What is Off-Gassing?

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.

 

 What Chemicals Usually Off-Gas?

 

To name a few:

 

  • Formaldehyde: This vapor is a carcinogen commonly found in glues, wrinkle-resistant fabrics, insulation, laundry detergents, and even some soaps.
  • Toluene: It’s a colorless, water-insoluble liquid that you’ll usually find in spray paints, multipurpose cleaning solutions, bathmats, some colored pens and markers, and floor polish.
  • Phthalates: These mean chemicals are found in various household items such as nail polish, cosmetics, food packaging, shower curtains, raincoats, body care products, etc.
  • Polyurethane: Typically, you’ll find this chemical in a foam or sponge, but it’s also used in upholstery and furniture, carpet underlay, the lining of bras, and hard plastics.
  • Chloroform: Although chloroform can be naturally emitted from seaweed, for example, it’s also synthetically produced. It’s a colorless, sweet-smelling dense liquid found in Teflon, pesticides, solvents, and fire extinguishers. It has a long history of various uses from criminal to medical, but people have realized its dangers in household use.
  • Acetone: This colorless liquid is used in nail polish remover, varnish, furniture polishes, wall paints, and dishwashing liquids.
  • Ammonia: It’s a colorless gas, but you’ll notice ammonia by its distinct, pungent smell. It’s found in window, drain, and oven cleaners, and floor polishing waxes, and is often liquefied to be used to fertilize crops.
  • Chemical flame retardants: You are most often exposed to these diverse chemicals through things like baby strollers, carpets, food packaging, toys, cables and wires, and car seats.
  • Benzene: This colorless, sweet-smelling chemical is used in plastics, resins, dyes, pesticides, glues, gasoline, and tobacco smoke.
  • Ethanol: It’s a clear, colorless, natural byproduct of plant fermentation. It’s commonly used in cosmetics and beauty products, lotions, hairsprays, hand sanitizers, fuel, and food additives, and it can even be used as the base of vanilla extract.
  • Methylene chloride: This is considered a carcinogen. It’s used in paint strippers and as a food additive to process spices or create hops extract for beer. It’s also used to remove caffeine from unroasted coffee beans and tea.
  • Perchloroethylene: It’s a colorless, nonflammable liquid that’s found in dry-cleaning solutions, solvents, printing ink, glues, and water repellents.

 

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.

what is off gassing

 

How do VOCs affect your health?

 

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:

  • Allergic reactions, including eye and skin irritation
  • Congestion
  • Hormone and endocrine disruption
  • Asthma attacks
  • Kidney damage
  • Fatigue
  • Lymphomas
  • Cognitive decline
  • Heart disease
  • Various cancers

 

The severity of the health effects that you may experience depends on these factors:

 

  • The particular chemical that you were exposed to. Some are more toxic than others.
  • The concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your home.
  • How long you were exposed to those VOCs
  • How often you were exposed to them

 

what is off gassing

 

How can I tell if something is off-gassing?

 

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:

  • Indoor air quality monitors, such as formaldehyde test kits. You take a sample of your indoor air and send it away for testing and results. It’s that easy. The company you send it to can advise you on improving your indoor air quality, if necessary.
  • Specialized air quality companies can come to your home to test the indoor air quality directly.
  • If someone in your home is experiencing health problems or heightened allergy symptoms, it may indicate a greater VOC concentration in the air.

 

How long does off-gassing last and can I speed it up?

 

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:

 

  • Cross-ventilation will help clean the air if you must bring the product inside immediately. If you can, open windows and doors to allow the air to naturally flow and bring fresh air in while flushing out the VOCs. Otherwise, you can use an HVAC system or simply a fan. This speeds up the dangerous period of off-gassing because you will have ventilation during the most noxious emission period.
  • Trap the VOCs by dusting and vacuuming frequently. They tend to land on surfaces and be part of the dust. They can also seep into your walls. So, if you’ve brought a new product into your house while it’s still off-gassing, do some extra dusting and vacuuming to keep those VOCs off your other items.
  • Off-gassing rates rise with heat. The higher the temperature, the quicker a product off-gasses. So, to speed up the off-gassing rate, turn on a heater in the room and leave it for a while. Or buy your product in the middle of summer!

 

What are the off-gassing sources in your 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:

 

Household cleaners

 

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.

 

Textiles

 

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.

 

Insulation

 

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.

 

Paint

 

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.

 

Carpets

 

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?

 

Body care products

 

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.

 

Furniture

 

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?

 

Bedding and Mattresses

 

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 organic mattresses available. There’s also organic bedding, from organic pillows to sheets and blankets to complete your new organic, toxin-free bedroom setup.

 

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.

 

FAQs

 

Is Off-Gassing Dangerous?

 

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.

 

Is Mattress Off-Gassing Dangerous?

 

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.

 

What Does Off-Gassing Smell Like?

 

Off-gassing smell depends on the type of chemicals involved. Some common odors include:

  • Ammonia
  • Vinegar
  • Rotten eggs
  • Garbage
  • Burning plastic

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.

 

Conclusion

 

Off-gassing can be very dangerous for human health and can cause unpleasant symptoms, especially in chemically sensitive people who suffer from 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.

 

About the Author Kamila Flieger

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.

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