May 3, 2018

The "Things You Should Know" blog series covers home health, safety, and comfort information that homeowners and renters should know, but might not. Email your topic suggestions to qkorzeniecki@bpi.org.

That "new smell" you experience when you bring your new furniture or carpet home, or after you apply a fresh coat of paint, is called off-gassing and isn't the best for your health. Even that "new car smell" we love so much is an off-gassing of toxic chemicals. The smell is a result of paint, glue, and other substances releasing chemical particles as they settle.

This blog post will dig into a list of household items that could be off-gassing harmful chemicals and how you can protect yourself.

What is off-gassing?

Off-gassing refers to when new, manufactured items release chemicals, also known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), into your indoor air.

Many older homes have cracks and gaps that filter air inside and outside the home, but as homes are built and upgraded to be more efficient, and air tight, off-gassing can pose a serious threat to occupant health (if the home is not properly ventilated).

What household products off-gas harmful chemicals?

Anything from building products to furniture can release chemicals into an indoor environment. Some of the well-known culprits include:

  1. Carpeting: This is one of the biggest off-gassers out there, especially if the new carpeting spans your entire home. Carpets are manufactured from nylon fibers with a latex backing and could contain benzene and toluene, a couple of the most harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) out there. It could take up to five years for new carpeting to stop off-gassing.
  2. Building products: From paint and insulation to caulk and vinyl, building products off-gas a variety of chemicals that could be harmful to your health with increased exposure.
  3. Furniture: A lot of modern day furniture is built using particle board or plywood, which is held together with glue made of formaldehyde. Mattresses made with synthetic foams could also contain petroleum-based chemicals and fire-retardants that could be hazardous to your health.
  4. Household cleaners: Have you ever gotten dizzy while spring cleaning? This isn't a coincidence – many cleaners contain off-the-chart levels of VOCs. Check out the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' database for information on how products could be affecting you and your family's health.
  5. Deodorizers: Sure, those dryer sheets and air fresheners are making your clothing and home smell pretty good, but have you considered why? Dryer sheets add chloroform directly to your clothing while air fresheners can pump out phthalates into your indoor air.

How to fight off-gassing at home

Off-gassing is happening all around us, in most of our homes, and that's frightening – but there are ways you can fight back. The main way is to buy older products, such as antique furniture. Odds are that a decade (or longer) old piece of furniture has finished off-gassing.

However, this might not be your best bet if you're in the market for a mattress. For furniture and other products like mattresses, it is recommended that you air it out after taking it out of its packaging, and before bringing it into your home. If you are unable to take the time to air it out, keep your home adequately ventilated, so the VOCs and other chemicals get pulled out of your indoor air and outdoors. This can be achieved with proper mechanical ventilation.

Finally, you can work on purifying your indoor air quality a little at a time. Plants are a great, natural way to filter some of the toxins out of your air. You might also consider sprinkling baking soda on new carpeting and upholstery and vacuuming it up, to pull out some of the lingering chemicals. When you're at the store buying interior paints, keep an eye out for low or no VOC options. Finally, to take your indoor air quality battle to the next level, you could invest in an air purifier.

Off-gassing is different for all materials and could range from 30 days to 5 years. Stay aware and take measures to keep your indoor air free of harmful chemicals!

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Quinn Korzeniecki

Quinn Korzeniecki joined the Building Performance Institute, Inc. team as the Senior Marketing and Communications Associate in August 2015. As a new first-time homeowner herself, she enjoys sharing information on how other homeowners can not only save money and energy by being efficient, but can also keep themselves, and their families, safe and healthy in the process.