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Is your home making you ill?

Jane Murphy / 16 August 2017

We reveal 10 everyday indoor health hazards – and what you can do about them. Some of them may surprise you.

Wash your sheets at a warm temperature – at least 40 degrees – once a week.
Wash your sheets at a warm temperature – at least 40 degrees – once a week.

A well-dressed bed 

What's the problem? The average bed could be home to around 1.5 million dust mites, which may trigger asthma and other allergies, say researchers at Kingston University's School of Architecture

What to do about it: Don't make your bed in the morning. Yes, really. These pesky mites only survive by taking in water from their surroundings. If you leave your bed unmade during the day, moisture is removed from the bedding – and the mites will dehydrate and eventually die.

How to clean a mattress

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What's the problem? We may just have given you a good excuse not to bother making your bed until the evening. But you should still take time to change the sheets regularly. The reason? Dirty sheets harbour dust mites, fungi and potentially harmful bacteria.  

What to do about it: Wash your sheets at a warm temperature – at least 40 degrees – once a week. Incidentally, only a third of people in the UK actually manage that weekly wash, according to a YouGov poll.

How to choose the best washing machine

Third-hand smoke 

What's the problem? Even if you and your family are non-smokers, you may still be exposed to lingering pollutants caused by third-hand smoke from your home's previous occupants, according to researchers at San Diego State University. These toxic compounds are particularly adept at bedding down in upholstery, carpets and walls. 

What to do about it: Before moving into rented accommodation, always check whether the previous tenant was a smoker. And if that's the case, aim to replace as much of the furniture and flooring as your budget will allow.

Planning on updating your home? Read our tips for funding home improvements.

Wet laundry 

What's the problem? Drying your laundry over an indoor frame or radiator raises moisture levels by up to 30 per cent, say researchers at the University of Manchester. This creates the ideal breeding conditions for mould spores – and one in particular called aspergillus fumigatus, which can trigger potentially fatal lung infections. 

What to do about it: Use a tumble dryer or dry your washing outdoors wherever possible. Or dry your laundry in a well-ventilated space away from bedrooms and living areas.

How to choose the best tumble dryer

Cleaning products 

What's the problem? Many everyday cleaning products contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – chemicals that may irritate the throat and lungs when they evaporate into the air. Sprays are more likely to cause these problems. 

What to do about it: Think twice before buying spray cleaners – and opt for products that are labelled 'allergy-friendly' as these have lower levels of VOCs and tend to be fragrance-free. Keep windows open whenever you're cleaning to improve ventilation.

How to make your home more allergy-friendly

How to choose eco cleaning products

15 easy cleaning hacks

Air fresheners 

What's the problem? Like household cleaning products, many air fresheners and scented candles contain VOCs. Limonene – a common ingredient in scented candles – can mutate into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, upon contact with air, says a study from the University of York. 

What to do about it: Look for organic alternatives, such as soy-based candles. And buy some houseplants: spider plants are particularly adept at absorbing toxic chemicals from the air. It'd also important to keep rooms well ventilated by opening windows.

How to transform your home with houseplants

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What's the problem? No, you can't just get away with having them dry-cleaned once a year: curtains collect dust, dirt and odours that can trigger allergies and infections. 

What to do about it: Gently vacuum your drapes with a brush attachment around once a fortnight. Follow the care instructions to give them a deeper clean every couple of months.

Read our guide to dusting

Damp patches and mould 

What's the problem? Living in an environment with any kind of damp problem increases risk of night-time breathing difficulties by 90 per cent and chronic bronchitis by 67 per cent, according to a recent Swedish study. It also puts you at significantly higher risk of asthma and allergies. 

What to do about it: Reduce moisture in your home by keeping rooms well ventilated, putting the fan on whenever you use the bathroom and keeping pans covered when cooking. You may also consider investing in an air purifier or dehumidifier.

Dealing with damp

How to choose the best dehumidifier

Gas cookers 

What's the problem? Gas stoves can emit pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, all of which may trigger respiratory problems. A University of Sheffield study found that nitrogen dioxide levels in the kitchen of a city centre flat with a gas cooker were three times higher than those outdoors in the city streets. 

What to do about it: Keep kitchen doors and windows open when cooking, always switch on the extractor fan – and go easy on the gas whenever possible.

How to choose the best gas cooker


What's the problem? You don't need us to tell you that carpets can harbour allergens such as dust mites, pet dander and mould. What's more, formaldehyde is sometimes used in the manufacture of new carpets, and can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. 

What to do about it: Regular vacuuming is key – but do bear in mind that this sometimes simply causes these pollutants to become airborne. So good ventilation is important, too. If you're buying a new carpet, ask the shop to unroll and air it before you take it home.

How to clean a rug

How to choose the best steam cleaner

How to choose a new vacuum cleaner

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.