Heading back to college? Here are some tips on keeping a healthy dorm room!
Thinking about indoor air quality is probably not the first (or fiftieth!) thing on your back-to-college checklist. But indoor air has been shown to impact how you feel both physically and psychologically. A recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health noted that “poor indoor air quality may dull cognitive abilities.” Conversely, good air quality has been connected to improved performance on tests – meaning you are likely to study more productively in a room with healthy air. You’ll also sleep better, with a healthy dorm room!
So it is very important to keep your dorm room air quality healthy and take full advantage of college life (by which we mean study groups, of course…).
Keeping a Healthy Dorm Room
The biggest risk for your room is a wet towel. (Or worse, multiple wet towels.) The added moisture created by leaving your daily shower towel crumpled in a heap, hanging in a closed closet, or draped over your wood furniture, creates a damp indoor environment that is both uncomfortable for the occupants and good for mold. (It may also damage the wood!)
The best solution if you can’t hang your towel in your own bathroom? Get a towel bar that attaches to the hinge of a door (about $8, no tools required). This allows you to spread the towel out and gives it room to dry. You can also use a hanger with clips or just drape it over the doorknob.
Other easy tips for keeping the air quality in your dorm room as healthy as possible:
Minimize Mold Risk
Moisture can lead to mold and numerous studies have shown that mold exposure can lead to a range of health symptoms. Minimize the risk of mold by:
- Opening your windows and/or keeping the door open, even just a crack, when possible. This allows air to circulate.
- Running a small fan or box fan. Combined with an open window or door, this will move air through the room.
- Always running your bathroom fan if you have an attached or shared bathroom.
Skip Scents (or Store them Safely)
Most cleaning and personal care products use chemicals to create scent – and many of these chemicals have been shown to impact health and cause serious reactions for people who are asthmatic or chemically sensitive. The best choice is to skip scents entirely and choose unscented laundry detergent and personal care items without added chemicals.
But if you can’t live without the scent of “summer rain” on your sheets, or your favorite perfume or body spray, store the products in airtight bins so you aren’t constantly exposed.
Watch the Temperature
If your room has individual temperature control, you can set it a few degrees higher to help cut back on how much energy the cooling system uses (and the reverse in the winter). Never leave a window open when an air conditioner (or heater) is running, and on hot and sunny days, keeping the blinds or curtains closed will block many of the sun’s warming rays. In the winter, keep them open and make use of the solar heat gain. Year-round, report broken windows or any damaged thermostat controls to the university maintenance department to ensure a healthy dorm room.
Keep it Clean
We get that dusting your dorm room has a lot of competition for your attention, but investing a little bit of time each week into cleaning can really go a long way in maintaining healthy indoor air (and keeping you feeling your best!). A few washable microfiber cloths and a handheld vacuum are two inexpensive cleaning tools everyone should have on hand. If you can’t find them on your own, ask your mom to send them to you; she’ll be impressed!
Watch for Maintenance Issues
Maintenance probably isn’t your highest priority. But small problems can have big impacts – especially to your health! So pay attention to what is going on in your room and report problems like visible mold, dusty vents, damaged paint, “sticky” doors and windows, unexplained odors, and new stains on the walls or ceiling.
Don’t smoke or vape indoors
We are pretty sure your dorm has rules against this already, but it bears repeating. It is terrible for your indoor air quality and your health.
Enjoy this amazing time in your life – and be healthy! For more tips on improving indoor air quality, read our article on healthy cleaning here.
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