Indoor air quality and pregnancy: Do you have to pay to clean your air ducts?

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Did you know that about 87% of U.S. homes now include an air conditioning unit? We depend on that hidden network of vents and ducts within our homes to keep us comfortable and to keep our air clean. Yet even the world’s biggest clean freaks don’t unscrew their vent covers and clean their home’s heating and cooling ducts.

That’s one of the reasons the air quality inside your home can actually be much, much worse than the outdoor air quality in your region. We don’t say this to scare you, but because we know that air pollution has an outsize effect on pregnant women and unborn babies.

So what do pregnant women really need to know about indoor air quality and pregnancy? Do you really need to clean out your home’s ducts when you’re expecting?

In this post, we’ll try to separate fact from fiction.

VOCs, Off-gassing, and Ducts

 Indoor air quality and pregnancy: Do you have to pay to clean your air ducts?

First, why is indoor air quality so poor?

For one, the levels of several organic compounds average two to five times higher indoors than outdoors thanks to off-gassing. Off-gassing refers to the release of chemicals, gases, and particulates from common household products like paint, cleaners, and even “air fresheners”. This results in high levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, inside the average American home.

So even if you’re obsessed with cleaning, the air your family breathes inside could be much more harmful to their health than the air found outside. Unless you’ve embraced the #GreenLiving or #ChemicalFree lifestyle, your home probably contains VOCs, too.

That’s why you’ll find tons of articles from “health experts” and moms-to-be urging parents to clean our their home’s ducts, air filters, and vents. Again, we don’t say this to make you scared of the air you breathe. The air quality inside your home would need to be extremely bad to affect your health.

That means you don’t need to rush to scrub your ducts clean. Yes, contaminants and air pollutants like these are pulled into the system and recirculated anywhere from five to seven times each day. And, yes, cleaning your ducts can improve your home’s indoor air quality. However, so can opening the windows for an hour each day.

If you want to improve your home’s indoor air quality, avoid using paints and other products high in VOCs in the first place. If you replace your home’s air filters every few months and keep up with normal HVAC maintenance, your indoor air quality will be fine.

So should pregnant women get their home’s duct’s cleaned or not?

There are articles on the Internet urging parents to get their home’s ducts cleaned, which might make you anxious. Better safe than sorry, right?

Take heart: the EPA says that there’s no scientific evidence that minor dust accumulation in air ducts will result in negative health effects. As we mentioned above, unless your indoor air quality is dangerously bad, you and your baby should be completely fine.

So when should you clean out your home’s ducts?

The EPA does recommend air duct cleaning in the event of an animal infestation, mold growth, or issues related to lingering odors like cigarette smoke. When it comes to indoor air quality and pregnancy, these are the biggest risks to be aware of. In addition, homeowners that have ducts that are truly clogged with debris, dust, or other particles should pursue duct cleaning if those elements are being released into the home.

On the EPA website, the agency says, “Provided that the cleaning is done properly, no evidence suggests that [duct] cleaning would be detrimental. EPA does not recommend that the air ducts be cleaned routinely, but only as needed. The EPA does, however, recommend that you inspect fuel-burning furnace, stove or fireplace ducts for proper functioning before each heating season. This can help protect against carbon monoxide poisoning.

When it comes to indoor air quality and pregnancy, the real dangers are familiar ones. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the nation. Not only is this gas extremely deadly, but it’s also undetectable without scientific assistance. Homes that have gas furnaces and stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, fireplaces, and other fuel-powered appliances are at greater risk of having a carbon monoxide issue. Interestingly, energy-efficient homes may also be more likely to have a problem with CO buildup, as they minimize outside air exchange and cross-ventilation by design.

For example, in Fort Bragg, California (population 7,273), inspectors found that more than 80 homes were at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. After investigation, experts determined that the poisoning happened when the door to a home’s laundry room partially blocked the air intake duct in the HVAC system. As a result, the HVAC units would pull in fumes released by the hot water heaters and circulate them through the rest of the ventilation system.

To put it plainly: just because your home is new doesn’t mean it’s not prone to issues like this. Having a professional inspect your HVAC system, vents, chimney, and appliances is always a good idea. That being said, you don’t need to be especially worried by indoor air quality just because you’re pregnant — no matter what you read on the Internet.

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