Oct 09, 2015

VOC Off Gassing - It's as bad as it sounds Featured

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Off gassing jarsThe old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" applies when referring to indoor air quality. So remember to look for low VOC or VOC free choices when purchasing common household products. Currently there’s no standard labeling system for VOCs, but many manufacturers offer a low or no VOC option. Formaldehyde, one of the best known VOCs, is surprisingly common in new home construction. Luckily, it happens to be one of the few indoor air pollutants that can be readily measured. Air monitoring is one approach that can help prevent adverse effects of exposure to volatile organic compounds.

One study on formaldehyde and VOC levels utilizing air monitoring found that "the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in new homes decreased markedly after 1 year". This is due primarily to the off-gassing process which diminishes over time. If you don't happen to have expensive air monitoring equipment lying around, you could always use your sense of smell. Just remember that not all VOCs are detectable with the human nose.

Preventing Exposure to VOCs

Identify, and if possible, remove the source. If it’s not possible to remove, reduce exposure by using a low or no VOC sealant on surfaces and other furnishings emitting chemicals. You should always increase ventilation during the period of VOC off gassing and consider using an air purifier.

Potentially hazardous products often have warnings aimed at reducing exposure to the user. Many people, however, don't bother to read the label before every use (guilty as charged). If a label states to use the product in a well-ventilated area, go outdoors, open the windows or work in areas equipped with an exhaust fan. You should always provide the maximum amount of clean air flow possible. This rule applies when you are using petroleum-based products, fuels, hydraulic fluids, paint, thinners, cleaning agents and the like. This also applies to your new carpet, new car, air fresheners and a variety of other surprising sources.

Other preventative measures

Safely disposing of empty containers or those with very little product remaining. - Using products according to the manufacturer’s directions. - Buying in quantities that you may consume quickly to prevent additional exposure from seepage or vapors, like paint VOCs, that may escape from poorly sealed containers. - Keeping products out of the reach of children and pets. - Making every effort to utilize integrated pest management techniques when using pesticides. - Never mixing products unless directed on the label. - Choosing low VOC or VOC free products.




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  • Comment Link Phil Wednesday, 29 September 2010 07:05 posted by Phil

    After exposure to mold, I developed a condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I bought a new home 18 months ago and spend over 20,000 in "air purification." At first the home was unbearable to me. Paint fumes, carpet, and who-knows-what had neurological effects. I was told that after the house off-gassed (1 year) it would be fine. I'm now sicker, I have become more chemically sensitive, and I'm running out of options. Do you know of someone who could come in and assess the air quality to determine what VOC's are present? Everything has been guesswork and I've wasted lots of money on "environmental experts." This is a very real and serious issue and I appreciate you putting it out there.

  • Comment Link Eco Evaluator Thursday, 07 October 2010 10:01 posted by Eco Evaluator


    Sorry to hear about your condition. As you know VOC's pose a real risk to your health and well being. It looks like you are in Florida which is a bit out of our network of certified professionals. So, we are unable to make a recommendation but perhaps the following insights may help.

    Based on our research, air monitors and subsequent lab testing are very expensive and time consuming. Some of the best options include the removal of items (such as carpets, new curtains, etc.) or the application of "no VOC" coatings over VOC emitting surfaces (like paint and varnish). If you bought new furniture, like a couch, for your new home, consider having it steam cleaned (hot as possible) to expedite the release of chemicals. Also take a serious look at your cleaners and any air fresheners you may be using. Many of these are filled with VOCs and continue to reduce your indoor air quality. Another option would be to increase the ventilation in your home. Your air filter may circulate and clean the air inside the home, but ventilation (like opening windows or utilizing exhaust fans) will allow for the indoor air pollution to escape more rapidly. Although this will lower your energy efficiency, under the circumstances, it may be warranted.

    If you find your situation unbearable and end up having to move, look into the EPA program called Indoor airPLUS. It's a label earned by a home builder after they meet strict standards during the construction of a new home. I am assuming that your home didn't have that label. It's really a big selling point for builders that want to show they are building green homes.

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  • Comment Link Dan Zeeff Thursday, 03 March 2011 17:28 posted by Dan Zeeff

    I've been in the drywall and building trades for 30 years, but only recently been involved and interested in this subject. Chinese drywall, of course, but I'm learning much more is involved since recently becoming involved with a high end contractor who is very concerned with these matters. I think as a specialized contractor I need to learn as much as possible about this subject.

  • Comment Link Julia Wednesday, 18 May 2011 12:04 posted by Julia

    Great post, but I didn't see any information about the different filters out there. Air purifiers that claim to be getting rid of VOCs need to have a large amount of activated carbon, the only effective filter media to adsorb chemicals, gases, odors, vapors and fumes. HEPA is great for particles, but won't remove VOCs.
    The more carbon, the more VOCs will be removed from the air.
    Some companies specialize in air purifiers for people affected by Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, or MCS.

  • Comment Link angiehillman Sunday, 14 August 2011 18:27 posted by angiehillman

    I have been tramautized by mold exposure and new carpets installed over the last 18 months. I first moved into a old renovated apt. bldg last april (2010). New carpet was installed before the day i moved in and then 3 months later, after 3 people visited me and got very sick, I discovered I had mold. I was told by my docs to get out ASAP. So i spent that night in a hotel and moved out two weeks later. I have moved 46 times since then and mostly spent time living in a hotel while all my mold contaminated stuff was put in storage. I finally bought a new home 2 months ago--only to discover that the entire carpeted area 225 sq ft was covered in cat pee. it was so bad that i had to remove baseboards, carpet, drywall and even the subfloor was wet. When the carpet was removed, it released a massive amount of dust and dander that I could not breathe. Desperate to get my carpet replaced and my life in order, I had new carpet put in. But a month later, I have been very sick with allergy type symptoms and worst of all the inability to concentrate. This is impacting my ability to work greatly. i have had so much stress related to all this, I have felt like I was losing my mind. This past weekend, I cleaned the carpet with a very strong cleaner and then used a carpet seal and carpet lock otu to block the off gassing. It was such hard work and i did it myself, which caused such an allergic reaction i have barely been able to function. My last stop before ripping out all the new carpet to get hardwoods is to get an air purifier. Any suggestions for that?? There are a lot out there and I'm stumped as far as what to get. Thanks.

  • Comment Link Ed with EcoEvaluator Monday, 15 August 2011 16:30 posted by Ed with EcoEvaluator


    We’re sorry to hear you’re having so much difficulty. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Concentrated doses of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and certain types of mold can cause a multitude of symptoms including respiratory issues, headaches, nose and throat irritation as well as nausea.

    In fact, people are becoming increasingly troubled by mold, radon, carbon monoxide and VOCs in their homes. Studies from the Environmental Protection Agency show that levels of air pollution inside the home are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels.

    If you decide to keep the carpet you currently have you have a couple of options that may reduce the off guessing. One of the easiest ways to minimize exposure is through proper ventilation. Try keeping doors and windows open as often as possible and use ceiling or house fans to keep the air moving. This should help to reduce your immediate exposure. Also, some sources indicate that steam cleaning has the potential to reduce off gassing by quickening the off gassing process.

    If you are considering completely replacing your carpet but are unsure of which carpet to buy, you can look for the “green label” of the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI).

    If you’re thinking about a change from carpet to hardwood, be sure to look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified sources http://www.ecoevaluator.com/environment/organizations/forest-stewardship-council.html Patronizing FSC certified goods helps to prohibit the conversion of natural forests and the use of hazardous pesticides, while at the same time showing your respect for the rights of indigenous people all over the world who are still living in forested areas.

  • Comment Link Angie Tuesday, 16 August 2011 08:16 posted by Angie

    I checked out your link http://www.ecoevaluator.com/environment/organizations/forest-stewardship-council.html, but could not find anything about where to purchase. Do you know of a source in Atlanta or is it a product that's carried anywhere and I just need to look for hte FSC certified source seal of approval (if they have one). Someone suggested I get laminate flooring rather than hardwoods if I have to replace the carpet. What are your thoughts on that?

  • Comment Link Ed with Eco Evaluator Tuesday, 16 August 2011 11:40 posted by Ed with Eco Evaluator


    Here is the list of different suppliers of FSC certified products http://www.fscus.org/productsearch/retailers/?category=1 They have a lot of national retailers that carry FSC certified products. As far as the laminate flooring vs. hardwood floors we haven't done any extensive research on that and both present challenges. Hardwood generally takes a long time to grow but many laminate floors can have an off gassing period. Be sure to look for products that are VOC free. Also, you may be able to find no VOC products from Home Depot in the Eco Options line.

  • Comment Link Joan Tuesday, 16 August 2011 19:38 posted by Joan

    Very good post. I'm in the residential cleaning business and have given much thought to switching to chemical free cleaning. I believe it will benefit not only the home owner but also the cleaning tech. Although it will be costlier, in the long run it will be well worth it. Your post has given me the impetus to go forward.

  • Comment Link Marcia Monday, 27 August 2012 06:50 posted by Marcia

    Question about carpet. We have new carpet that I believe I am reacting to. It has been 4 months and still get swollen eyes, patchy peely skin on my face. I am on allergy medicine that I take every night but when I try to go off it, the symptoms return. I have seen cleaning tips to help reduce VOC's and allergens however that information is confusing. I have seen hot water extration and organic dry carpet cleaning methods recommended. Any ideas about this?

  • Comment Link Eco Friendly Ed Thursday, 06 September 2012 16:34 posted by Eco Friendly Ed

    Marcia, sorry to hear you are having such a strong reaction. Unfortunately this is a more common occurrence than you might think. Here are a few suggestions that may help:

    1) High temperature steam cleaning, may expedite the release of the allergens and also may remove a large amount of them.

    2)Increase ventilation to reduce the concentration of exposure.

    3)Look for a air purifier that specifically states its effectiveness in removing VOCs. Consumer Reports should be able to help you find a good one.

    4)As a last resort, if you are sure it is your carpet, consider having it replaced. Contact your installer and let them know about you reaction. They may be able to recycle the carpet as a remnant and you might get a reasonable discount on the replacement.

    I hope that helps.

  • Comment Link Claire Thursday, 20 September 2012 14:18 posted by Claire

    Hello, A few years ago I started noticing a strange odour in my apartment. I became quite ill - hard to breathe, very bad allergies - eventually had to move out of our apartment before we started renovations. We renovated using all non/low VOC products and got rid of all furniture and anything that i detected the odour in. All of our books are boxed up as they retained the odour. Before renovating I had the apartment tested for mold as and sent off a box of items to have tested for formaldehyse and various other VOCs. A low concentration of Acetonitrile and Methylene Chloride was found and thought to be the reason for the odour. We are now moved back in - although still have not moved the boxes of books back - and I am smelling the odour again. I am at my wits end on what to do. In addition I am trying to find out how I can treat the books (I have 50 boxes) to remove the odour. Any ideas?

  • Comment Link Alissa Sunday, 13 January 2013 02:37 posted by Alissa

    My husband, daughter and I just moved into a brand new construction. My daughter is having a reaction to the off gassing, breaking out and even behavioral changes.. Acts like nervous system is affected. I took her out of the house and let it air out for 10 days and it has been 3 and 1/2 weeks since we moved in and it still smells horrible.. I can taste it is my mouth. Can someone please please help me figure out what else I can do!! I am soooooo worried about my daughter! I am going to be leaving with her again tomorrow for a while but I have to get these chemicals out of here!!

  • Comment Link Alecia Thursday, 07 February 2013 22:21 posted by Alecia

    Hello! Thank you for this information. I recently moved into a room that had an old carpet removed with a wooden floor underneath. There was carpet adhesive under the carpet and the visible glue was scraped up. However, I had to move out of the room because I would get really itchy, have really disturbing dreams (which I never have unless I'm sick), not be able to concentrate or think clearly (and I'm going back to school to get a science degree, so I NEED to be able to think clearly), headaches, I lost 4 pounds in 1.5 weeks without trying, my teeth started to hurt and then the enamel started to wear away, I was having asthma attacks (and I have never had them before), and I would be tired all the time. I'm assuming this all happened because of the carpet glue. I went to an allergist and was tested for mold allergies and more, and I'm only allergic to cats (and I've had one cat for 16 years and I've never had problems like this).

    If the carpet adhesive in my room is the problem, I would love to fix it so I can move back in. Could you please outline clearly how to fix this situation?

    Thank you!

  • Comment Link Green Eileen Friday, 08 February 2013 14:08 posted by Green Eileen

    Hello Alecia,

    We’re sorry to hear you are having so many strong reactions. Unfortunately, strong reactions to adhesives and bonding agents are becoming a more common occurrence. It sounds like your particular situation is complicated due to the multitude of severe symptoms that you are experiencing. You should definitely continue to seek medical attention to find the cause and hopefully find a cure. If you think your home is a probable cause, consider hiring an indoor air specialist to analyze your particular situation. Try this link http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/iaq to review many IAQ resources. They can also guide you towards finding an IAQ specialist.

  • Comment Link Alecia Monday, 11 February 2013 21:13 posted by Alecia

    Green Eileen,

    Thank you so much for your quick and thoughtful reply! Hiring an indoor air specialist is a great idea. Thank you! I didn't even know they existed. And thank you for the link too. Wish me luck!


  • Comment Link Mammoth Air Purifier Saturday, 23 February 2013 12:35 posted by Mammoth Air Purifier

    Great post,In most homes, the Air Purifier will keep indoor air adequately clean. In some cases, however, homeowners need an additional air-purification system because either they or their loved ones suffer from respiratory problems, allergies, or other medical conditions. and if possible, remove the source, Check out whether or not HEPA Air Purifier is really for your allergy.

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  • Comment Link Donna Paul Wednesday, 01 May 2013 14:35 posted by Donna Paul

    I live in B.C. Canada and am having symptoms to my off gassing carpets. I have heard of chemically free carpet shampoos and carpet sealants that lock out the VOCs Can you tell me who carries these in (preferably) B.C. or Alberta?

  • Comment Link Green Eileen Friday, 03 May 2013 08:38 posted by Green Eileen

    Hi Donna,
    Sorry to hear you are having trouble. AS far as greener choices for carpets or carpet products, try to find providers with certifications from The Sustainable Carpet Standard (NSF 140), Cradle to Cradle, BRE Environmental Assessment, or CRI Green Label Plus. Unfortunately we are not in Canada yet so we would not be able to help with providers.

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  • Comment Link Allen Layton Sunday, 27 October 2013 01:21 posted by Allen Layton

    My wife and I just had "DREAM HOME" laminate flooring installed. Is that a safe choice with precautions taken at the factory for off-gassing? Just curious...a "bug" has been going around at work, and my wife and I seem to have contracted this "bug", which was concurrent with the installation of our new flooring! Thank you for your assistance!

  • Comment Link Eco Friendly Ed Monday, 28 October 2013 09:35 posted by Eco Friendly Ed

    Hello Allen,

    Laminate flooring is a great choice. It helps to slow deforestation and tends to be an extremely durable solution. That being said, your concern about the off gassing of these products is legitimate. We generally recommend doing the research prior to install. However, it sounds like you have already had the floors installed. Most contractors will leave you an extra box of the laminate just in case you need to repair a section in the future. When you look at the packaging, try to find a certification from Green Guard. If you want to dig deeper, you may gather more details about your flooring from NALFA or the European Standard No. EN 13329:2000. If you live in California you may want to download the prop 65 chemical listing and compare it against the manufacturer’s Data Sheet or Specifications. You should also look for a statement about the use of formaldehyde, as this is the most common chemical used and is known to off gas. I hope this helps and thank you for your interest in EcoEvaluator.com

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