Pollution Where You Least Expect It

Top indoor air pollutants, from what's lurking in your carpet and furniture, to your dry cleaning and gas stove.

The concept of indoor air pollution is so new that most people aren't even familiar with some of its worst sources. Dirt and dust, pollen, and animal hair are up there, but so are a host of less obvious but equally unpleasant polluters.

Get educated, because like it or not, you probably have some of the worst offenders in your home.


New carpeting can be a problem for anyone with allergies or asthma because they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for several days after they're installed. Before you buy new carpet and rugs, see if they (and any padding and adhesives) are tagged with the green label of the Carpet and Rug Institute, Indoor Quality Testing Program -- which signifies that the products meet government standards for VOC emissions.

And, if you have the discipline and the desire, follow the EPA's recommendations:

  • Have all family members out of the house when the new carpet's installed
  • Run every piece of venting equipment you've got -- window fans and air conditioners
  • Open the windows for 48-72 hours after the carpet has been laid


New furniture is a particularly strong source of unhealthy chemical emissions. Formaldehyde is the problem here. Keep your windows open for a while when you first bring in new pieces.

Dry Cleaning

Keep your dry cleaning out of the apartment if it smells like chemicals (let it air outside awhile and consider getting a new cleaner if this persists).

And watch your use of moth repellants; many use paradichlorobenzene (as do quite a few air fresheners), which is one of those substances that wreaks havoc in animals but hasn't been tested yet on humans.

Gas Stoves

Make sure fumes from cooking gas are thoroughly vented to the outdoors. We're told the flame should be blue-tipped; yellow-tipped flames cause more pollutant emissions (like carbon monoxide). Your gas company should be able to adjust your stove to the proper "hue." And if you're getting a new stove, get one with a pilot-less ignition so that you won't always have a pilot light burning.

Excerpted from The City Parent Handbook: The Complete Guide to the Ups and Downs and Ins and Outs of Raising Young Kids in the City (Rodale, 2004) by Kathy Bishop and Julia Whitehead. Both women live, and parent, in New York City.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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