healthy living room

How to Make Your Living Room Healthier

By Stephen ColletteRise Writer
Jun 24, 2019

A family gathered around the hearth is an iconic image; playing board games in the living room is a memorable gathering. For all this quality time, the question is: is it healthy? Can we make our living room, gathering rooms, rec rooms healthier? The answer is always yes. But in assessing your living room, where do you begin? We’ll take a deeper look at fireplaces and furniture, the more typical furnishings found in living rooms.

Fireplaces and Wood Stoves 

Our attraction to fire is in our genes. It spans millennia, as the fire was once life-giving and life-saving. Luckily, life is easier today, and our use of wood fire, in fireplaces and wood stoves, is gratefully for pleasure and some heating. As we rely on it less and less for heating and survival, our understanding of safely operating these appliances and maintaining them also wanes.

wood stove
Photo Credit: Duke Energy

Wood stoves and fireplaces should be regularly maintained and cleaned to prevent chimney fires and other severe concerns from occurring. Yearly is a good minimum; if you regularly use the appliance, it should be more frequent.

For fireplaces specifically, air sealing them when not using them is essential. The chimney is relatively leaky, and cold air in the column can easily be drawn into the home, bringing soot and combustion products as fine particulate and odors. One solution is a chimney balloon, a heavy gauge plastic rectangular balloon that fills the fireplace's top. The air acts as an insulator, and the vinyl is an air seal. This reduces heat loss and improves air quality—but remember to remove it before you light the fire!

Particulate levels, both indoors and out, are elevated when burning wood. EPA’s Burn Wise website offers excellent resources to ensure you are purchasing the cleanest burning wood heat appliance possible. If you have an older fireplace or wood stove and wish to improve the air quality, look at an insert or new wood stove with the Burn Wise ratings. 

Storing wood inside can also be an issue; try to keep it to a minimum. Store most of the dry wood in a shed or garage, and only bring in what you need for a day or two. Wood does have molds on it usually, as well as pests and moisture. A storage box that can be easily cleaned is another excellent idea for wood you bring into the house. 

Furniture

Who doesn’t love a tremendous sectional big enough to hold the whole family? Watching Netflix with snacks, playing games, snuggled under blankets, reading, hanging with the dog—all the usual family activity occurs here. How often do we clean the furniture, though? Sure, we might wipe it down once the kids' spill juice on the cushions, but how often do the cushions come out with the vacuum and a damp soapy cloth? Most of us answer the same, not enough. With all of our skin cells, warm bodies, food detritus, pet dander, and dust of life, the particle load adds up. Try taking a flashlight and laying it on the cushions, and give them a good whack a couple of times to see the dust. You’ll see enough to understand that furniture needs some tender loving cleaning too. 

One of the primary problems with living room furniture is dust: dust mites thrive in these conditions, and we are allergic to their feces. Do you know what dust mites do hate? Ultraviolet rays, which natural sunshine provides. So, take your sectional cushions outside, give them a solid vacuum, or beat them with an old tennis racket and let them sit in the hot sun for a few hours. While they are there, go back in and thoroughly vacuum and then wipe all the stains out of everything remaining to start fresh. 

Another problem is what furniture is made of. Most (but not all) new furniture has flame-retardants in the fabrics and can contain foams and formaldehyde. Neither of these is healthy for our family. When choosing new furniture, try to pick solid wood furniture where possible, as it has fewer glues and solvents. Gently used furnishings can also be healthier, as it has had time to off-gas many chemicals. Have an old piece of furniture that is near its end? Consider new healthier foam and fabrics and have it redone instead of throwing it out. It produces less waste, and a refurbish can be cheaper and healthier.

dog sofa

Remember that if your pets have a bed in the living room (or wherever), it needs more cleaning than the furniture, given the hours spent sleeping. Be sure to launder it and hang it out in the sun and replace it yearly. (I had one client who had never changed their grumpy 14-year-old cat’s bed. No wonder the cat was grumpy!)

Cleaning

Despite the use and abuse the living room can take, in my experience, it doesn’t seem to get the love and elbow grease that it deserves. It used to be that the front “good living room” that is reserved for guests and no kids was immaculate and didn’t need much cleaning—because it was not used that often. But for living rooms that we use every day, those need our attention.

Be sure to regularly wash and clean the tables in the living room with a damp soapy washcloth, just like you would with the dining room table. If you have a ceiling fan in the living room, this is an interestingly commonly overlooked cleanable item. (We learned this first-hand years ago when the kids were playing with a balloon and hit the fan and a shower of dust rained down over the whole extended family; so much for my healthy house!) The fan, when running, will re-aerosolize tiny dust particles that we will all breathe in. So, get out the microfibre cloth and a stool and give it a good solid wipe down regularly. 

Vacuuming is still the single most important item to do when you have carpets. Deep cleaning a couple of times a year is also really important, such as moving furniture so you can get the dust under the big sectional up and out of the carpet. It’s work, but the air pressure when sitting on the cushions will blow that ultra-fine dust into the air. This same dust is so small that it can enter our bloodstream, so it is essential to remove it. 

When using cleaning products, try to make them as healthy as possible, as many contain petroleum-based chemicals and create a false sense of cleanliness with odors and scents. Clean does not have a smell and never did—and that might be a paradigm shift for those of us who grew up connecting the scent of pine with the idea of clean. A good rule: if you are not willing to eat your cleaning products, you should reconsider what you are using.

clean living room
Photo Credit: Mother Nature Network

Fresh air is the most straightforward, healthiest choice for any space. Open some windows periodically, even in winter (but not for too long). Even giving a room a few minutes to air out, especially after a binge session on Netflix, will provide air exchange that will dramatically improve the room's overall feeling and air quality without impacting the energy costs very much.

Bottom Line

We use our living rooms to unwind and relax with family and friends; memories created here can last a lifetime. By taking a few steps to ensure it is as healthy as possible, we can have a fun and healthy space to be in together.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-05-14T19:54:17+0000