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What IS That Smell? 5 Sniff-Worthy Signs Your Indoor Air Quality Is Compromised

dog nose up close

Scents can be a wonderful thing. Gardenia flowers blooming, apple pie baking, the family dog just after a long-overdue bath – these are the smells that make us all smile.

But then there are the not-so-wonderful aromas. A musty smell wafting through your vents, the dog before his long-overdue bath, mouldy odors in the basement – these worrisome odours are concerning for more reasons than just unpleasantness.

The truth is, your home finds all kinds of ways to try to communicate when there is a problem. But in order to find it and fix it before the issue affects your health or your home’s resale value, you first have to learn to decode the messages.

In this post, learn about the five most common sniff-worthy warning signs that your indoor air quality has been compromised.

1. The Smell: Grassy, Musty, Dank, Dirty

If there is one odour no homeowner ever wants to detect inside their home, garage, basement, attic or work shed, it is this one.

The smell of damp grass, dirty shoe liners, musty old towels or last year’s unwashed bathing suit usually means only one thing: mould or mildew.

Mould can smell different depending on who is doing the sniffing, but the location of the odour can also play a part in speedy diagnosis.

If you start to smell this odour most strongly in areas where humidity tends to build up naturally (basement, laundry room, bathroom, etc.), this is further cause for suspecting mould.

2. The Smell: Sharp, Astringent, Chemical

A sharp, astringent, shockingly obvious odour that has chemical overtones masked by a so-called "pleasant or refreshing scent" is common in cleaning products.

Unfortunately, chemicals such as formaldehyde, phthalates, ethanol, volatile organic compounds and free radicals are rampant in household air fresheners, deodorizing products, sanitizing solutions and more.

Unfortunately, at least one research study has confirmed that even so-called “green” or “organic” household products designed to “freshen” the air often contain harmful chemicals that help produce their characteristic scents.

Even unscented or fragrance-free products often contain ingredients that leave behind some type of odour.

The most common health symptoms that arise from breathing in chemically “freshened” air include migraine headaches, respiratory distress, asthma attacks, trouble breathing, diarrhea and earaches (in infants), neurological issues and heart trouble.

3. The Smell: Wet Dog

Barring the actual presence of a wet dog in the near vicinity, the most likely cause of a wet dog odour is old pet dander, dust and debris lingering around.

Of course, if you don’t have any pets but you are smelling wet dog anyway, the next most likely culprit is dust mites, dust and debris.

Old secondhand smoke (wood, candle or tobacco) that has worked its way into the fabric of your home furnishings, dampened home furnishings that are starting to rot, use of pesticides and insecticides and similar issues can also give rise to a “wet pet” type smell.

4. The Smell: “New Carpet”

If you have just installed new carpeting, new furniture, a new mattress or other new home furnishings, you may actually be smelling formaldehyde, the acknowledged leader in what is now known to be a particularly potent cocktail of chemicals contained in many home products.

While “new car” (still wildly popular despite many health warnings) is arguably the best known of these unhealthy chemical smells, off-gassing from home improvement projects and mattresses, new furnishings, paint and primer, dry cleaning, home office equipment and even some ozone-producing air purifiers makes lots of people sick every year.

5. The Smell: Perfumed

Lotion, shampoo, hand sanitizer, soap, deodorant, body spray, dishwashing pods, floor cleaner, perfume and cologne, makeup – the list of products that contain toxic chemical fragrances goes on and on and on.

The truth is, most people are surrounded by scents all day and night (many clothing detergents and even some household bleaches contain perfumes).

And the vast majority of these scents – even ones that smell like cinnamon or honeysuckle – are recreated by combining chemicals with names too long and convoluted to even pronounce.

Indoor Air Quality Remedies That Really Work

The first and most important action you can take to clean up your indoor air quality is simply to pay close attention to what you do and what products you use in your home.

Just by switching to all-natural homemade cleaning products and adding the right houseplants to help purify your air, you have already made significant strides toward improved indoor air quality.

To really hit the reset button on your indoor air quality, however, you need to schedule a professional air duct cleaning service. Gaseous, liquid, solid and microbial matter gets trapped inside your air ducts with every cycle of your HVAC system.

Over time, as this matter builds up, it creates unpleasant odours throughout your home and spreads a thin layer of toxic material over your home each time air gets pushed out of your registers. Having your air duct system professionally cleaned, deodorized and sanitized is like having a whole new air duct system installed at a fraction of the cost.

To help balance indoor air humidity levels, remove stale indoor air and push toxins back outside where they belong, you won’t find better than the heat recovery ventilator. A perk: it will also conserve energy and help lower your utility bills.

HEPA air filtration units easily retrofit to work with any central (ducted) HVAC system. These units can remove particulate matter as small as 1/100th the size of a single human hair!

Ultraviolet air purification units also retrofit with any ducted HVAC system and will neutralize gaseous and liquid particulates so they can do no further harm.

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Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Meet the Top 9 Indoor Air Toxins Polluting Your Indoor Air & Learn How to Remove Them

Indoor Air Toxins Polluting Your Indoor Air

Maintaining indoor air quality has become a complicated challenge in today's world.

In fact, in most cases we are our own worst enemy because many of the products we use are actually introducing toxins into the air we breathe!

Every year, more Canadians contract lung disease, heart disease and other serious diseases due to exposure to airborne carcinogens.

In past decades, you might have thought you could get away from the toxins by going inside and shutting the door. But recent reports indicate our indoor air is now up to five times more toxic than our outdoor air here in Canada.

And if you are like most Canadians, you probably spend 90 to 99 percent of your typical day inside, breathing indoor air.

This means the real fight to purify your air is going to take place indoors.

In this post, meet nine of the most concerning airborne toxins and learn how to remove them from your indoor air supply.

Nine Airborne Toxins Polluting Your Indoor Air

The Canadian Lung Association cites these nine airborne toxins as among the most concerning for Canadian families today.

1. Tobacco & Vaping Smoke

Aside from radon gas (see number nine here), tobacco and vaping smoke are the leading cause of lung cancer in Canada today. Non-smoking family members who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at particular risk.

If you must smoke or vape, always do so outdoors.

2. Wood Smoke

Wood-burning stoves and fireplaces are still quite popular throughout Canada, especially during the extreme cold of the winter season.

Wildfires also emit copious amounts of volatile organic compounds into the air that then gets pulled inside your home.

3. Mould and Mildew

Mould and mildew spores are attracted to any damp, dark, cool indoor spaces, such as basements, laundry rooms, kitchens and bathrooms, garages and air ducts.

4. Humidity

High humidity, whether seasonal or year-round, attracts a variety of concerning airborne toxins, including mould and mildew spores.

Humidity can also provide a fertile breeding ground for viral matter, bacteria and other fungal matter.

5. Household Chemicals

Paint, paint thinners, glues and adhesives, craft supplies and other household chemicals are another potent source of indoor air toxins.

6. Household Cleaners

Many commercial cleaning products used in homes and workplaces today are so toxic they can irritate your skin, eyes or respiratory system on contact.

We have written an entire blog post featuring great natural cleaning product recipes you can make at home.

7. Pesticides

Pesticides, insecticides and herbicides easily enter your home air and water supply, causing a host of secondary health symptoms including respiratory distress, skin rashes, headaches, allergies and asthma attacks.

8. Scented Products

Many scented products may smell fantastic, but their scent comes from a potent recipe of chemicals rather than natural flower essences or essential oils.

Air fresheners, candles and scented personal care products are particular culprits here.

9. Radon Gas

Radon gas has recently been named as the number one leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the number two cause of lung cancer in smokers.

Radon gas is a naturally occurring gas that is emitted as uranium breaks down in the water, rocks and soil. It is found all over Canada but is more concentrated in certain areas.

Once radon gets into your home, it tends to get trapped inside, where you are exposed repeatedly to its damaging effects.

How to Take Action to Clean Up Your Indoor Air

So now you know about the most common airborne toxins, chemicals and poisons that are polluting the air you breathe every day.

What action can you take to clean up your indoor air so your family doesn’t suffer the health consequences of exposure?

Here is what we recommend as a comprehensive and permanent solution to air toxicity at home and at work.

Schedule a professional air duct cleaning service

Airborne toxins don’t just stay in your indoor air supply for a day or two. Once trapped inside your home, they continue to circulate through your HVAC system, into your ducts and then back out into your home.

Some of these toxins get trapped inside your ducts, where small amounts are continually pushed back out as forced air whooshes through your ducts with each cooling or heating cycle.

Over time, this buildup becomes visible and obstructive. If you have no record of having had your air ducts professionally cleaned and sanitized in the last five to 10 years, this is the first step toward cleaning up your indoor air.

Install a heat recovery ventilator

Ventilation, or lack thereof, is a significant problem with most new construction buildings today. Without adequate ventilation, the air indoors becomes stale and heavy with toxins.

A heat recovery ventilator is like a set of mechanical lungs for your house that continually refreshes and oxygenates your air while balancing humidity levels and removing toxins.

Add a HEPA air filtration system

HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate air. This air filtration system was first developed during World War II to protect scientists from airborne radioactive particulates.

The HEPA air filter is still considered the gold standard in air filtration for hospitals and laboratories today, readily stopping airborne toxins as small as 1/100th the size of a single human hair and removing them permanently from your indoor air supply.

Install an ultraviolet air purification system

Ultraviolet light is the most potent air purification agent available to us today. Ultraviolet band-C is the most potent of the three UV light bands.

An ultraviolet light purification system uses UV-C light to change the molecular structure of airborne gaseous and liquid particles, rendering them unable to cause harm and permanently removing them from your indoor air supply.

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Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.

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Meet the “Big 3” Potent Airborne Toxins & Learn How to Limit Your Exposure

Meet the “Big 3” Potent Airborne Toxins

Numerous factors can play into how toxic our outdoor air is from one day to the next.

For example, natural climatic changes such as wind speed, cloudiness and humidity often interact with man-made changes such as local chemical plant emissions.

This can mean you have an air quality alert for one day that is lifted the next day (such as this one that lasted for several days back in March of this year).

The more you learn about the most common airborne toxins, what makes them dangerous and how to keep them out of your indoor air at home and at work, the safer and healthier you, your family and your workers will stay.

The “Big 3” Airborne Toxins: Ozone, Nitrous Oxides and Particulate Matter

There are thousands of different liquid, gaseous and solid toxins that build up in the air we breathe each day.

Three of the most commonly found and thus the most commonly tracked toxins are ozone, nitrous oxides and particulate matter.


This first one has many people scratching their heads in confusion – after all, so much has been written and published about the dangers of the widening hole in our planet’s ozone layer.

High above our atmosphere, having more ozone is a good thing. But as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out, down near the Earth’s surface, ozone is a potent airborne toxin that can cause a range of health symptoms from respiratory distress to lung damage.

What is ozone, exactly? Basically, ozone is made up of three atoms of oxygen, which explains why ozone is often notated as O3. The first two oxygen atoms are harmless – this is the same oxygen structure we breathe into our lungs up to 23,000 times each day.

It is that third oxygen atom that causes trouble. It can become a free agent, attaching to other airborne molecules, including toxins, that then pass inside our body and proceed to cause damage to our respiratory system.

Nitrous oxides

Nitrous oxides, or Ox, actually represent seven different gases that have a variety of uses in the modern industrial world.

Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is perhaps the best known of the seven, on account of how many dental patients receive it while undergoing oral surgery!

Nitrogen dioxide is the other well-known compound of the group. This gas is used to make explosives and rocket fuel, among other products.

These are called “greenhouse gases.” They damage the environment, create smog and acid rain and speed up the process of climate change.

Health hazards associated with nitrous oxides include skin irritation, respiratory distress, headaches, nausea, stomach pain, trouble breathing and even death.

Particulate matter

Particulate matter is quite a broad term that encompasses everything from dust and dirt to ammonia and carbon.

The smallest form of particulate matter is often notated as PM2.5 – this type of matter is most hazardous to human health, especially to the very young and to the elderly.

Particulate matter forms for all kinds of reasons, but the most common causes include anything that burns (forest fires, wood stoves, industry, vehicles) and environmental chemical reactions.

The smallest forms of particulate matter are so tiny that most regular HVAC air filters are simply no match for them – the particles just float right through and get inhaled by you, your workers and your family.

The smallest particulates are generally human-made and include ammonia, carbon, lead, sulfates, nitrates and some organic matter.

The most concerning health impact is to the lungs. These tiny particulates easily pass through cell membranes and can cause disastrous changes to the lungs, heart and internal organs and body systems. Lung and heart disease can occur over time. Left untreated, exposure may be fatal.

Keeping the “Big 3” Out of Your Indoor Air

Ozone, nitrous oxides and particulate matter are always present in the air. Quantities and concentrations will change from day to day, something you have little control over, especially if you happen to live or work near an industrial center.

But there is still a lot you can do to limit your exposure and safeguard the health of your family and your workers.

If you are not sure what to do or which to add first, we are always just a phone call away!

Install a heat recovery ventilator

A heat recovery ventilator does much more than simply ensure that stale indoor air is removed and replaced with fresh air.

It also helps conserve heat energy that would otherwise be lost (which lowers your monthly utility bills all year long) and pulls toxins and excess humidity from your indoor air and exhausts outside.

Adding a heat recovery ventilator to your HVAC system is like giving everyone in your family an extra set of protective lungs. In this modern era, no home or workplace should be without one.

Add an ultraviolet air purifier

If your chief concern is airborne liquid or gaseous particles like ozone and nitrous oxides, adding an ultraviolet air purifier to your existing HVAC can render them harmless at point of entry.

UV air purifiers direct potent ultraviolet band-C light to change the molecular structure of gaseous or liquid toxins so they can do no harm.

Add a HEPA air filtration system

If your chief concern is tiny airborne particulate matter, a HEPA filter is the right tool for the job.

Developed during World War II to protect scientists from atomic radiation, HEPA remains the gold standard today and easily retrofits with any HVAC system.

Get in Touch

Do you need guidance on how to clean and purify your indoor air? We can help!

Contact us online or give us a call at 905-544-2470.     

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