peeve. However, mom loves perfumes. Granny loves air fresheners. And Dad loves all things remotely to do with machinery, including polish. Many of these products release toxic chemicals into the air. It hasn’t been easy, but over the years, we have tried to limit the household’s usage of such aerosol sprays, and switch to more natural alternatives such as using lemons for a nice indoor scent and asking Dad to take his machinery work outside the living area.

  1. Keep Humidity Under Control

One last thing we do is to keep the humidity inside the house regulated. Excess moisture in the air promotes the growth of mould and other allergy-causing agents. This becomes especially important in the hot and humid summer when there’s sweat and grime everywhere you look. This is also why infections and allergies are at an all-time high in summer and monsoon. Little steps like fixing any leakages, using an exhaust fan in the bathroom, and not letting any water stagnate in the house can make a big difference.

The day has aged into afternoon as I wrote this post, and my home is now bathed in a pleasant, late September afternoon light. It looks lovely and makes me feel at peace. The world we live in can be unforgiving and tough, and there are pretences, charades and lies we have to battle with every day. It only stands to reason then that back home, in our favourite armchair and the cat snuggling at our feet, there should be no #MaskedLife. There should be no reason to be afraid of anything, including pollution.

Cheers, Royale Atmos, for offering such an eco-friendly and thoughtful solution for our homes. Here’s to #CleanAirBeautifulHomes! 🙂

Pictures 1, 2

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Awkward Phone Conversations

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