Why you should open windows when you cook and not dry clothes indoors

Open your windows when you cook and don’t dry clothes indoors: Health chiefs issue new guidance to curb the risks of indoor pollution

  • The NHS watchdog published a report advising on how to cut indoor pollution
  • It said people should open windows when burning candles or cleaning
  • Pollution inside the house can irritate the lungs and cause asthma, PHE said

People should open windows when they cook and stop drying clothes indoors to reduce air pollution in their homes, health chiefs have warned.

Official advice published today by the NHS regulator said people need to protect their health by reducing pollution in their homes.

This may come from cooking, damp, aerosols, fires, smoking or cleaning products, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

These can be a ‘considerable’ source of pollution, government directors say, and can irritate the lungs or trigger asthma.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said people shouldn’t air-dry their washing inside unless they have no choice, and if they do a window should be opened to let out the damp air (stock image)

‘We are all very aware of the detrimental health effects of outdoor air pollution,’ said the chair of NICE’s public health committee, Alan Maryon-Davis.

‘But how many of us think about the air quality inside our homes?

‘Many people spend most of their time at home indoors, and the pollutants we create through cooking and cleaning, or those arising from mould or building materials, can all too easily cause or exacerbate respiratory conditions and other health problems.’

NICE’s advice tells people to keep windows open when using cookers, candles, aerosols, cleaning products or when having a bath or shower.


The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) today released guidelines to help people avoid damaging their health with indoor air pollution.

This was NICE’s advice:

  • Avoid air-drying clothes indoors if possible, or open a window if you have to dry them inside
  • Use extractor fans and open windows when using cookers (especially gas cookers); having open fires; using candles using free-standing gas heaters; using cleaning products, sprays or aerosols; or having a bath or shower.  
  • Contact your landlord if vents become blocked, extractor fans don’t work or if repairs are needed to repair water damage or damp
  • Don’t use paraffin heaters which don’t have a flue inside the home 
  • Follow product instructions when using paints, glues and solvents (this may involve using them in a well-ventilated area or wearing a mask)
  • Don’t smoke indoors

The health watchdog also added that properties should be designed and maintained in a way which makes sure they’re well-ventilated.

And landlords should repair problems like water damage and damp ‘promptly’.

They should avoid air-drying clothes indoors but, if there is no choice, a window should be opened to let out the damp air.

The report said people should ‘avoid moisture-producing activities’ in general.

Although not thought of as an immediate danger, asthma can last for a lifetime, cause serious breathing difficulties and even fatal attacks.

More than five million people already have the condition in the UK.

Dr Andy Whittamore, spokesperson for Asthma UK, said: ‘The effects of outdoor air pollution on the nation’s health are well known but toxic air in the home can be an invisible killer, especially for the 5.4million people with asthma in the UK. 

‘It is very encouraging that awareness is being raised among homeowners, landlords and architects so that measures can be taken to keep people with asthma safe.’

Pregnant women, young children who spend a lot of time at home, older people and those with long-term illnesses may be most vulnerable to indoor pollution.

Tenants who rely on a landlord to make repairs, or people who live in poor-quality housing may also be more likely to suffer the damaging effects.

And other risks include living in a place with small rooms, too many people, damp or mould, or so much noise or pollution outside that people avoid opening windows.

Gill Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE said: ‘Evidence shows that homes with poor air quality are linked to an increase in risk of health problems.

‘Poor ventilation leads to a build-up of pollutants which can exacerbate illnesses such as asthma.’

NICE said people should open windows every day to ventilate their home and especially when someone is showering, cooking, cleaning or air-drying clothes indoors (stock image)

Landlords and architects should make sure houses have good ventilation to protect tenants and homeowners from dirty air, and extractor fans should be installed and maintained in kitchens and bathrooms to remove dampness and fumes from cooking (stock image)


Today’s report is not the first time health officials have issued advice about tackling or avoiding pollution:

May 2019: The Department of Health and Social Care announced it will produce an in-depth review of how bad air pollution is for people’s health. Health Secretary Matt Hancock commissioned the investigation, calling pollution a ‘slow and deadly poison’.

March 2019: Public Health England urged councils to impose tougher measures on polluting vehicles. It proposed more congestion charges, bans on cars around schools, stopping lorries from driving in city centres and giving electric cars priority parking.

February 2019: NICE said new homes should be built away from main roads. The body said councils should encourage developers to plant trees and plants outside and on roofs and create areas for people to walk and cycle in clean air.

January 2019: Environment Secretary Michael Gove launched his Clean Air Strategy. His plan contained aims to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040 and to stop selling coal and open-fire fuels by 2022. Farmers will also be required to use less fertiliser and less polluting equipment. 

And Dr David Rhodes, a director at Public Health England added: ‘Indoor air can be a considerable source of exposure to pollution and these guidelines are a step forward in providing advice to the public, local authorities and the building industry.’

NICE’s guidelines also issued advice to local councils, architects and landlords for how they should make houses safe to live in.

Properties should be designed with windows that can be opened, good ventilation and extractor fans.

And issues such as mould and damp should be fixed quickly, the health bosses said.

As extra precautions for pregnant women, the report added mothers-to-be should avoid household cleaning sprays, air fresheners and candles.

Candles, incense and aerosols can cloud the home with particles called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are toxic over long periods of time. 

The US’s Environmental Protection Agency says VOCs can cause headaches, feeling sick, liver and kidney damage, nerve problems and are even suspected of being linked to cancer. 

These are particles which are also released by burning petrol, wood, coal or gas and are also found in carpets, vinyl floors, cosmetics and hairsprays and cooking oil.  

Damp air and the mould it can cause may also have damaging effects on someone’s body and how well they are able to breathe.

If mould develops because of dampness, particles or spores may break off and be inhaled, irritating the airways and causing inflammation, leading to a congested nose, coughing, wheezing, throat irritation and chest tightness. 

Dust and dirt particles in the air, as well as fibres from carpets, pollen, or animal hair can have similar effects. 

The United Nations this month called for air pollution to be considered a human rights issue. 


People spend around 90 per cent of their lives indoors and 60 per cent of those at home, according to NICE, so the quality of the air they breathe while inside is important to health.

Indoor pollution may come in the form of damp air or mould, or the same as outdoor pollution – that is, toxic gases and particles released by burning or dust and dirt in the air.

Sources of indoor pollution include heaters, ovens, damp from showers or drying clothes and chemicals in cleaning products. 

Damp or poorly ventilated homes may cause mould to grow and spores or fragments to break off and be inhaled.

Inhaling these particles – and the dirt, dust or chemicals released by other sources of pollution inside – can irritate the airways and cause inflammation, leading to a congested nose, coughing, wheezing, throat irritation and chest tightness.

Being exposed to these conditions over a long period of time can make the lungs less efficient, which has damaging effects on overall health and fitness as the body gets less oxygen, and may trigger a chronic health condition like asthma.

People who already have asthma or an illness such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder may suffer more serious effects of breathing in polluted air – asthma attacks can be deadly or lead to hospitalisation.

Source: The Conversation 

Officials said the public aren’t as aware of the threat of indoor pollution as they are of fumes from traffic. Research earlier this year found a total of 1,845 places across the UK have toxic air pollution which breaks official safety limits for nitrogen dioxide. Britain’s worst pollution hotspot was outside Earls Court tube station in Kensington

It claimed the problem is responsible for seven million premature deaths per year around the world, including those of around 600,000 children.

Children’s charity UNICEF said Britain is in the midst of a ‘toxic air crisis’ that risks blooming into a full-scale public health emergency if it’s not tackled. 

At least 4.5million children in the UK – 30 per cent of all under-18s – are growing up in areas with unsafe levels of particulate matter in the air, it said. 

And the UK Government has already been taken to court numerous times for its inaction over pollution levels.

Environmental lawyers ClientEarth defeated ministers to force them to draw uyp a new pollution-busting plan in 2017 but decided what they came up with wasn’t good enough and took them back to the chambers.  

‘The UK government’s stubborn failure to tackle illegal and harmful levels of pollution in this country means that we have no choice but to take legal action,’ said James Thornton, ClientEarth’s CEO in 2017. ‘We need clarity from the government.’ 


CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.

CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb  performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.

DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.

MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution. 

CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.

RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’

CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.

MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said. 

LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.

RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.  

RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing. 

DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth. 

MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.

MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION:  Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction. 

RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.

MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.

CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.

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