If you have heard the term off gassing, you’re probably wondering what does it mean? Sure, you might have a vague idea that it has something to do with a new car smell and something to do with VOCs (though, you might not know what a VOC actually is.)
Off gassing is a real health threat and it’s something that you have some control over in your home, so now is the time to really understand what is off gassing and how to prevent it.
VOCs are incredibly small pieces of chemicals that come unattached from a material or product over time. When the VOCs unattach themselves, they become gases in the air. Off gassing VOCs happen in a wide array of products, including solid materials and liquid materials.
What are Off Gassing VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds can be all kinds of chemicals. There are thousands of chemicals allowed to be used in materials intended for use in your home, workplace or vehicle every day. In fact, around 80,000 new chemicals have been invented since World War II.
Among the biggest offenders, and the most widely discussed VOCs, are:
- Polyurethane foam
- Chemical flame retardants
- Methylene chloride
Some off gassing VOCs are thought to be carcinogenic, which means they cause cancer.
Other VOCs are considered harmful when they mix with other chemicals as gasses.
Where Do VOCs Come From?
VOCs can off gas into your home, office or vehicle from many different materials. Some of the most common sources of VOCs are:
- Paints and painting supplies, including acrylics (Check out my shopping list for Zero VOC Paints)
- Carpets, including area rugs (Here’s my Ultimate List of Low VOC Area Rugs)
- Flooring (See my Guide to Allergy Friendly Flooring)
- Vinyl windows
- Cleaning supplies
- Craft or hobby supplies, including wood stains, glues, adhesives, paint strippers, varnishes
- Aerosol spray
- Building materials
- Moth repellents
- Copiers and printers
- Burning wood, coal or natural gas
Not all of these items will always off gas potentially harmful VOCs. For instance, if you used a non-toxic milk paint rather than a latex paint, you wouldn’t have to worry about VOCs as much.
How Long Does it Take to Off Gas?
There is no one time frame that it takes for products such as carpeting, rugs or mattresses to off gas.
Generally, the largest amount of off gassing takes place in the first few months. For instance, the moment that you unwrap a new mattress, that’s when it will likely off gas the most.
Or when a new rug is unwrapped from plastic. That’s when the highest amounts of VOCs are released. (Which is why it’s smart to unwrap it and let it sit outside for a few days to a few months before installing it where you live.) While the first few weeks or months generally have the highest levels of off gassing, it doesn’t mean that the off gassing stops afterwards. Off gassing can potentially go on for the life span of the product. There is no easy way to tell.
How Can I Tell if Something is Off Gassing?
You can’t see chemicals coming out of a material or product in your home.
And trying to determine if an item is off gassing based on scientific testing is sketchy, at best, in a normal home setting.
There are many companies that will help you test the indoor air quality of your home. (Here’s my experience testing for off gassing formaldehyde in the RV where I was living.)
Atmotube is a portable air quality monitor that does a great job of alerting you to poor air, including what the VOC levels are.
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