An atmospheric science experiment

The Journal’s do-it-yourself guide on how you can test the air quality in your home

So maybe you didn’t get that research grant, or the equipment in your kitchen just isn’t up to the science lab standards, but chances are there’s still hope for your dreams of experimental glory.

The Journal presents a do-it-yourself science experiment to test your house’s air quality, proving that at-home science is more than just a baking soda and vinegar volcano.

  1. To begin, you will need some clean cardboard, Vaseline and tape.
  2. Cut the cardboard into four-inch by three-inch rectangles. Cut out one rectangle per room you want to test.
  3. Coat the cleanest side of the cardboard with a healthy layer of Vaseline, a couple of millimetres thick.
  4. Place your Vaseline-covered rectangles in different rooms, preferable where they won’t be stepped on. If you’re feeling adventurous, put a couple at different levels in the same room. For example, put one in the corner under the window and another on the ceiling by the door.
  5. After three or four days, go around and look at your rectangles. The Vaseline will have trapped any particles floating in the air, showing you what you breathe in everyday.

Particulate matter

Dust: Often grey in colour, dust is predominantly made up of human skin cells. You can minimize the dust floating around in your home by vacuuming regularly and wiping down table and electronic surfaces with a damp cloth. Also, make sure you change your vacuum bag regularly; so dust can’t escape back into the room through the filters.

Dirt: If you have hardwood floors or live next to a busy street, dirt and dust from the street tend to find a way to make it into your house. Make sure the seals around your windows are tight and vacuum regularly to help keep dirt to a minimum.

Ash: If you smoke or live with a smoker, chances are you will find ash on your samples. Ash can also come from candles, fires and incense. To minimize the ash floating around in your air, empty ash trays regularly and don’t smoke indoors.

Hair: Hair can be kept to a minimum by regular vacuuming. If you have pets that shed, there’s probably pet dander in the air, which is what most people are allergic to if they’re allergic to cats or dogs. To keep pet hair to a minimum, especially if your cat or dog sheds a lot, do your laundry and vacuum regularly.

Powders: Products such as baby powder tend to go up in a puff and then come back down and settle on everything. While baby powder in the air likely won’t to make you sick, you probably shouldn’t be ingesting cleaning powders and some makeup powders. Try to use small amounts and avoid shaking them out of their containers because that can create bigger clouds.

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