Chemicals in Your Home: The Truth

Like most people, you probably haven’t given a second thought to the amount of unnatural materials and chemicals in your home. From furnishings such as carpets and mattresses to plastic children’s toys, you’ll be shocked to find out that almost everything in your home could be giving off harmful gases.

It’s a process called off-gassing or outgassing – never heard of it? Well it’s time to get educated, as off-gassing could be seriously affecting your health without you realising it. Off-gassing chemicals from household goods have been linked to 180 human diseases and health conditions – including cancers – so it’s time to pay attention and try and limit your family’s exposure as much as possible.

What is Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing or out-gassing is the name given to the release of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from common household products. Some of these common chemicals you may have heard of which are released by household goods include ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde. The smell of new carpet and paint are indicators of off-gassing – but you’ll be surprised at which other items could also secretly be causing you harm.

Don’t forget that this is just the tip of the iceberg – these are the identified chemicals we know are harmful, yet are still being used. Over the last 50 years, more than 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into the environment, without any studies on how they affect animals or humans. Yet these chemicals are often used in manufacturing processes, and then released during off-gassing.

Effects of Off-Gassing

The whole spectrum of effects of off-gassing are still being studied so there could potentially be a lot more concerning health conditions we aren’t yet aware of. The one thing we know is that off-gassing is dangerous, as the chemicals can cause allergic reactions or other health problems. Specific health effects depend on the type of chemical exposed to, the concentration of the VOCs and the period of exposure.

The health problems we do know can be caused by off-gassing include asthma, skin irritation, congestion and coughing and diseases such as leukaemia.

What Household Items Are Guilty of Off-Gassing?

Look around you right now and you’ll find the majority of your household furnishings, items and belongings are VOC-emitting products.  Electronics are a major source of off-gassing, and you’re reading this on a computer right now. Here’s a list of the most common sources of VOCs (you’ll do well to find something which isn’t on this list)

Cars – They are not in the home but you spend most of your time outside the home in the interior of your car, which is also a VOC emitter (think of that new car smell)

Furnishings – wallpaper, floor coverings, paint and varnishes are all culprits. Carpet is a huge off-gasser, and can emit VOCs for five or more years. That new carpet smell isn’t something to be proud of!

Furniture – mattresses, couches, chairs

Electronics – computers and their keyboards are common emitters, as are printers and photocopiers

Plywood – most homes contain plywood somewhere within furniture – but the glue used to hold the materials together contains a known carcinogen.

Household cleaners and air fresheners – detergents, glass cleaners and toilet cleaners are meant to make your home safer and fresher, but could be doing the opposite thanks to its toxic VOC content. Many cleaning products aren’t assessed for safety.

Real fires – fireplaces and wood burning stoves

Toys – most children’s toys are manufactured with dangerous chemicals which can be emitted over time and cause health conditions in your child.

Other household goods – pretty much everything is a source of off-gassing, even cosmetics and newspapers.

How to Reduce Exposure

So now you are aware of the dangers of off-gassing, you’re probably wondering how on earth we can remove these toxic chemicals from our home, when they are in absolutely everything. There are things to do to decrease your exposure without interfering in your normal life too much.

The first few days or weeks after a product is opened is when the majority of the off-gassing occurs. Therefore, if you buy a new mattress or piece of furniture let it sit in the garage for a week or two. If you don’t have a space to do this, call the manufacturer when you order and ask if it can be opened and left to air in the warehouse before you pick it up.

Airing things out can help reduce the exposure, so always choose to decorate in spring or summer. Even if you are just painting a piece of furniture, placing it near an open window will reduce the off-gassing effect.

Carpets are one of the biggest offenders when it comes to VOC emissions, so try and remove wall to wall carpeting in your home. Replace carpets with rugs and choose natural fibres such as wool.

Choose solid wood furniture, as this will not contain plyboard, chipboard, MDF or manmade boards which contain glues that emit Formaldehyde VOCs. Avoid cheap chipboard furniture and opt for a furniture company which sells formaldehyde free manufactured products – that way you know it will not offgass any extra VOCs into your home. However remember that even if you buy eco furniture, if you paint or varnish it with conventional paints, you’ll be adding to the VOCs. Empatika even has an eco paint option!

Another way to counteract off-gassing is to introduce nature’s chemicals – emitted by plants. Richard Francis from Scenescape says,

“The GOOD NEWS is plants can help with out-gassing. The following chemicals can ALL be regulated with the use of concentrations of plants:

Formaldehyde – Lirope / Anthurium

Trichloroethylene – Epipremnum (Devil’s ivy)/ Spathyphyllum (Peace Lily)/
Dracaena reflexa

Xylene & Toluene – Phoenix Roebelenii (Dwarf date palm) / Nephrolepis
(Bsoton Fern)/ Chamaedorea (Bamboo Palm) / Ficus Benjamina (Weeping fig)

Ammonia – Liriope / Rhapis excelsa (Lady Palm)

Chlorophytum (Spider plant) is also able to combat the effects of ozone (from those pesky printers)!

All of these I have successfully installed in offices and homes – in living plant walls which have been active for coming up to two years – all doing their job naturally and beautifully all day – every day.”

So please make wise choices when furnishing your home now you know the facts about off-gassing!