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A Clean-Air Kitchen Checklist

A Clean-Air Kitchen Checklist

It’s clear from the amount of money and size of kitchens nowadays that the kitchen is where people spend a lot of time.  Big islands, comfortable chairs and features like coffee bars and wine coolers make it easy to stay and chat while the host cooks up a delicious meal.  The problem is that some things get overlooked in kitchen design and maintenance, so that hidden appliances may be making your air dirtier than your guests would expect! 

Kitchen exhaust vent

We’ve previously posted about how cooking and baking can raise fine particulates and VOCs in your kitchen to levels of a polluted city.  The best defense against spreading them to the rest of the home and breathing them in is to use your kitchen exhaust vent.  The problem is that the exhaust vent filter is often overlooked, and a clogged filter strains the vent motor and can throw particles right back into your kitchen.  Here’s where it’s important to a) check whether your vent is recirculating or exhausting to the outside, and b) clean the filter!

When I first learned about combination microwave/vent hoods, I thought, these are space-saving genius.  Being a moderately tall person, I could easily lift items in and out of the microwave, the unit was not taking up any counter space, and it doubled as a stove vent hood.  However, the more I used the one in my current home, the more disappointed I was with it.  Here are the problems with most microwave/vent hood combos:

  • The ventilation can exhaust directly back into the kitchen.  That’s right, those little grilles above the microwave door are the exit point of the exhaust fumes, which don’t get a lot of filtering before they come straight back into the kitchen.  The other option is to exhaust outside, which is far better.
  • Microwave/vent hood combos typically do not provide the cubic feet per minute (cfm) ventilation that a standard size kitchen requires, and what little you get can be further reduced if there is more than one turn in the ductwork above the unit to the outdoors.  
  • Although it’s a common situation, placing the microwave on a countertop is not a great installation either, because cooking gasses generated in the microwave are vented directly into the kitchen with no filter. 

Here’s what we recommend to get the cleanest air while you cook:

  1. If you have a combination microwave/vent hood, check two things:
    1. Does the vent hood provide the correct cfm for your kitchen?  Here is an article to help you calculate whether it’s sufficient for your kitchen.  If you don’t know the cfm of your unit, type the model number into an internet search.  If your unit does not have the necessary throughput, consider placing the microwave elsewhere and getting a more powerful standalone vent hood.  In this case proceed to #2.
    2. If the cfm is sufficient, does the microwave/vent hood exhaust back into the kitchen?  Place a microwaveable container in the microwave with some water and start to heat it.  Place your hand over the grille above the door and see if you can feel a stream of air moving into the room.  
      1. If so, then the exhaust is probably set to exhaust into the kitchen.  If you own your home and you want to change it to exhaust outside, it’s possible to take the microwave down from the wall and change the exhaust configuration.  Here’s a short video on how to rotate the blower fan of the microwave, which will change the exhaust port configuration.  This change necessitates installing a duct above the microwave and vent port outside, however.  For the venting, check this video
      2. If you are renting or otherwise can’t change the configuration of your microwave/vent hood exhaust to outside, then do your best to clean the filter on a regular basis so that cooking particulates can be trapped before they’re blown back into the room.
  2. Congratulations if you are upgrading to a standalone vent hood (our choice for the best kitchen atmosphere)!  Here are some tips to split up the microwave and vent hood and make each perform well.
    1. If budget is not a constraint, vent hoods now come in a “balanced” option, which means they not only suck fumes from your kitchen, but these are replaced with fresh air from outside.  Check out this smoke test on such a unit. 
    2. For normal budgets, good kitchen vent hoods can be purchased between $200-500 (here is a great review on the newest models, but be sure to pick one that vents externally!)  In addition to capacity, it’s also wise to get the quietest fan you can afford so that you won’t be annoyed with the sound.
    3. Now, where shall we place the microwave?  Most kitchen design professionals are happy to place it anywhere in the kitchen except the countertop, but then venting it back into the room is still polluting your indoor air.  Besides the moisture emitted from cooking steamy foods like rice or potatoes, some foods emit a lot of ultra-fine particles (UFPs).  Popcorn is one of these; in this study it was discovered that UFPs and PM2.5 generated by microwaving popcorn were 150-560 and 350-800 times higher than the emissions from microwaving water, respectively. About 90% of the total particles emitted were in the ultrafine size range.  To avoid releasing these harmful particles into your kitchen, here are the best scenarios for venting the microwave.
      1. Install it in cabinetry with a dedicated vent to the outdoors.  No questions about getting the vapors out in this case!
      2. Install it in a lower cabinet space next to the stove.  That way, steam and UFPs exhausting from the top of the unit can be drawn up and out by the range hood. “Drawer” microwaves are becoming more popular now (see photo below). 
      3. (Least effective, but still possible) Set the microwave on the counter next to the range hood but 2 feet away from it, for heat safety concerns. 

The last two options require manually turning on the range hood every time you use the microwave, but if you have a nice quiet vent hood, this shouldn’t be a problem.  

Microwave Drawer installed next to the oven/stove (source: Home Depot)

Refrigerator coils

It’s pretty obvious when the refrigerator needs cleaning: food spills inside and dirty fingerprints outside get the most attention.  However, the most important part (the working “guts” of the fridge) is easy to overlook, except for some dust gathering on the toe kick grill.  On most newer models, the cooling coils are hidden under the fridge, and all kinds of dust (especially if you have a shedding pet) will gather there and clog up the vital cooling parts. The coils should be cleaned every six months to one year to keep the fridge working properly, and keep the accumulated dust out of your air. Here’s how to clean it without a lot of hassle (

  • If the coils are not exposed at the back of the unit, then remove the toe kick panel in the bottom front to expose them.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter (you don’t want to blow that dust back into the air) to vacuum off as much dust as you can reach.
  • Use a coil cleaning brush to get between the rows of coils, keeping your running vacuum nearby to suck up dislodged dust. 
  • Clean off the front grille with the vacuum and soap and water if necessary, and reinstall it.

The Dishwasher

Ahh, the dishwasher–what a super-convenient place to hide dirty dishes.  My cousin (an engineer) always joked that in his new house, he’s going to install 2-3 dishwashers and no cabinets.  Why?  Dishwashers are way cheaper than cabinets and no one likes to unload the dishwasher.  When you can have 1 “clean” and 1 “dirty” dishwasher at all times, you can take clean dishes from the clean one, use them and place them in the dirty one, and theoretically no cabinets are needed!  Somehow, I think his wife will have a problem with no cabinets…

Back on topic, dishwashers are appliances that use steaming hot water and caustic detergent, but are not vented to the outside.  Where does all that steam and vaporized detergent go?  Into your kitchen air, of course!  Hayward Score is a company which identifies the major issues in your home that can impact your health and gives you free personalized actionable recommendations to fix them.  They performed a study on how bad dishwashers are for your indoor air quality, and found out that it was really the “heat and dry” cycles, not the soap, that caused air quality problems.  They placed an air quality monitor in the room adjacent to the kitchen and ran the dishwasher three times:

  • Dishwasher run with standard soap, heat and dry cycle on = Air Quality: RED ZONE (bad)
  • Dishwasher run with no soap, heat and dry cycle on = Air Quality: RED ZONE (bad)
  • Dishwasher run with standard soap, heat and dry cycle off = Air Quality: BLUE ZONE (good)

Based on these results, the soap was not causing elevated levels of VOCs but high temperature combined with chlorinated water was.

When your home is supplied by city or community water, these systems typically use a lot of chlorine to keep bacteria out.  I mean, A LOT–often you can turn on the tap and it will smell like a swimming pool coming out of your faucet.  Heat and dry cycles can reach temperatures of 160 deg F or more, which when contacting chlorinated water, produces chloroform.  The chloroform can drift through your home farther than the steam does, hence the bad air quality readings taken in the next room. 

The solution to good air quality while running your dishwasher?  If your tap water is sufficiently hot to sterilize (above 120 deg F), then don’t use the heat and dry cycle settings.  Also, run your kitchen exhaust vent during and 30 minutes after the dishwasher cycle, to move steam and any other gasses outdoors.  If your tap water is below 120 deg F, then it’s a good idea to use the heat cycles to make sure everything is sanitized, but make sure to run the kitchen exhaust vent simultaneously.

Toasters, Crock Pots, Air-Fryers, Electric Skillets and all their cousins

We have a lot of miscellaneous appliances hidden in the cabinets or sitting on the countertops, which can put a lot of fine particulates and VOCs into the air when using them.  Toasters are one of the worst offenders, and start emitting toxic fumes from the moment you turn them on (University of Texas at Austin study), because they are heating up the leftover bits from previous foods, including oils.  Toasting two slices of bread caused twice as much air pollution as is seen in London for 15 to 20 minutes – meaning three times the World Health Organization’s safety limit. (  The solution?  Set them as close as possible to your range (2 feet away is safe if you are using the range also) and fire up that kitchen exhaust fan.  Heck, chopping your onions next to the kitchen exhaust fan can even whisk away the chemical irritant that they release to make you cry (syn-Propanethial-S-oxide).

With a good exhaust fan and little cleaning you can spend as much time as you like in your kitchen without worrying about what’s floating around in the air! 

Photo by Jimmy Dean on Unsplash

The Not-So-Silent Killer: Roads and Highways

The Not-So-Silent Killer: Roads and Highways

Even with the shift towards the ability to work from home, some jobs require proximity to cities, which cause people to live in places adverse to their health.  In a recently published study from the University of Leicester in the UK, researchers identified that road noise, such as the rumble of engines, honking and braking, causes hypertension (increase in blood pressure).  The study reviewed the status of 240,000 people over 8 years and looked at the correlation between the noise of where they lived (using addresses and computer modeling tools) and their blood pressure.  It also adjusted for air pollution, because we know that fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide can also have effects on blood pressure.  It turns out that plain old traffic noise was enough to cause an increase in hypertension, even though those who are also exposed to more air pollution had the highest risk.  

Ok, so what do you do if your housing choices put you squarely in traffic central?  

Consider where the noise comes in the most, and try one or more solutions for that area, which may be enough to dampen most of the sound coming in.

Windows on an outside wall facing a busy street will certainly be the source of most of the noise, and there are several ways to block out most of it.  Single pane windows are very noise-transmissive, and double pane are a bit better, but each of them can be improved significantly with custom window inserts like those offered by Indow.  If you are a renter or don’t own your house, replacement windows are likely out of the picture, and more expensive than these inserts.  The company can provide a laser measuring system if you’re unsure about the squareness of your windows (for older homes), and once fabricated, Indows can easily be installed by one person (or two people for a large window).  The compression fit keeps them snugly in place to block sound.  

If you are not inclined to pay for window inserts, you can make your own foam board inserts to sleep soundly at night when the window’s not needed!  Just pick up a large sheet of foam board and measure and cut it carefully to the exact measurements of your window casing, attaching handles/pulls to the top and bottom of the inserts to help you install or remove them.  They can be stored in a closet, or behind long drapes during the day when they are not needed.

If you don’t want the expense of window inserts, acoustic caulk may help.  You’ll want to remove the existing caulk and replace it with the acoustic caulk.  It’s not a quick job, but if your windows are older and haven’t been caulked in a while, it will also provide needed thermal sealing too.

Thick, heavy curtains like these are much easier to install than caulk, come in a variety of colors, and are specifically made to block noise.  

Plants need light, so placing them near a window will benefit them and you–they can also absorb noise!  Plants with thick foliage and fleshy leaves are the best at absorbing and deflecting it.  This article lists a  number of plants in different styles and heights that can be placed on the floor, on stands or hung from the ceiling to deaden sound.  As a plus, some plants also absorb VOCs that can seep in around the windows from the vehicles outside.  Areca palms, rubber plants, Dracaena (Janet Craig variety), ferns and  peace lilies are common to both of these lists!

A few more Tips for Dealing with Noise from the Street can help for walls that face the street:

  • Bookcases with lots of books

  • Portable closets like armoires

  • Hang a thick tapestry or quilt as a statement piece on the wall

  • Hang large or small art canvases with the backs filled with foam board

And finally, all the other places that sound can enter and bounce around your space:

  • Add thick, cushy rugs (if you have the ability to keep them clean, of course!)

  • Install door sweeps/seals (many are easy to install with adhesive or slip-on type)

  • Add a thick curtain with retractable rod if you have an entrance hall that emits noise

  • If you like music or audio books, try listening to them with sound-canceling headphones to have a studio-feel while relaxing, working out, cleaning or just walking around.

For tips to get a more restful night’s sleep, check out our post on Maximizing Your Sleep.   We want you to have the healthiest home possible, so whatever you can do to reduce outside noise in your space will be worth it, for your heart and for your mind!

Photo by Josh Eckstein on Unsplash

What to do when you find yourself in an air quality emergency

What to do when you find yourself in an air quality emergency

We’ve all been on the other side of the highway when an accident snarls traffic for miles behind it, and our lanes of traffic slow down but continue to move.  Whew, glad I wasn’t on that side, we think…but sadly sometimes we may find ourselves stuck in an air quality emergency that requires calm, decisive action to quickly get to safe air.  

On Wednesday, November 8, 2023, a fire at a small chemical plant north of Houston sent plumes of black smoke into the air.   According to the Reuters report on November 9, Sound Resource Solutions blends, packages and distributes oilfield and other industrial chemicals including sulfuric acid, acetone and petrochemicals like xylene and toluene, according to the company's website.  These are chemicals that are acutely toxic with the potential to cause serious eye, skin and organ damage, as well as carcinogenic. 

A news article from a Houston news station released the list of chemicals that had been stored on the site during the last 2 years, which confirmed they are quite toxic.  

However, despite the smoke and shelter-in-place orders (which have been lifted), it seems that officials are downplaying the possible effects.

  • According to a Houston news channel video the day after the fire was extinguished (Nov. 9), the Texas Commision on Environmental Quality was monitoring the air and “did not detect any levels of concern from the samples”.  

  • In the same video, an official from the University of Houston said that rain would wash any chemicals out of the air, dilute them out and they eventually go into the ocean.  

Here are the problems we see with these assessments: black smoke was seen moving north toward Livingston, Texas.  Such smoke carries a lot of particulates, which will deposit on businesses and residents’ homes, vehicles and farms (food sources), as well as drinking water facilities.  Also, by our estimates, Shepherd, Texas is 50-60 miles from Trinity Bay, which is open to the Gulf of Mexico.  In order to get to the ocean (Gulf of Mexico), the particulates and chemicals will pass through many drinking water sources!  Once again, it’s probable that authorities are not releasing timely information about hazardous levels of chemicals in the air (and no water reports were discussed).

If you find yourself in an emergency area like Shepherd, Texas, it’s best to do one of two things: stay inside and implement air quality containment measures, or drive out of the area as soon as possible.  Here are our recommendations:

If you choose to stay inside:

  • Close all windows and turn off air conditioning and heating systems if possible.

  • Although most HVAC systems don’t have fresh air intakes, you should close these intakes if they do.  

  • Don’t use exhaust fans like the kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans.  Don’t use clothes dryers, either!  Each of these pull air out of the house, which consequently draws air into the home through cracks in windows and other penetrations.

  • If you have air purifiers, run them continuously.  If you have only one purifier, run it in one small room where you can shelter for most of your time.  If you don’t have an air purifier, here's how to make one using a box fan and a MERV-rated filter.

  • Don’t cook if possible; try eating canned food or food that doesn’t require cooking or heating.  The reason is that cooking and heating food releases even more VOCs into the air, and you shouldn’t vent these with the exhaust fan.

  • Monitor for local air quality updates, because the air quality outside your home will eventually be the air quality in your home.  If air quality outside deteriorates, you may want to gather supplies and necessities and evacuate via car.

  • Use bottled (preferable) or home-filtered water until you are sure that tap water has not been contaminated (which may be weeks or months).

If you evacuate:

  • Make sure that the HVAC in your home is turned off and all windows/doors are closed before you leave.  You can leave air purifiers running in your home, however.

  • Make sure you use the best masks you have until you get out of the area.  Exchange your mask for a new one if you start to have trouble breathing. 

  • Spend as little time outside as possible. 

  • When driving, keep your air conditioner set to “recirculation” mode until you get out of the danger area.

  • Bring/buy bottled water. 

  • Monitor for local air quality updates and check updates by local news authorities. 

  • Upon returning home, clean carefully and thoroughly!  We have recommendations in our article here.

Note that smoke particles, which can contain toxic chemicals, will deposit on the ground, making it easy for people and pets to bring them into the house, so you may want to be vigilant about removing shoes and cleaning pets’ paws when you can.

Many people live or drive within range of being affected by toxic spills, fires and environmental disasters, so your best bet is being prepared (and have a healthy skepticism of all-clear reports until you can research the situation).

Photo by irfan hakim on Unsplash

Air quality in the Operating Room

Air quality in the Operating Room

If you are in the position to have elective surgery, you probably assume that the hospital does its best to mitigate infections by maintaining a sterile environment and using sterile procedures.  The Operating Room (OR) is where patients are at their most vulnerable because hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) can easily happen when the skin barrier is broken, resulting in a Surgical Site Infection (SSI).  Therefore, air quality is very important for patients’ protection, and there are a number of factors that govern the quality of the air.  In the U.S., OR air quality is regulated by three organizations: the American National Standards Institute (ANSI); the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (AHSE). Operating rooms require positive pressure, a minimum of 20 air changes per hour (ACH), with a minimum of four outdoor changes per hour. The standard specifies a minimum effective reporting value for air filter efficiency (MERV 16) but does not recommend a type of air delivery system. (Operating Room Sterilization: A Complete Guide to Air Quality)  Here are some details about these requirements:

  • Positive or negative pressure: Traditionally, hospitals make operating rooms positive pressure in order to keep contaminants from the rest of the hospital from infecting the patient on the operating table.  According to ASHRAE 170, operating rooms require positive pressurization of at least +0.01 in.w.g.  However, as operations are sometimes necessary on patients who may have contagious diseases like MERS or SARS CoV-2, hospitals are beginning to rethink whether they want to put the rest of the ward at risk of spreading a microbe from a positive pressure OR room. Discussions are underway regarding alternatives such as a positively pressured OR with negatively pressured ante/setup rooms. Another possibility is to have a negatively pressured OR with positively pressured ante/setup rooms.  (Rethinking air pressure in operating rooms could save lives)

  • The air change rate is a key factor influencing the concentration of microbe-carrying particles (MCPs). The higher exposure risks of surgical incision in the surgical microenvironment may be mitigated with increasing air changes per hour (ACH). (The impact of air change rate on the air quality of surgical microenvironment in an operating room with mixing ventilation)  

  • A key design requirement within ASHRAE 170 for operating rooms is the primary supply diffuser array. The airflow in the primary diffuser array should be unidirectional and downward, with an average velocity of 25 to 35 cfm per sq. ft.  This is recommended with the sole intent of creating a large sterile zone around the patient and medical staff. The standard dictates that the coverage area of the primary supply diffuser array should include the surgical table and extend a minimum of 12 in. beyond the footprint of the surgical table on each side and that no more than 30% of this area may be used for nondiffuser uses (like lighting, surgical gasses, electrical outlets, televisions, etc). This recommendation ensures that enough clean, filtered air is dispensed above the patient while accommodating the complex medical equipment present in today’s modern operating rooms. (How is ASHRAE Standard 170 Applied to Hospital Operating Rooms?)

Although not it’s not mandated, it’s also a good idea to have restricted access to the OR during surgical procedures.  The number of door openings are related to the number of colony-forming units (CFU) in the OR.  According to this study, increased number of door openings and surgery duration increased CFU counts in the OR, but the relationship between these variables was only observed outside the Laminar Air Flow.(LAF). Within LAF conditions, only the number of staff was associated with higher CFU. 

There have been several key developments in systems that promote ultra-clean operating rooms.  Laminar Air Flow (LAF) systems were developed by Sir John Charnley in the 1960s for use during joint replacement implantations.  They are useful for maintaining sterile conditions in the center of the operating room (under the diffusers) because they produce a continuous flow of microorganism-free air, which improves air quality by reducing infectious microbes. However, a 2023 meta-analysis agreed with multiple studies that have found it ineffective for reducing SSIs, and even possibly increasing the likelihood of SSIs, during orthopedic procedures.  (Laminar airflow ventilation systems in orthopaedic operating room do not prevent surgical site infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis)  In addition, air outside of the sterile field (that which is supplied by the LAF system) is often called the “dirty donut” because it is not effectively sterilized by the LAF; air in the dirty donut can be up to 100 times more contaminated than the center.  There are several solutions to improving the air in the dirty donut; Aerobiotix has developed a mobile unit called Illuvia that can reduce the contaminants.  

Source: Cleaning up the Dirty Donut

There is no standard for LAF design in the US.  In addition to the filters employed, different sterilization devices can be employed within or outside the LAF cabinet to increase deactivation of pathogens.  According to Steris, a major design/manufacture/installation firm for OR suites, the following technologies are improving LAF cabinets: 

  • UV light: Use of mobile and ceiling mounted UV light systems is restricted to when patients and staff use full personal protective equipment.  This type of light is also limited to line-of-sight, meaning that disinfection is obstructed by ceiling mounted fixtures and other equipment.  UV light may also embrittle certain materials and fixtures.  Therefore, in-duct UV sterilizers are preferred.

  • In-duct hydroxyl generator systems ultraviolet energy to produce reactive oxygen species known as hydroxyls. Airborne hydroxyls are ideal sanitizing agents which reduce pathogens and neutralize volatile organic compounds (VOC) and a broad range of chemicals. Atmospheric hydroxyls are natural-occurring molecules produced by the action of the sun’s ultraviolet energy on oxygen and water in our atmosphere. The hydroxyls are a natural oxidant and safe for patients and staff to be present during treatment without additional PPE. The system can run continuously and year-round, providing the potential for maximum surgical uptime. An added benefit is that hydroxyls help mitigate odors caused by surgical smoke and cauterized tissues.

According to this 2018 paper, it may be wise to adopt some standards of cleanrooms in ORs.  One such principle is maximizing the use of ceiling space to make the ceiling one large diffuser.  The reason for this is that every gap in airflow delivery (for instance, around a light connection) causes a low pressure area into which airflow is directed, producing turbulence.  Therefore, the operating room would look more like this: 

Source: How is ASHRAE Standard 170 Applied to Hospital Operating Rooms?

LAF is also described as Uni-Directional Air Flow (UDAF), but UDAF may not always be laminar.   Here’s the difference: UDAF describes the direction of flow, however the velocity must be below 90 feet per minute in order to be described as laminar (non-turbulent).  It’s easy to see that the periphery (outside the Ultra Clean Ventilation area in the center) has a lot of turbulent air flow.  Although the large lights over the operating table do produce some turbulence, it is not visualized here.

Source: Air Quality in the Periphery of Operating Rooms during Surgery

Previous LAF systems utilized fans to force air down.  A new type of LAF system called Opragon was developed by the Swedish firm AvidCare, and the system uses Temperature-controlled AirFlow (TcAF).  The technology behind TcAF is based on the ventilation system pumping out slightly cooled air into a zone around the operating table. By taking advantage of the fundamental laws of nature, TcAF breaks the convection currents in an effective and energy-efficient manner. Since cool air is denser than the surrounding warmer air, it drops towards the floor. The air speed is dictated by the temperature difference in the room.  a temperature difference (ΔT value) of -1.5 to -3°C is required between the ultra-clean air and the ambient room air at the operating table to guarantee a fall speed of about 0.25 m/s at the level of the operating table. The technology continually checks to ensure that the ultra-clean air maintains a constant under-temperature of 1.5–3°C regardless of the temperature of the ambient room air. (Temperature-controlled AirFlow)

Air curtain systems like Mediclean emit an air curtain around the perimeter of the sterile area.  The Mediclean system uses Continuous Particle Monitoring (CPM) to measure airborne particles in real-time and uses simple visual alarms. When particles are detected, Mediclean® CPM systems automatically increase the airflow from the UCV to quickly flush the contamination away from the safety-critical area, protecting both patients and surgical staff.

Other innovations include:

  • Surgicube, which is positioned just above the operating table, emits sterile air for minor surgeries.

  • Surgibox, a portable sterile surgical field with self-supporting battery and filter system

  • Air Barrier System, which is a portable diffuser to bathe the surgical site in ultra-clean air 

  • A novel upward-flow design to ventilate using natural stack effect, which is less complex requiring fewer scarce components, lower maintenance commitments, lower energy requirements and operating costs.

And, it’s likely that even more innovations are in the pipeline.  We thought it would be helpful to let you know that even the air in operating rooms is important for the operation’s success and your healing, so you might want to check into it if you need to have surgery!

Non-toxic ways to deal with Hard Water

Non-toxic ways to deal with Hard Water

Many of us live in areas with very “hard” water.  How can water be hard?  It’s a way of saying there are a significant amount of minerals in the water, which can leave spots on your appliances, clog your pipes or leave a filmy residue on your hair or skin after showering.  If, despite frequent cleaning, your toilet looks like the following, you probably have hard water! 

Hard water is not necessarily bad for you; after all, many “mineral waters” for consumption capitalize on these very minerals that we are not fond of looking at on our appliances. 

According to the science, “hard” water can be categorized into alkaline (e.g., calcium carbonate CaCO3), non-alkaline (e.g., CaSO4), and silica based, with alkaline being the most common.  This water chemistry will of course affect the ability to prevent scale.  

Since CaCO3 is the most common type of mineral, most findings are delivered as a number that reports the concentration of calcium carbonate or calcium carbonate equivalents for a given unit of water. This result may be expressed in grains per gallon (gpg), parts per million (ppm), or milligrams per liter (mg/L). According to the Water Quality Association, the hardness scale, measured in gpg of calcium carbonate, can be represented as follows:

Less than 1 gpg is considered soft

Between 1 and 3.5 gpg is considered slightly hard

Between 3.5 and 7 gpg is considered moderately hard

Between 7 and 10.5 gpg is considered hard

More than 10.5 gpg is considered very hard

(Source: How is water hardness measured?)

If you want to “soften” your water, there are many solutions ranging from a few dollars to thousands of dollars, and from chemical-free to lots of chemicals.  Obviously, the best would be chemical-free and cheap…but most preferably chemical-free.  Here are 3 proposed solutions to keeping minerals from adhering to the surfaces your water comes in contact with (shower doors, bathtubs, toilets, sinks, etc.).  You can:

  1. Add a true water “softener” into your water source to remove the minerals
  2. Add a slick “film” or coating to the appliances so that the minerals don’t stick.
  3. Change the chemistry of the water so that the minerals don’t stick (EMF, MWT, AMT)

Let’s dig into these to find out which is best for you.  Our first recommendation is to test your water.  There are a lot of water testing kits on the market, some of which have 16-20 functions (a lot of tiny colors on the strip!)  While these are good for getting an overall picture of water quality, if you are interested in hardness, a specific test for hardness has better clarity.  This one by Varify retails for $12 on Amazon.  If your water comes in more on the green side (low minerals), you may need to do more research on the nature of your water “stains” because that result shows it’s actually low in minerals.

If your water shows as moderately to very hard (above 3 grains per gallon), then you might want to do something about it.  Moving on to our 3 proposed solutions:

Water Softeners

Softener systems actually remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium from your water by using an “ion exchange” process. The softener passes incoming water through a bed of resin beads, where minerals are attracted to the beads and softened water flows out of the tank.  Once in a while, the beads must be regenerated by flushing it with a strong solution of sodium chloride (salt) or potassium chloride, causing the minerals to release from the beads.  Then the system is ready to soften water again.   Softeners come in different sizes, for “whole-home” or smaller “appliance” use.  Although the upfront cost is more, the per-gallon cost is typically lower on whole-home systems.  In addition, appliances all over your home, from your coffee maker to your washing machine perform better with softer water.  However, there are disadvantages to using whole-home softeners: they can corrode pipes (it’s not recommended to soften water on very new pipes; you’ll want to wait several weeks to months so that an internal mineral film will develop), it does add a small amount of sodium to your drinking water, and regular testing of the water and maintenance of the softener is necessary to make sure the softener is working properly. (Home Water Softening Frequently Asked Questions)   Since there are many whole home systems available, we chose to review a few systems that soften specific appliances where people see the most impact.

Water softeners also lower the surface tension of water, making it feel “wetter” or “more slippery”.  On a porous surface, having a lower surface tension allows water to penetrate deeper allowing for better cleaning.  The addition of soap or the use of hot water will both lower the surface tension of water… Water softeners function through the process of ion exchange, i.e. exchange calcium and magnesium ions for sodium ions.  The conclusion can be drawn that sodium lowers the surface tension of water while calcium and magnesium ions increase the surface tension…There are other factors that influence the "wetness" or "slippery" feel of soft water including pH and alkalinity.  Typically the higher the alkalinity and pH, the greater the impact of this phenomenon.  This may help to explain why naturally soft water or reverse osmosis water do not have the same "wetness" or "slippery" feel. (The Kinetics and Aesthetics of Soft Water)

Softeners are measured by the number of “grains” they remove before regeneration is needed.  Here’s where you need to know how hard your water is (hence testing is needed!).  For example, if your water is 10 gpg, there are 3 people in your household and since the average person in the US uses about 75 gallons of water per day, that means 10 x 3 x 75 = 2,250 grains per day.  A water softener is usually sized to regenerate about one time per week, so that means a softener of 15,750 grains would work (16,000 grains like this one is ideal for an RV or live-aboard boat).   This article has very good information about the salt efficiency of different softeners, as using a lot of salt to regenerate is not only costly, it’s not good for the environment 

Washing dishes and clothes in hard water doesn’t yield great results.  Just like the inside of the sink or toilet, minerals can build up on your washed clothing over time, making them feel stiff and look dingy. In the dishwasher, minerals deposit on dishes causing spots and incomplete rinses.  “Water softening tablets” are available for use in the laundry or dishwasher and here are some non-toxic brands that work well with hard water:

  • Calgon 4 in 1 Water Softening Tablets, $51, for 75 tablets for laundry washing machine: add 1 tablet with each load of laundry (and use your own detergent).  Mainly composed of polycarboxylates, these tablets prevent minerals from depositing on surfaces and are generally deemed safe for human contact (after rinsing) and the environment.  Therefore, although these are “chemicals”, you can safely add softeners to your dishwasher or laundry:
  • BioKleen Free & Clear Natural Laundry Detergent, $35 for 150 loads, is very low cost for a natural detergent and is said to work well for moderately hard water.  Like many non-toxic detergents, it dissolves and works better in warm water rather than cold.
  • Planet Automatic Free & Clear Dishwasher Pacs, $6 for 20 pacs, is among the lowest cost per load, has transparent ingredients, and is good for hard water according to reviews. 
  • Blueland Dishwasher Detergent Tablet Starter Set, $30 for 60 tablets, do not have wrappers at all and are good for hard water according to reviews.

Shower “filters” are a great idea to prevent the harsh chemicals that municipal water treatment companies employ to keep drinking water safe.  Mostly we’re talking about chlorine and its by-products (see our article about the nasty effects of using too much chlorine).  But most shower filters don’t address hard water (which causes all those spots on your glass shower doors), or iron or sulfur in the water.  However, there are some shower filters that do; you must read the product description carefully to see what is removed.  The first product below is primarily a water softener to remove hard water minerals; the next 2 products are filters with some water softening capabilities.

  • ShowerStick Shower Water Softener, $260: This company has done its homework on water softening and actually allows the customer to do so as well, by providing a water testing kit with their kit. Using the water test weekly will show you when to “regenerate” the resin beads inside, which accomplish the softening.  Depending on how often you use the shower, regeneration may need to be done on a weekly basis.  The company also offers a KDF water filter to remove 95-99% of chlorine and controls the buildup of microorganisms such as bacteria, algae, fungi and mold.
  • PureAction Water Softener Shower Head Filter for Hard Water, $40, is a shower head meant to replace your existing shower head.  It comes with 2 extra filters that are replaceable (the filter cartridge is what removes the minerals and chlorine).  According to reviews, customers with sensitive skin have had good results with this showerhead. 
  • AquaEarth 15 Stage Shower Filter, $30, is an in-line water filter that allows you to add your own shower head.  It lasts approximately 6 months and replacements run about $7.50 each ($30 for a pack of 4).

Coatings that inhibit scale formation

There are a lot of anti-scale coatings available for commercial equipment, but not so many for residential use.  The application of a coating is sometimes not so difficult when a fixture is new (like a new toilet), but doing the necessary cleaning and application in an older fixture can be a lot of work.  In addition, the chemicals that make surfaces slick enough to inhibit scale are often not disclosed.  For example, Spotless Toilet Coating contains 84-94% isopropyl alcohol (for quick drying) and 0.5-1% of a proprietary acid, leaving 5-10% undisclosed ingredients. (MSDS)

Salt-free Water Conditioners

There are a number of water “conditioners” that do not use salt, electricity, or other energy to keep minerals from depositing in your appliances.  Here is a rundown of these technologies:

  • Template-Assisted Crystallization (TAC) uses surface-treated resin beads to convert (not remove) dissolved hardness ions to microscopic scale-resistant crystals. The polymeric beads are fluidized, creating agitation that releases the microscopic crystals and allows for further formation of crystals. Once these crystals are formed and released from the beads, they are insoluble particles that do not form scale on surfaces. In some cases, a fine dust may form on dishes but it can be wiped away. Template-assisted crystallization systems typically require relatively clean water as the input, and may require pretreatment if the water contains high iron and manganese concentrations or other sediment..(Drinking Water Treatment Salt-Free Water “Softener” Options)  Brand names include Aquasana, AO Smith and Pentair-Pelican.
  • Ultrafiltration and Nanofiltration: These processes use very fine filters to remove bacteria, viruses, and some salts from water.  This article by the Safe Drinking Water Foundation shows the different substances these processes can remove. 
  • Reverse Osmosis: These systems work by pushing water through a microscopically small filter material.  This semi-permeable membrane has a pore size of around 0.0001 microns, effectively only allowing the small water molecules through and catching any larger molecules of contaminants, organic materials or even salt. Originally designed to desalinate seawater and reduce high chemical contaminant material such as heavy metals, reverse osmosis is now in use in many government, commercial, military and even residential applications.  It does produce ultra-pure water, but also wastes a lot of water due to back-flushing requirements, and is relatively expensive. (Learn The Pros And Cons Of Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration Systems)

Magnetic Water Treatment, Anti-Scale Magnetic Treatment, Electromagnetic Fields

There’s been a fair amount of studies on AMT (anti-scale magnetic treatment) or MWT (magnetic water treatment) or EMF (Electromagnetic Fields).  Wikipedia states that it is “unproven and unscientific.”  However, EMF has seen a lot of study since 2010, and one meta-study concluded that although different results were reported regarding the influence of EMF in minerals precipitation, the results support the same hypothesis that EMF induce bulk precipitation of crystals rather than adhesion to the surface of reactors, pipes and vessels or to membrane surfaces. If we consider the bulk precipitation enhancement as effective EMF treatment, the percentage of effective EMF cases can reach 95% for the discussed 48 studies, 5% of the studies observed negligible improvement with EMF treatment, none of them has negative results.  This is not “unproven and unscientific.”  

There are two configurations of an EMF device used in water systems: permanent magnet and solenoid coil (uses alternating or direct current).    The efficiency of EMF depends on the properties of the field, including intensity, waveform, and frequency (the field strength varies with the number of coils or the thickness of the wire used), the material of pipe or surface, pH of the water, temperature of the water, residence time (how long the water is exposed to the EMF), and suspended particles (in some cases the presence of suspended particles such as silica is necessary for EMF water treatment to be effective, which can adsorb metal ions and increase bulk precipitation). (EMF meta-study)

Under ordinary circumstances, the scale forms through heterogeneous nucleation of CaCO3 (calcium carbonate) on the substrate surface. By contrast, when magnetically treated is used, nucleation (formation of crystals at a molecular level) takes place homogeneously in the body of the water, and small disc-shaped crystallites (about 50 #m in diameter and 1 #m thick) are formed.  Initially suspended, these crystallites gradually settle as a sediment at the bottom of the container.  (Magnetic Treatment of Water: A Theoretical Quantum Model)

When magnetic water treatment was first patented in 1945 by a Belgian company, there was not a complete understanding of how magnetic fields inhibited scale formation.  Today, however, one theory is presented here:  “Through the efforts of universities and their extensive laboratories, the performance of the magnetic water treatment for scale prevention has moved from being a phenomenon to understanding that the magnetic field creates a hardness crystal called Aragonite. It forms this because a tiny percentage of water is always dissociating – hydrogen (proton) leaving and forming H3O or hydronium – and the energy imparted to the water by the magnet causes the percentage of hydronium to increase dramatically. Water missing the hydrogen reacts differently with calcium bicarbonate (calcium hardness) than does water with full hydrogen in the size, shape, and texture of calcium carbonate crystals formed as evidenced in electron microscope photos. All crystals are void of charge so they won’t adhere to metals, however, the aragonite form is softer and is easily flushed through plumbing. No magic and no mystery. The performance relative to scale prevention is directly proportional to magnetic field strength and speed of water through alternating magnetic fields.” (Magnetic water treatment for scale prevention)

This is similar to the explanation given in a paper from 2000: MWT changes the form of calcium in water. The researchers tested MWT by passing water through a magnetic field of 1000 Gauss (0.1 Tesla).  The samples were then heated in open beakers, forming scale when the water evaporated.  The scale was inspected by X-ray diffraction (which can reveal what it’s made of) and an electron microscope (to view the structure).

The results confirm earlier claims that there are two different types of calcium deposits made: calcite and aragonite.  They are both made of the same stuff (calcium), but form in different structures.  The small beads of calcite tend to make hard scale that clings well to surfaces.  Aragonite forms in longer shapes which are less prone to form hard scale, and keep moving along with the water.  The data they collected also confirms that the effect can last over a period of time, as much as 200 hours.

Source: Magnetic Water Treatment, K&J Magnets, Inc.

In conclusion, if you have calcium carbonate in your water, then MWT may work in preventing some scale buildup.  Since it’s likely that many small magnet systems are not strong enough for the amount of water flow, it’s best to purchase from a company that knows its science (and offers different size magnets/appliances for different size pipes).:

  1. Magnation: this company employs several technologies, not just magnets, into their products.  They have a questionnaire enabling you to find the right product.
  2. ESF scale preventer uses permanent magnets, but you need to install them in-line with the water pipe, which may require a plumber. (contact company for price)
  3. Build your own: Using K&J’s equations, they have calculated the strength of the magnets necessary to do the work, and they sell them!  Basically you just have to measure the diameter of the inlet pipe where you are going to place the magnets, and build a system to place them opposed over the pipe so they don’t fall off or slam into each other.  They offer magnets in strong, stronger and strongest energy.

One more product was tested by one of our team members.  Krazy Klean is a magnet-based product that is placed in the toilet tank to reduce scaling in the toilet bowl, leading to less cleaning and use of chemicals.  In the toilet we tested, it definitely worked.  Old deposits were not removed, but once the bowl was cleaned (see our article here for non-toxic methods), it stayed clean for a month test period (from waste and minerals) with the Krazy Klean device in the tank, whereas it was previously cleaned about 2x per week yet still had waste and mineral residues building up.  The manufacturer advertises "Just drop it in your tank and eliminate scrubbing for an entire decade", however, we promote cleaning your toilet bowl regularly with non-toxic cleaners to reduce germs.  The company provides a report of its scientific testing on its website if you'd like to check out how it works.

Photo by Andres Siimon on Unsplash

How do water-based vacuums work and are they better than traditional vacuum cleaners?

How do water-based vacuums work and are they better than traditional vacuum cleaners?

Do you like how fresh the air seems after a rainstorm?  Well, that is the effect of the rain “washing” dust and microbes out of the air.  Sure, on a hot summer’s day it’s not long until these contaminants return, but it’s a welcome respite.  It’s nature’s air purifier!

This brings us to the topic of water-based vacuum cleaners.  Mechanically, the suction part of the vacuum (with or without a rotary brush to dislodge dirt) is the same as traditional vacuum cleaners.  However, using water to “filter” dust out of the air stream is the main difference. 

Let’s talk about how filtration using water as a filter is different from filtration using other mechanical means, such as a cyclonic separator or filter.  When a stream of dirty air is filtered by water, the dirt or dust in the air gets wet and heavy, and thus becomes entrained in the water, leaving the air “clean” on exit.  However, most water-based vacuums also use HEPA filters, in order to prevent any remaining dust or dust in water droplets from leaving the machine.   These HEPA filters are designed to get wet, whereas non-water-based vacuums do not have filters that can get wet.  

In traditional vacuums, the incoming dirty air stream usually first passes through a vacuum bag or cyclone, which filters out larger particles of dirt and hair.   In bagless systems, the cyclone uses centrifugal force to “spin” out these large particles so that the user only has to empty a cup of dirt, not replace the bag.  Single-stage or multi-stage cyclones can be employed, where a multi-stage cyclone allows the vacuum to operate longer without losing suction.  After the bag or cyclone, a final filter (this is where the HEPA filter is found if the vacuum has one) filters out any remaining dust in the air stream before exhaust.

The attraction and “wow” factor of water-based vacuums usually lies in the dirty water that you empty from the vacuum after cleaning.  If the floor is cleaned with a traditional vacuum and then with a water-based vacuum, being able to “see” the dirt that’s left behind drives enthusiasm for the water-based vacuum.  No one cuts open the bag from their traditional vacuum after cleaning, so the satisfaction of seeing that dirty water makes one think that water-based vacuums provide superior cleaning power. 

Although we haven’t tested them, we thought we’d share some insight on the most common water-based vacuum brands and what their customers like and dislike about them. 

Rainbow Vacuum Cleaners

You may have heard of or viewed a Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner, the first vacuum to remove dust from its vacuum stream using water.  The manufacturer, RexAir, was formed in the 1920’s and has been improving the Rainbow ever since it was introduced in the 1950’s. (The Original Water-Based Cleaning System)  It relies on a rotating brush to dislodge dirt, and the suction power of the vacuum motor to bring it into the machine, where the filters purify the air before exhaust.  According to product literature, its unique water filtration system captures typical household dirt, while remaining microscopic particles are caught by the HEPA Neutralizer Filtration System. This two-stage filtration combination removes nearly 100% of dirt and contaminants.  The company uses a network of Independent Authorized Rainbow Distributors which demonstrate the product in homes and businesses, so it’s not sold online.  Purchase prices for these units are not published either, however, customers seem to verify that these vacuums are the most expensive on the market.  Devoted Rainbow customers seem to keep their vacuums for 15-20 years, so the price per vacuum may be a very good value.  The units weigh in at about 20 pounds and rely on smooth casters to roll through your home.  Rainbow is “Certified Asthma & Allergy Friendly” and AHAM Certified: The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) certifies that the Rainbow is a proven air cleaner designed to reduce air pollutants that contribute to poor indoor air quality.  The weight of the E2 model is approximately 40 lbs and comes with an 8 year warranty.

Sirena vacuums ($600-990) are designed and made in Canada.  They can pick up wet or dry messes, and come with an assortment of tools to get into nearly every crevice.  The motor is quite powerful, providing ample suction, and the water reservoir hold 3.5 liters of water maximum, which is quite a lot of water in which to filter out dust and dirt.  It weighs 40 lbs and comes with a 10 year warranty.

Quantum X ($439) is an upright vacuum, meaning you don’t have to drag a canister around with you while you clean.  The power head can extend up to 18”, making it a good competitor to most canister vacuums, and it has a hose for smaller cleaning attachments.  The upright style affords less room for the water compartment, but this also allows it to be more portable.  It weighs 27.1 lbs. 

Kalorik Water Filtration Canister Vacuum Cleaner ($120) is a good budget cleaner made by a Belgian company that has been in business since 1930. Termed the “poor man’s Rainbow” by one reviewer, it’s a great option for those with pets and/or allergies, and it’s a lot lighter at 14.3 lbs.  The suction head does not have a rotating brush, but it has a high/low adjustment, very powerful suction, and picks up wet and dry messes. Without the rotating brush, it’s best suited for hard floors and not carpets.  It has a 1 year warranty.  

These four vacuums all use water as a filter, but are different from cleaners that vacuum and mop at the same time.  I use the CrossWave floor and area rug cleaner by Bissell ($257), which uses water to clean AND filter out dust.  For homes that have no wall-to-wall carpet or a lot of area rugs, these types of upright vacuums are convenient and ideal because they perform two functions at one time–vacuuming and mopping, with good efficiency (check out our article on using these types of vacuums to tackle dust in your home).

In all, many customers (including myself) prefer water-based vacuums over traditional ones because:

  1. You can see the dirt they pull off your floors very readily when you empty the vacuum, which is both satisfying and disgusting.  Whether this is more than the dirt that is captured by traditional vacuums is not measured.

  2. There’s no bag to retain smelly dirt (especially pet hair).  With traditional vacuums, this smelly dirt stays in your home until you replace the bag, and it also expels smelly air every time you vacuum until you replace the bag.  (As a pet owner, I appreciate this!)

  3. There are no bags to purchase and replace! 

  4. They are very good at retaining suction (most work until the suction compartment is completely clogged with debris or pet hair), and restoring suction is very easy to do–empty the compartment!

  5. Many of these models remove wet or dry messes (traditional vacuums can only handle dry dirt). 

  6. Many of these models allow addition of essential oils to the filter water or cleaning water for a fresh scent of your choice, and some, like the Rainbow and Sirena, double as air purifiers.

The “cons” of water-based vacuums are that: 

  1. Of course, water is heavy and more quality construction can make the unit VERY heavy and bulky, to the point of not being mobile enough to clean separate floors in a home if you are physically challenged.  Most water-based models are “cannister” type instead of “upright” in order to more easily and stably move the water around.

  2. Water-based vacuums can be more costly than traditional vacuums.

  3. Some water-based vacuums (like the Bissell CrossWave) require a detergent to enhance cleaning of the floors.  This detergent is an added operating cost and can have toxic ingredients in it (unless you make your own, check out our recipe here). 

  4. If your vacuum uses water to “scrub” and then suck up dirt and debris, water that stays on your floor can temporarily increase humidity in your home, albeit less than regular mopping.  If water is used to clean carpeting, you must be careful that it’s thoroughly dried, and quickly, so that mold doesn’t have a chance to take root.

Do you prefer another type of vacuum that we haven’t discussed?  Let us know!

Photo by No Revisions on Unsplash

Which is a healthier home habitat: the forest or the desert?

Which is a healthier home habitat: the forest or the desert?

Is it more healthy to live in or near a forest or a desert?  Spoiler alert: we’re not going to call that decision.  Each habitat has its advantages and disadvantages, so we’ll explore them to see which one is best for you.

You might think that these two climes are extremely opposite, but they do have (at least) one thing in common: trees!  Granted, there are many more trees in forests, but trees in the desert can accomplish many of the same purposes.  In a 2020 study, one particular type of tree found in Qatar (desert region), Acacia tortilis, was found to be the most efficient tree species for reducing air pollution, having good capacity to intercept storm water runoff, reducing energy consumption and reducing air pollution levels through dry deposition, avoiding further pollution formation and CO2 removal.  Mature trees (with diameter greater than 45 inches) were much more efficient at accomplishing these goals than younger trees (diameter 10 inches). 

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), trees provide many benefits, including the ability to clean our atmospheric environment both directly underneath their canopies, and at a larger, regional scale. Because leaves transpire large amounts of moisture, trees have a cooling effect on the surrounding environment—like air conditioning. By cooling and cleansing the atmosphere, trees help to make air safer for breathing by plants, animals, and humans and have positive benefits on habitat. In fact, air quality underneath a closed tree canopy is often significantly better than above that tree canopy, especially for ozone—a common air pollutant that forms downwind of urban air pollution sources. On a regional scale, forests also scrub ozone and other nitrogen and sulfur-containing air pollutants out of the prevailing winds, protecting more sensitive areas.  Healthy forests with large, widely-spaced trees also protect from wildfire smoke because pines and other fire-adapted trees with their thick, fire retardant bark better resist fire in all but the most extremely hot, dry, and windy conditions.

Interestingly, some trees contribute to ozone production, while others reduce it.  This is because species like black locust, European oak and poplar intensively emit isoprene, which results in higher ozone and PM10 concentrations, while tree species emitting primarily monoterpenes such as beech, magnolia and wayfaring trees yield less of both.  (Impact of vegetative emissions on urban ozone and biogenic secondary organic aerosol: Box model study for Berlin, Germany)

Another common denominator between forests and deserts is animals–whether they are domesticated or wild, contact with animals is more frequent in remote areas than in urban areas.  There is also much research that shows how exposure to animals benefits us.  In one study, the researchers recruited 2 groups of young men:  20 young men who were raised for the first 15 years of life on farms with farm animals, and a second group of 20 young men who were raised for the first 15 years of life in a city of over 100,000 people, without daily exposure to pets. Both groups were then given Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), a model of acute psychosocial stress in humans. The results revealed that those who grew up in cities without daily exposure to pets, and thus lacked exposure to diverse microbial environments during childhood, responded to psychosocial stress with exaggerated inflammation markers,  (Less immune activation following social stress in rural vs. urban participants raised with regular or no animal contact, respectively)

Now, let’s talk about some specifics of each habitat.


Although the stereotypical desert is hot, dry and sandy, only one of these words accurately describes every desert (dry).  Most experts agree that a desert is an area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year. The amount of evaporation in a desert often greatly exceeds the annual rainfall. Surprisingly, areas near water can actually be deserts, because humidity in the air doesn’t predict or cause rainfall.  The Atacama Desert, on the Pacific shores of Chile, is a coastal desert. Some areas of the Atacama are often covered by fog. But the region can go decades without rainfall. In fact, the Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth, and some weather stations in the Atacama have never recorded a drop of rain.  (Desert)

Low humidity is obviously a benefit to keeping mold from growing on outdoor or indoor surfaces, if air conditioning is not needed.  Dryness would lead some to believe that mold could not be a problem in the desert.  However, mold spores are present everywhere, and lack of home maintenance can allow even a small amount of rainfall to turn into a mold disaster.  Mold can start growing undetected in attics, crawlspaces and walls during one of the infrequent rains, and can turn into a big problem whenever it is disturbed, such as during renovation or further deterioration.  If air conditioning is used, it can generate mold problems when moist air (like from cooking or showering) hits cold air, or around the surfaces where cold condensate is produced.   

Low humidity also means little to no mosquitoes and many other biting insects.  Low pollution (when the wind is not kicking up dust) and warm weather can also be a positive for those who suffer from breathing problems like asthma.  

One problem of low humidity is its effects on the human body (see our article).  Dehydration can become evident in dry skin, hair and nails, respiratory system and through your whole body, affecting every major system.  In addition, static electricity builds up in your clothing and furniture, which can hurt and damage electronics.  Finally, dry air allows pathogens to stay afloat in the air for longer periods of time.  

Most deserts have very little cloud cover and thus a lot of sunshine.  This, for sure has its benefits and drawbacks; it can be the cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) but also present higher risk for skin and eye damage and cancer.  Exposure to UV sunlight was associated with lower systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) regardless of the temperature. (Could sunshine lower blood pressure? Study offers enlightenment)  In addition, sunlight assists your body in making vitamin D, which strengthens bones, and sunlight promotes collagen production in your connective tissue, which helps you move quickly. (7 Health Benefits of Living in the Desert)

The purifying power of sunlight should not be underestimated.  Those who live in or near the desert can use the UV rays of sunlight to purify water, their laundry, and anything else they can bring outside for a good “freshening”. 

One important disadvantage to desert life is dust.  In fact, you don’t have to live in the desert to suffer from the effect of desert dust, because dust from deserts can be transported on the wind and even injected into the troposphere, allowing it to travel great distances (such as across the Atlantic Ocean in the case of Saharan dust).  Dust clouds at surface levels bring particulate matter, coarse and fine, worsening air quality and posing respiratory or even cardiovascular risks.(What is desert dust and how does it change atmosphere and the air we breathe?)  The danger of dust presents in two different ways: size of the particles and content of the particles.  Particles that are approximately between 2.5 to 10 microns (PM10) are inhalable, but can be trapped and cleared from the upper respiratory tract.  Particles less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) can lung alveoli, entering the blood stream where they cause systemic harm to other organs in the human body. (A Retrospective Cohort Study of Military Deployment and Postdeployment Medical Encounters for Respiratory Conditions)  Especially concerning is the class of particles less than 1.0microns (PM1.0), which are sure to enter directly into the bloodstream and may also cross the blood-brain barrier.  The toxic content of dust can be pathogens such as bacteria, including some that carry respiratory diseases (Characterization of Bacteria on Aerosols From Dust Events in Dakar, Senegal, West Africa), and most importantly, a fungus Coccidioides which causes Valley Fever.  It can also be bioreactive metals such as copper, chromium, nickel, lead and zinc, as well as pesticides, herbicides, radioactive particulates and aerosolized sewage (yuck!!). (Desert dust storms carry human-made toxic pollutants, and the health risk extends indoors)

Increased heat and low humidity also tends to decrease the number of negative ions in the air.  Elevated negative air ion levels are widely reported to have beneficial effects on humans including enhanced feeling of relaxation, and reduced tiredness, stress levels, irritability, depression, and tenseness. Depleted ion levels and enhanced positive ion levels are reported to have no effect, or deleterious effects. (Air Ion Effects

The study of how gasses in the earth’s atmosphere react with each other is very complex.  For example, it’s been shown that desert soil releases nitrogen species gasses into the air.  The release of NOx from desert soil and subsequent effective oxidation in the atmosphere indicates that the desert ecosystem is an important area for ozone production. This has been manifested by higher ozone in the desert air than the regional background from many observations (Güsten et al., 1996; Hoffer et al., 1982).  (Active Nitrogen Cycle Driven by Solar Radiation in Clean Desert Air)  Thus, higher levels of ozone in the desert could make it unhealthy for sensitive individuals.  These could become particularly high after rains, when microbes in the soil emit N2O (nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas).  (Following rain, desert microbes exhale potent greenhouse gas)  In addition, it’s been shown that “stratospheric intrusions” (ozone-rich air descending from the stratosphere during spring storms) can also capture ozone created by pollution from Asia as they descend and transport it to desert areas of the southwest.  Particularly in the area of Las Vegas, these can create short episodes of high ozone that exceed federal air quality standards without factoring in local pollution.  (Background ozone burdens Las Vegas’ air quality in spring)

The other side of the coin is that in some areas of the world (like Atacama and Sechura deserts in Chile and Peru), dust from deserts can contain significant iodine, which actually destroys ozone.  (Iodine in Desert Dust Destroys Ozone)  Therefore, the mineral makeup of the soil in deserts is very important in characterizing what’s in the air. 

Living in/near the Forest

Forest bathing” is a Japanese term that emerged during the 1980’s as an antidote to tech burnout: it’s being calm and quiet amongst the trees, observing nature around you whilst breathing deeply can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and wellbeing in a natural way. (How to start forest bathing)  If you regularly spend quiet time in the outdoors, perhaps you are already aware of its benefits: lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of harmful hormones like cortisol.  (Forest bathing: What it is and why you should try it)

What is in the air of forests?

Phytoncides are aromatic compounds from plants which can increase your number and activity of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that supports the immune system and is linked with a lower risk of cancer. These cells are also believed to be important in fighting infections and inflammation, a common marker of disease.  In one study, researchers found that people who took a long walk through a forest for two days in a row increased their natural killer cells by 50% and the activity of these cells by 56%. Those activity levels also remained 23% higher than usual for the month following those walks. (Why Spring Is the Perfect Time to Take Your Workout Outdoors)

Hinoki cypress, cedar, oak, pine and spruce are just some of the trees to release phytoncides (aromatic compounds), which include alpha-pinene and d-limonene.  Although these are actually VOCs, they are termed biogenic VOCs (BVOCs) because they are naturally made, unlike chemical VOCs that are manufactured.  Pinene and limonene are monoterpenes, which global annual emissions amount to 330–480 million tons. When visiting a forest, monoterpene VOCs such as limonene and pinene are mainly absorbed through inhalation, their blood levels rapidly rise after exposure, and they are mostly eliminated unchanged both in exhaled air and in the urine.  The tree composition can markedly influence the concentration of specific VOCs in the forest air.  Although essential oils do contain BVOCs, not all BVOCs are present in essential oils, and some molecules included in essential oils are not part of the BVOC molecular suite but are rather artifacts of distillation. (Forest Volatile Organic Compounds and Their Effects on Human Health: A State-of-the-Art Review)

Some other benefits of forest living are:

  • Humidity: in moderate amounts, humidity is good for the skin and respiratory system, 

  • Cooling effect: trees cool air through evapotranspiration. As trees transpire, they release water into the atmosphere through their leaves. As the water changes state from liquid to vapor, the surrounding air is cooled, similar to how we sweat.

  • Particulate matter capture: Forests can improve public health greatly by catching dust, ash, pollen and smoke on their leaves, keeping it out of our lungs.

  • Trees are sinks for other harmful pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia and ozone, which can all cause respiratory problems from repeated exposure. (The Important Relationship between Forests and Air)

  • Healthy forest air includes bacteria, fungal spores, plant and animal particles and pollen, which may have good and bad effects.  Good effects of exposure to these include desensitization to allergies (exposure therapy), and certain bacteria, like Mycobacterium vaccae (a bacteria strain that lives in soil), which can stimulate serotonin production, and can make you feel relaxed and happier, as well as reduce inflammatory responses to stress. According to Dr. Christopher Lowry, “Surprisingly, when adults engage in soil-mixing activities for ten minutes with soil that is ‘spiked’ with M. vaccae ATCC 15483, there is a rapid alteration in brain activity within the occipital cortex and alteration in the plasma metabolome, relative to soil that is not spiked with M. vaccae ATCC 15483 [35]; this suggests that exposures to mycobacteria not only have long-term immunoregulatory effects but also alter physiology and neurophysiology within minutes. Perhaps we all really should spend more time playing in the dirt.” 

  • Ions: That “fresh air” feeling in the forest also comes from higher than normal presence of ions.  Negative air ions (NAIs) are an important indicator of air quality, and are significant for the evaluation of air conditions. In a 2020 study of a scenic area in China, negative air ions were present in forested areas  approximately 3.2-3.4 times over the numbers in open areas or the lake.  (For more information on the cleansing power of ions, read our post here!)

And the cons of forest living: 

  • Humidity: many forests are high in humidity, which can promote mold growth.  Without dehumidification in a home, it would be difficult to live in many forested areas because of mold growth. 

  • Radon: Trees are sources, sinks, and conduits for gas exchange between the atmosphere and soil, so radon, a product of uranium decay in the soil, is naturally expired by trees along with other gasses.  Although radon accumulation in homes through their foundation (the rocks and soil below the foundation) is most concerning, emission of radon by trees will cause a forest to have a higher level of radon than unforested areas, because radon is approximately 7.5 times heavier than air, so that living in or near the forest may increase the ambient level of radon outside the home depending on winds.  There are two units of measurement for radon, picocuries per liter, and becquerels per cubic meter.  According to a 2015 study in Brazil, radon concentrations as high as 40 kBq/m3 (40,000 Bq/m3) were found in a national forest.  The EPA recommends that homeowners take action to lower radon levels in their homes if there is a level above 2 pCi/L.  Since one pCi/L is equivalent to 37 Bq/m3, the measurement in the Brazilian forest showed 1,081 pCi/L, or 250 times the upper limit of radon recommended by the EPA!  Thus, the study rightly inferred that “the results indicated considerable radon hazard for human occupation in the neighborhood.”

Overall, the desert and the forest are two vastly different climates, yet each have potential for healthy lifestyles for those who can live further away from urban areas.   From forest bathing to hiking to biking, there are plenty of ways that each environment offers us to connect with nature and take in its natural health benefits. 

Enjoy Your Favorite Scents and (Effortlessly) Reap the Benefits!

Enjoy Your Favorite Scents and (Effortlessly) Reap the Benefits!

You might have said this of different tasks in your life, that you can “do it while sleeping”, meaning that you don’t have to use much conscious thought to do them.   Well, here’s a literally simple way to boost cognitive capacity and avoid dementia-related diseases: plug in an essential oil diffuser before you go to sleep!  

Previously, a 2009 study showed that olfactory enrichment (the daily exposure to multiple odorants) could improve both memory and neurogenesis (the formation of new neurons) in the mouse brain. In addition, novelty was the critical element in this kind of stimulation, as exposure to odorant mixtures did not produce these changes, while exposure to multiple odorants individually did.  

When some COVID-19 patients began to lose sense of smell, researchers tested subjects and found that MRI scans from individuals both pre-infection and post-infection have revealed neural deterioration that resembles a decade of aging in brain regions that receive olfactory-system projections.  Because olfactory loss precedes or accompanies cognitive decline in dementia-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, researchers hypothesized that easy and affordable intervention to prevent cognitive decline could be using scents.

In a study, 20 participants (the Enriched Group) between ages 60 to 85 were given a diffuser and 7 essential oil odorants (rose, orange, eucalyptus, lemon, peppermint, rosemary, and lavender) in identical glass vials that each fit into the diffuser. They were asked to turn on the diffuser when they went to bed, and the odorant was released into the air during the night for 2 h when they first went to sleep. They rotated through the different odorants each night, continuing at home for 6 months. Twenty-three individuals in the control group also were provided with an odorant diffuser, and they followed the same regimen as the olfactory enrichment participants, however they were provided with bottles that contained distilled water with an undetectable amount of odorant added. 

The results showed a 226% difference between enriched and control older adults in performance on the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT). This test evaluates verbal learning and memory, including proactive interference, retroactive interference, delayed recall, retention, and recognition memory.  (Overnight olfactory enrichment using an odorant diffuser improves memory and modifies the uncinate fasciculus in older adults)

Before and after MRIs also showed that parts of the brain that receive input from the olfactory system, specifically the uncinate fasciculus, are modified by olfactory enrichment.  The researchers found a moderate increase in the mean diffusivity (MD) of the left uncinate fasciculus in the enriched group compared to controls, which correlates to increased integrity of that specific brain pathway.

What does this mean for the average senior?  Olfactory stimulation (smelling different scents) can be an important way to avoid dementia-causing diseases, and the cost of a programmable essential oil diffuser and a variety of different oils is not prohibitively expensive.  Here are a few options:

Best of all, this method is not hard to do; basically, with a little preparation, you can “do it while sleeping”! 

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Keeping safe when using supplemental heat

Keeping safe when using supplemental heat

When the weather turns chilly, sometimes your main heat source doesn’t heat quickly or completely, or it’s expensive to run, and you may turn to supplemental heaters for a quick way to warm up.  Supplemental heating sources like radiators, space heaters, and fireplaces are alternative options to simply turning up the heat in your home or installing a new, main heating system.  However, they have limitations and safety considerations you should note!

Portable space heaters





  • Heats whole space, not limited to line-of-sight

  • Lightweight

  • Because it’s convection heat, it usually requires a fan to direct the heat

  • Can dry out the air excessively

  • Lose heat due to convection (heating air instead of objects)

  • May take longer to heat 

Infrared/ Quartz

  • Great for small, open spaces

  • Cost depends on which power source it uses: electric or gas (natural or propane).

  • Quickly heats due to direct transfer of radiant heat

  • More efficient than ceramic heaters (over 90% efficiency)

  • Must be in line-of-sight of the heater to feel warmth

  • Not good for large spaces

Oil-filled Radiator (electric)

  • Quiet!  Fans are not necessary in these models.  

  • Modern versions have features like programmable timers and adjustable thermostats. 

  • Radiant heat is very comfortable and continues even after the heater is turned off.

  • Surfaces become hot and may endanger children and pets.

  • These type of heaters may take longer to heat up a room initially.

  • They are heavy but most are equipped with casters for portability.


  • Kerosene stores well for long periods so it can be a good emergency heater for power outages.

  • Inexpensive

  • Quiet because no fans are needed

  • Can heat larger spaces like garages

  • Because it burns fuel liquid inside your home, you must take abundant safety precautions around flammable furnishings, children and pets.

  • Combustion byproducts mean that carbon monoxide monitors must ALWAYS be used, and room should be ventilated adequately (possibly losing heat).

  • They’re illegal to use indoors in MA and possibly other states

  • They produce water vapor, which can cause excess humidity

  • Kerosene can emit significant particulate pollutants, especially if burners/wicks are not kept clean

Sometimes the permanent heating system in your home is undersized and it can’t heat the whole home adequately.  In other cases, if you have a gas furnace, propane or natural gas can become relatively expensive!  In these cases, permanent supplemental heating (the installation of a heater in one part of the home) can help. 

Permanent Supplemental Heating




Electric Radiators or wall-mounted heaters

  • Provides steady heat with minimal safety issues

  • Unobtrusive because they are located on or near a wall

  • Can consume a lot of electricity during prolonged cold spells

Electric Heat Pump Mini-Split

  • Heat pumps are more efficient for larger spaces than portable electric heaters

  • Heater can be sized to the space very easily

  • Air handler portion is mounted on a wall, out of the way

  • Can be regulated with a programmable thermostat

  • Units typically heat and cool, making them very versatile

  • Long life

  • May also include an electric coil for emergency backup heating

  • More expensive initial investment than portable heaters

  • Requires exterior space for the heat pump

Wood heating systems

  • Wood burning fireplaces are attractive

  • Very economical if you have the ability to cut and haul wood

  • Fireplaces do not require power

  • Wood pellet stoves produce very little ash, burn cleanly and easy to operate

  • Long-lasting

  • Sealed fireplace inserts increase heat efficiency while decreasing emissions

  • Professional installation is recommended

  • Wood pellet stoves require electricity to operate the fan and feeder motor

  • Flues must be cleaned at least annually to prevent fire risk

  • Carbon monoxide monitors must ALWAYS be used and it’s a good idea to monitor for CO2 and NOx

  • Unsealed fireplaces always have risks of dangerous smoke and embers coming out of the firebox into your living space


Gas Fireplace or heater

  • Gas fireplaces are attractive and vented models are readily available

  • Can work when the power is off but are more efficient when using the fan to disperse heat

  • Environmentally friendly

  • Professional installation is recommended for any permanent combustion heater

  • Requires a nearby gas line

  • Carbon monoxide monitors must ALWAYS be used and it’s a good idea to monitor for CO2 and NOx


Propane or Natural Gas Heater

  • Very efficient and inexpensive

  • Available with safety features such as oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) that immediately shuts down the blue flame heater if carbon monoxide or lack of oxygen is detected

  • Can work when power is off but are more efficient when using the fan to disperse heat

  • Broad choice of unvented models; however read the precautions below

  • Professional installation is recommended for any permanent combustion heater

  • Requires a nearby gas line

  • Lack of venting required does not mean lack of air pollution.  NO2 and CO2 levels can become relatively high if ventilation is not used.

  • Combustion byproducts mean that carbon monoxide monitors must ALWAYS be used, and room should be ventilated adequately (possibly losing heat)

  • Should not be left burning when the room is unattended

We want you to be knowledgeable about and avoid air quality poisons that are created just by heating your home with a combustion unit!  According to a Japanese study of propane, kerosene and electric space heaters used in a non-ventilated, 215 ft2 room:

  • concentrations of NO2 and CO2 from all the heaters except the electric heater exceeded the 1-hr Environmental Quality Standards (NO2: 0.04-0.06 ppm) and the Building Sanitation Management Standards (BSMS, CO2: 1,000 ppm).  

  • The CO concentration emitted from reflection kerosene and natural gas heaters slightly exceeded the BSMS (10 ppm). 

  • The concentrations of suspended particulate matter and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons showed an increasing tendency during the use of kerosene-fueled heaters. 

In a study of kerosene heaters, NOx, CO2 and CO are the main gaseous pollutants emitted by kerosene space heaters. In addition, carbonyl compounds (formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acetone) were identified, as well as ∼50 other VOCs, six of which presenting a risk for human health (1,3-butadiene, benzene, ethylene, propene, isobutene and acetylene). There is an accumulation of soot on wick heaters after a few hours of operation, which causes incomplete combustion that increases CO emissions, (CO poisonings are frequent with kerosene heater use). Therefore, the recommendation with any combustion gas heater is to ventilate profusely, or go with a vented heater model.  This article on concurs that we should avoid unvented gas heaters. 

Photo by Jessica Johnston on Unsplash

“Sleeper” bacteria spores are like mold spores

“Sleeper” bacteria spores are like mold spores

One of the unsavory facts about mold is its ability to lie dormant when food and moisture sources dry up, until conditions allow it to “bloom” again.  Scientists are finding out that there are other microbes that exhibit this same behavior, necessitating finding new ways to detect their presence.  

One of these is Acinetobacter Baumannii.  This superbug is usually present in wet environments, such as soil and mud, ponds, wetlands, wastewater, fish farms and seawater.  Healthy people can also carry the Acinetobacter bacteria on their skin, particularly if they work in a healthcare setting. It can survive for a long time on dry surfaces, making it difficult to eliminate. (Acinetobacter: What to know)  

Scientists have recently discovered a new state of “life” of this bacteria.  When living conditions become too stressful, many bacteria enter a dormant state that is almost death-like, showing no metabolic activity. These are known as spores. 

Acinetobacter baumannii can alternatively form special cells which are in a kind of deep sleep. Although these cells still show signs of life and breathe, it is no longer possible to cultivate them on culture media in Petri dishes. "We know this state from cholera bacteria, for example; it is referred to as the viable but non-culturable (VBNC) state," explains Professor Volker Müller of Goethe University Frankfurt.  (The deep slumber of a hospital pathogen: Why infections with Acinetobacter baumannii can flare up again and again)

As of the study date (September 2023), scientists have kept the acinetobacter in VBNC state for 11 months, and are still able to “wake them up” after 2 days of “rehab” with special nutrients and oxygen.  No end is in sight for the length of time these bacteria can hibernate.  

The danger is that courses of normal antibiotics and culture procedures (on a plate) can yield negative culture results, which would indicate that a patient is clear of such dangerous microbes.  However, VBNC cells can be hiding in nooks and crannies of the body, waiting to resurge when stress or antibiotics are removed  Tests like PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) can be used to detect VBNC cells because they identify specific genes that cause virulence and predict antibiotic resistance, but it’s probable that these are not used in smaller hospitals currently.

Acinetobacter Baumannii is not the only bacteria with “sleeper” capabilities; dormancy or persistence is just a “state” that many bacteria can occupy.  Mycobacterium smegmatis, which is related to the bacteria that causes pneumonia, was studied in 2013 and discovered that “persister” bacteria continued to divide and die even during antibiotic treatment so that the total number of bacteria stayed approximately the same.  The fact that the cells weren’t classically “dormant” but still continued to divide, makes them technically “dynamically resistant” to antibiotics, while other microbes use other techniques to evade death and can be labeled “tolerant, latent, indifferent, dormant and non-multiplying”.  (Sleeper cells – the secret lives of invincible bacteria) However, it all comes back to their ability to survive antibiotics, which is dangerous for us!

Here is some recent literature on other “sleeper cells”

Since persistent bacteria are difficult to kill with traditional antibiotics, scientists are pursuing several strategies to take them out.  One is to find ways to wake all of them up, so that they are easy to kill with accessible drugs.  The second is to discover what genes or proteins allow them to stay alive in sleep mode.  Some of these “upregulate” cell functions (like scavenging for iron), and some of them downregulate cell functions (like digestive functions).  A third tactic would be to look for drugs that kill the sleeper cells, not just active ones.  

To the layman, all this sounds like poking into a hibernating bear’s den with different sticks until you find one of the right length poking in the right place, and having the best gun or trap ready for when he wakes up!  The sad fact is that people regularly suffer from hosting these persistent bacteria in their bodies and we sincerely hope that scientists can find the right triggers in labs to find the combination of methods to help patients who need it.

Bacteria, mold and other microbes also populate our homes in the form of spores, persisting for years until the right moisture AND nutrients come along.  Although there is no “silver bullet” like an antibiotic to remove them completely, we can use the same principles to keep the population under control so that our bodies don’t suffer!

  • Clean regularly with non-toxic ingredients.  The less dust and dirt we allow to accumulate in our homes, the less microbe spores are lying around.  Check out our article on Tackling Dust in Your Home.

  • The FDA states that over-the-counter antibacterial hand soaps don’t protect us from disease any better than regular soap and water.  The cleansing action happens in the thorough agitation of soap and water over hands, and a good rinse with water.  Many “antibacterial” soaps also contain ingredients, like triclosan, which can be harmful to us over time.  

  • Since you can’t easily scrub and rinse items like your countertop or toilet seat with soap and water, however, different solutions need to be employed there.  Sure, you can get antibacterial cleaning sprays, but the same concerns apply: are they safe long-term?  Instead, opt for cleaners that are non-toxic and are less likely to create antibiotic resistance.  We’ve recommended the following cleaners for these reasons:

    • Our all-purpose, non-toxic cleaner TotalClean combines both copper and iodine, and when they are combined, they produce peroxide!  In simple terms, the peroxide acts as an “oxidizing agent”, destroying the means for bacteria to take in oxygen and suffocating them.  

    • The Honest Company Disinfecting Spray also uses hydrogen peroxide to clean, disinfect, and deodorize while meeting EPA’s criteria for products effective against SARS-CoV-2 and a laundry list of other germs.

    • Because hypochlorous acid is an oxidant, it leaves nothing behind for bacteria and viruses to create resistance to and therefore does not contribute to the superbug (multidrug-resistant organisms) dilemma.(The Role of Hypochlorous Acid in Managing Wounds: Reduction in Antibiotic Usage)   Hypochlorous is not bleach; in fact, it’s superior to bleach.  Some hypochlorous cleaners include Force of Nature and Clean Republic’s All Purpose Cleaner.

  • Of course, change your HVAC filter regularly so that spores do not find their way to your air handler’s evaporator coil, where moisture can allow them to reactivate.  We’ve got some great filters with activated carbon and MERV 10-14 ratings (for more on MERV, check out our article HVAC filter changes are vital to your indoor air quality

  • The technology in our bipolar ionizers like our Germ Defender, Upgraded Air Angel Mobile and Whole Home Polar Ionizer has been tested against bacteria such as E. coli, MRSA and C. diff (see test results here), so why not add them to your non-toxic cleaning arsenal as a passive way to keep the spores under control? 

There’s a lot about the microscopic world of bacteria and mold that we don’t know, and obsessing over it doesn’t help much!  Thankfully, there are quite a few ways to keep safe using non-toxic products and methods that are tried and true. 

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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