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4 Natural Ways to Freshen Air

Here are approaches that will leave you breathing a lot easier

Did you know that many commercial air fresheners contain carcinogens or hazardous chemicals that can stress your lungs and heart, contribute to irregular heartbeat or even cause birth defects, hormonal abnormalities and reproductive problems? Some even give off hazardous or toxic chemicals that aren't listed on their product labels.

See also: 5 ways you can help the environment.

Little wonder, perhaps, that one in five people — and more than one in three asthmatics — report headaches, breathing difficulties or other health problems when exposed to air fresheners or deodorizers.

Here are four ways you can freshen the air in your home and minimize exposure to chemicals.

1. Keep indoor plants. Place at least two tropical houseplants per 12-by-12-foot area to absorb airborne toxicants, including formaldehyde. Air-purifying plants such as areca and lady palms, bamboo, ferns and spider plants ideally should be placed close to your bed, favorite chair or other "breathing zone."

2. Use air purifying systems. Whole-house air-cleaning systems with good filtration do a better job than stand-alone, portable room purifiers, says John Spengler, an environmental health researcher at Harvard. For even cleaner air, he recommends locating the newer air-to-air heat exchangers — either built in or as window units — in the bedroom, living room or wherever people spend most of their time.

3. Open windows. Opening windows and doors for about 10 minutes each day — with the heat or air conditioning turned off — will help circulate away indoor pollutants, says Catherine Zandonella, who writes about environmental health for the Green Guide. It's best to open all doors and windows at once for maximum cross-ventilation.

4. Air out new purchases. "Televisions, computers and laminate or particleboard furniture give off hundreds of chemicals, and the newer they are, the more out-gassing you get," says Bill Wolverton, president of Wolverton Environmental Services in Picayune, Miss. "Before you bring these items inside your house, remove all wrappings and let them sit outdoors or in your garage for a few days to reduce your exposure to these vapors."

Reed Karaim is a writer in Tucson, Ariz.

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