Science of Happi
From VOCs to Dust and Everything in Between: Breaking Down What's In Your Air
Diana Amaya @ Feb 23, 2022
Breathing is typically an involuntary function relegated to the backburner of our brains, and yet we literally do it 24/7. Unsurprisingly, the quality of the air we breathe affects many facets of our lives. But it’s hard to clean what we can’t see, and sensational pseudoscience loves to overwhelm us with scary headlines about monsters lurking in our air. Fortunately the cleanliness of our indoor air is within our control thanks to air purifiers and loads of science and psychological research that we can harness, all in the name of happiness.
Below, we break down the common culprits of indoor air pollution so you can find solutions, clean your air, and breathe and live better.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (say that 5 times fast), an allergen is a substance capable of triggering a response that starts in the immune system and results in an allergic reaction. The term encompasses a wide range of substances causing allergic reactions that includes insect venom and various foods, but we’ll focus on airborne allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander. Many of these also fall under a category of pollutants known as particulate matter.
A pollutant is a substance that is present in concentrations that can harm living things, or that exceed an environmental quality standard. The EPA adds, a pollutant can alter organisms in such a way that future generations are permanently affected. Some common indoor air pollutants are radon, VOC’s, smoke, and particulate matter.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that contain carbon known as organic compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature. VOCs are widely used at home and work and found in products like paints, aerosol sprays, cleaners and disinfectants, dry cleaned clothing and more. Exposure to VOCs can have long-term health effects, but don’t throw out all your household products just yet (ok maybe some of them). The good news is that steps can be taken to mitigate their effects, like buying non-toxic cleaning products, opening windows for ventilation, using a VOC sensor to monitor air quality, and using an air purifier with an activated carbon filter.
When you browse air purifiers and air filters, you might come across something that looks like this: PM10. This refers to particulate matter, a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. While some particles are large enough to be seen with naked eye, like dust or smoke, many of the particles that linger in our home can only be detected using an electron microscope. PM2.5 refers to fine particulate matter, and is distinguished by the size of the particles in micrometers (also known as microns). Both PM10 and PM2.5 are inhalable and can cause serious health problems. Since most of us don’t have electron microscopes lying around, technology and science has fortunately answered the needs of a modern household with high quality and accessible air purifiers that detect and clean these mini menaces. Air purifiers like Happi that feature a 5-layer HEPA filter are incredibly effective at monitoring and cleaning indoor air, capturing 99.98% of particulate matter as small as .03 microns (that’s teeny tiny).
We’re all familiar with the fine, dry, powdery nuisance that perpetually cycles through our homes and lands on our surfaces. It consists of tiny particles of earth and waste matter, hairs, textile fibers, minerals from outdoor soil, and about 20-50% dead skin (ew). Since dust is a particulate matter, it falls under PM, pollution (depending on it’s makeup), and allergen categories, often causing allergic reactions, and exacerbating respiratory issues like asthma. You can minimize the dust in your home by vacuuming rather than sweeping, using microfiber cloths, frequently washing bedding, and using air purifiers with HEPA filters that capture dust in your air.
Pollen is that yellow stuff that ruins an otherwise perfect spring picnic. More specifically, it’s a fine powdery substance made from microscopic grains or spores that happens to be the fertilizing element of flowering plants. They are transported by wind, insects, and other animals, often reaching our homes and our respiratory systems. While allergy sufferers may need to turn to allergy medication to enjoy a spring day outdoors, air purifiers can effectively reduce the effects of pollen in our homes. Pollen falls is also a type of particulate matter and an allergen.
Not quite as cute as the name implies, pet dander consists of microscopic flecks of skin shed by dogs, cats, birds, rodents, and other birds or mammals. While pets are incredibly beneficial for our well-being - they provide companionship, improve our mental health, and decrease stress - it’s important to keep pet dander at bay with proper cleaning and air purification so you don’t have to sacrifice air quality for your furry friends.