The process called off-gassing is the airborne release of chemicals (VOCs) from items in your house. For example, that ‘new carpet smell’ is the carpet materials slowly releasing VOCs into the air.
VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be many kinds of chemicals used in a variety of household items, whether solid or liquid materials. This means that off-gassing is a hazard that can directly affect you in your home, workplace, and even vehicle.
To name a few:
There are many more chemicals to add to this list, but it’s already enough to make you question your own home’s level of exposure.
After spending time around VOCs, whether they were odorless or not, you may start to notice symptoms within an hour. You may experience temporary dizziness, nausea, vision disturbances, headaches, coughing, and irritations to your eyes, nose, skin, etc.
But, these are minor disturbances. The long-lasting effects of continual exposure to off-gassing can be much more severe. The effects are still being studied, but we do already know that off-gassing can cause the following and more:
The severity of the health effects that you may experience depends on these factors:
If you’re the average homeowner, you probably don’t have all the fancy gadgets and equipment for testing your own indoor air quality. These tests can be expensive and challenging in a home rather than a scientific lab. This doesn’t mean it’s not essential to determine the level of VOCs in your home.
To know your indoor air quality, you need to know a little more about the potential off-gassing products in your home. Some products take only a few minutes or hours to off-gas. For example, air fresheners, nail polish remover, and perfumes tend to off-gas quickly. But other products can off-gas for several years.
This is especially a problem in building materials, carpets, wall paint, and new furniture, especially if it’s made from particleboard or cheap plywood. You can’t see chemicals off-gassing and sometimes can’t smell them. Some noticeable smells help you to identify the culprit, off-gassing products in your home.
That new carpet, new polyurethane foam mattress, or even a new laptop can have a distinct smell of off-gassing. However, some VOCs are odorless. What then? How can you tell if products in your house are off-gassing? Here are a few ways:
As I mentioned previously, some products only off-gas for a couple of hours, while other chemicals may off-gas for years. Many harmful chemicals off-gas most intensely in the first month after manufacturing. Here are some ways to speed up the process after you bring the new product home:
Because there are so many possible sources of exposure in your home, tracking down the exact source can be difficult. To narrow it down, here are a few of the major categories of potential off-gassing sources in your home:
It’s not a surprise to see this on the list because people are becoming more aware of the toxic ‘ingredients list’ in their household cleaners, including toilet bowl cleaners, glass cleaners, air fresheners, and cleaning sprays. Despite manufacturers knowing the dangers of the chemical contaminants in their products, these products are still on the market.
So, it’s up to you to eliminate this off-gassing source from your home by using non-toxic cleaning products. There are many excellent, high-quality alternatives to harmful, conventional ones.
Most fabrics are either made of natural materials like wool or cotton or are synthetically produced. Both kinds pose a potential off-gassing risk. When dealing with natural materials like wool or cotton, unless your fabric is certified organic, you may still come into contact with industrial chemicals.
Most conventional wool comes from sheep that were dipped in chemicals to protect from pests and diseases. And then, to be produced into the fabric, that wool may be chemically treated in the factory with more chemicals, such as chemical flame retardants.
Synthetic fabrics pose high risks of off-gassing because of their composition, dyes, exposure to chemicals in a factory, and extra treatments such as wrinkle resistance. Fabric can pose a problem of off-gassing in your curtains, upholstery in your furniture, clothes, and even bedding.
This is often an “out of sight, out of mind” problem area in homes. The off-gassing can be severe depending on the type of insulation in your home, but the odds are that whatever insulation you have, you’re experiencing some level of off-gassing. If you need to install new insulation, be aware of its long-lasting effects on your health if done incorrectly.
Conventional paint is notorious for noxious VOCs. Paint fumes are most potent in the first 48 hours after application. But the VOCs keep off-gassing long after that. Most off-gassing stops after a year, but you can still experience off-gassing from your walls or painted decor for several years. This depends on your home’s ventilation and construction regarding energy efficiency.
The more energy-efficient your home is, the slower your off-gassing will dissipate. You need good ventilation and airflow to rid yourself of those VOCs quicker. If you’re looking for a new shade for your living room, you can avoid the whole mess of risky conventional paints because beautiful, zero-VOC paints are easy to find.
Wall-to-wall carpeting is in many workplaces and homes. It’s been shown to be the cause of many health issues. But even a throw rug or area rug can be problematic. They are often backed with a synthetic material that is laden with VOCs.
The glue used to adhere to this backing may have more chemicals. Then, the very material of the lovely pattern may be synthetic and treated with flame retardants. In other words, they are a major culprit in the world of off-gassing.
Fortunately, you can buy a natural fiber carpet that requires no toxic chemicals in its production and yet allows you to still add that charm and color to your home.
Read More: Are Carpets Toxic?
There is a shocking number of off-gassing VOCs in body care products. This category includes deodorant, toothpaste, hair care, lotions, waxing pastes, cosmetics, and so forth. The list of ingredients on the back of your bottle of sweet-smelling lotion may bring many nasty surprises.
The off-gassing risk is that the fragrances continue to permeate your nasal passages and often affect your eyes too. Because body care products come in direct contact with your skin, you must ensure that you only use products with safe, non-toxic ingredients that will not cause off-gassing or skin irritations.
The upholstery has already been mentioned as a potential off-gassing source. But the very structure of your furniture itself may be hazardous. Avoid furniture made of particleboard (MDF) and plywood, they are two common materials that are known to cause issues. They are often made with formaldehyde resin known to off-gas for up to two years.
Furniture is spatially a large part of any home and so it can be a significant source of off-gassing, This is why non-toxic furniture is an essential item to have in your home. More and more furniture stores offer solid wood furniture with non toxic finishes, as well as non toxic couches with organic cotton covers and natural latex fill.
Read More: How to Speed Up Furniture Off Gassing?
Once you have eliminated your toxic bed frame and replaced it with a non-toxic one, you need to focus on what’s on top. Your new memory foam mattress can be a source of VOCs. Likewise, under the “fabric” category, your bedding could also be an off-gassing source.
To avoid the risks, you can invest in one of the many luxurious
Read More: How to Speed Up Mattress Off Gassing?
These categories hopefully give you the stepping stones you need to slowly start reducing the VOC concentration in your home. You can use the list to identify some of the primary sources of VOCs in your own home.
The simple answer is yes, off-gassing can be dangerous. The chemicals emitted from common household items can cause a range of health problems, from minor issues like headaches and dizziness to more serious conditions like cancer. Off-gassing is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women, as their bodies are more susceptible to the harmful effects of chemicals.
Mattress off-gassing can be dangerous, as conventional foam mattresses are often made with chemicals that can emit harmful VOCs. While you sleep, you’re in close contact with your mattress, which means you’re more likely to breathe in these harmful chemicals.
There are a few ways to avoid dangerous mattress off-gassing. Look for a mattress made with certified organic materials, such as organic cotton and latex. These mattresses are free of harmful chemicals and VOCs. If you choose a memory foam mattress, buy a CertiPur-US certified mattress, which means it contains very low levels of potentially harmful chemicals.
You can also reduce your exposure to mattress off-gassing by opening windows and doors to air out your bedroom before you sleep. If possible, place your mattress in a well-ventilated room. And, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for airing your new mattress before using it.
Off-gassing smell depends on the type of chemicals involved. Some common odors include:
If you can smell something, that’s a good indication that off-gassing is occurring. However, not all off-gassing is smelly. Some VOCs are odorless but can still be harmful.
Off-gassing can be very dangerous for human health and cause unpleasant symptoms, especially in chemically sensitive people with asthma and allergies.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals released from different products in your home, such as buying non-toxic furniture and mattresses, using air-purifying plants or air purifiers, and choosing all-natural cleaning products.
Be sure to check other articles on our website to find out more about non-toxic products for your home.
My name is Kamila, and I'm passionate about researching non-toxic, organic products for the home. I believe it's so important to create a safe and healthy environment for our families, and I enjoy helping others do the same.