How to Avoid Harmful VOCs ( Volatile Organic Compounds ) at Home
There’s an invisible enemy at home that you should be aware of. Your house is full of it. They seep out of the walls, floors, and kitchen cabinets for months and even years after installation. We’re talking about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) — the dangerous chemical compounds in building materials, household products, and furniture that evaporate indoors at room temperature. And, a cocktail of these toxic vapors accumulate in areas with poor ventilation. This is bad news.
The danger lurking at home
The impact varies according to the kind and severity of the chemical inhaled, as well as the duration of exposure. VOCs include a variety of chemicals (like Formaldehyde and Benzene), some of which may have short and long-term adverse health effects. It could be the reason for your headache, eye and nose irritation, respiratory issues, fatigue, poor concentration, and allergic reactions. Prolonged exposure may result in a more serious illness.
The good news is manufacturers of building materials and household products are aware of the effects of VOCs. They’re making an effort to develop products with fewer toxic emissions. We now have access to products that help us improve our home’s indoor air quality and create a healthier environment for ourselves and our families.
Efforts to banish VOCs for a healthier home
Here are a few things that you can do to reduce VOC emissions in your home:
Problem: Solid timber floorboards require staining and formaldehyde-based adhesives.
Solution: We recommend sealing yours with a non-toxic, low-VOC, and water-based polyurethane. Enhance the floor’s beauty with a coat of solvent-free oil or plant-based hardwax oil. It will make the floorboards harder once it dries.
Problem: New carpets are treated with flame retardants, stain repellents, and antimicrobial agents. Not to mention, the synthetic backing, underlays, and adhesives also release high levels of VOCs.
Solution: Consider using a wool carpet with a natural-fiber backing, instead of synthetic carpets. Wool is luxurious and it is fire and stain-resistant in nature. Don’t forget to use a low-VOC underlay with your wool carpet. Once the carpet is installed, keep the area well-ventilated to flush the fumes out. Stay away from the room for a few days to avoid exposure to VOCs.
Optional tip: We like using carpets made of Sisal fiber as an alternative. It’s durable, rustic, and stylish — perfect for high-traffic living areas. Also, the sisal plant is predominant in the Philippines and grown with minimal pesticides. You can purchase top-quality carpets and rugs made of this plant in this country
Problem: You need to paint your concrete floor.
Solution: Consider painting your floors with low-VOC paint. It’s easy, cost-efficient, and it doesn’t compromise indoor air quality.
Problem: Traditional and solid wood cabinetry is expensive and requires regular staining.
Solution: Consider modern kitchen cabinets manufactured from a composite timber product called MDF or Medium Density Fiberboard, which is made by binding wood fibers together with urea-formaldehyde resin. It’s safer and contains fewer chemicals.
Problem: You need to paint the walls and you’re not sure of which paint to choose.
Solution: Enamel paints, being solvent-based, will release more VOCs. The darker the color, the more the chemical it will emit. Ask your paint supplier to give you acrylic and water-based paints with low- or zero- VOC mark. Lime and clay-based paints are safe too because they don’t have synthetic chemicals in the formulation.
Optional tip: If you have textured timber panels or brickwork, consider skipping the paint job. Embrace the existing elements of your home.
Related article: EPA Website
Proper ventilation and other ways to reduce exposure
Things inside your home emit a severe amount of VOCs when newly installed and slowly release the chemicals over time. These toxic chemicals will build-up in closed-off rooms. So, make an effort to improve your home’s ventilation.
One way to do it is through opening the windows regularly to give these emissions a chance to escape. Open windows on the opposite sides of the room to allow the breeze to carry the toxins away.
Another way to reduce exposure to VOCs is through minimizing the use of cleaning products and air fresheners that emit harmful vapors. Switch to natural cleaners and disinfectants like baking soda, vinegar, lemon, etc. And, if ever you’re going to use chemical household products, use it according to manufacturer’s directions. Potentially hazardous products have warnings aimed to keep the user safe. Read the label precautions and follow them carefully.
Charlene Gonzales is a design writer from Superdraft, the largest team of architects and home designers in Perth, Australia, who offer end-to-end design services. She’s an interior geek and an advocate of healthy and sustainable housing.