Have you ever gotten a new car or couch and just known because of the smell?
That’s off gassing.
Some people love the smell of “new.”
It’s knowingly artificial yet somehow intoxicating.
Eventually, over time, that smell will fade, and you probably won’t think anything more about it.
But if you’ve ever wondered what that smell was, then you were wondering about off gassing.
Off gassing occurs when newly manufactured items release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals.
Here’s what you should know about off gassing — what it is, how it occurs, and what you can do to keep the air cleaner in your home.
1. What is off gassing?
Off-gassing occurs when new, manufactured items release organic compounds (VOCs) and other chemicals.
The odor results from paint, glue, finish, and other substances emitting chemical particles as they settle.
2. What household products off gas?
A lot of household products contribute to off gassing.
Furnishings: cabinets, tables, couches, mattresses
Walls and floors: Carpeting, vinyl flooring, wall paint, particleboard, plywood, and insulation
Cleaning supplies: Air fresheners and cleaning sprays
In addition, many building materials off gas VOCs.
Altogether, thousands of chemicals are off gassing in homes each day.
Since World War II, 80,000 new chemicals have been invented and placed in household items.
However, research has only been done on the impact of a few.
For example, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.
However, it’s still found in products like wood finish, glue, insulation, and hand soap.
Polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based chemical found in mattresses.
This product can cause respiratory difficulties and skin irritation.
Many people believe that the chemicals and substances you purchase in your favorite products are known to be safe — that they’ve been tested.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
As a consumer, you still need to check the chemicals and household products you all in your home.
You can see a complete list of these chemicals in the Department of Health and Human Services database.
3. What should you know about products that you purchase when it comes to off gassing?
Above we listed the most common household products that off-gas.
Here’s more information about each type of product and how you can approach the buying process as an informed consumer.
Have you seen or purchased the “bed-in-a-box” mattresses that have become all the rage?
These mattresses are such an easy option because they arrive rolled up and sealed in plastic in a long box.
Once you open the plastic, you can unroll the mattress and expand it to its full size.
Most people will immediately smell off gassing occurring from the mattress.
This consists of a variety of different VOCs from the foam and adhesives found in the mattress.
This is so common that mattress brands like Purple, Layla, and Tuft & Needle have pages on their websites explaining the VOC certifications and standards that they adhere to.
There are some common certifications that you can research such as STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX, CertiPUR-US, and GREENGUARD Gold.
You should take care when purchasing a new mattress.
Not only is it where you’ll spend a third of your life, but it can also be a significant source of VOC exposure.
This is especially true for infants.
Parents must take special care when buying a new mattress for their child’s crib.
Especially mattresses made with polyurethane foam (which contains hydrocarbon toluene).
Furniture, upholstery, and curtains
Furniture made from pressed wood (i.e., particleboard and plywood) contains formaldehyde.
Formaldehyde is not only off-gassed in your home, but it’s also a carcinogen.
Pressed wood is common in build-it-yourself furniture found at stores like Ikea.
Formaldehyde can also be found in permanent-press fabrics such as curtains or furniture upholstery.
You may associate new carpet with a new beginning.
Rip out old carpet and suddenly an apartment or home is fresh, new, and clean.
However, that’s not exactly how it works.
Adhesive sand foam pads that are used in carpet installations contain toxic organic chemicals.
These chemicals will off-gas VOCs in your home, and this has prompted some states to begin legislating around VOC emission limits for all new carpet installations.
Did you previously love that “new car” smell so much?
You probably won’t anymore.
New cars are a significant source of off gassing as their parts are made with polystyrene and other organic chemical compounds that emit VOCs, especially when the car is new.
Vehicles that are exposed to high temperatures and low airflow will off-gas at higher concentrations.
Electronics in your home can be a source of off gassing as well.
The ones you should worry about most are those that use triphenyl phosphate to insulate the wires.
Research has found that office electronics (computers, printers, etc.) may admit VOCs that can accumulate in potentially dangerous concentrations.
Other household products
There are a variety of other household products that may contain VOCs.
- Dryer sheets
- Air fresheners
- Cleaning products
- Nail polish remover
- Cosmetics and personal care products
- Household cleaners
- Markers, Sharpies, and other art supplies
These household products have high levels of VOCs such as acetone, ethyl alcohol, and isopropyl alcohol.
They will off-gas into the air even when you’re not using them.
Two items that are particularly concerning are air fresheners and cleaning sprays.
Fortunately, there are other ways to make a room smell fresh without having to sacrifice air quality.
We recommend taking the following steps before turning to products with VOCs.
- Identify the odor
- Dust your room
- Clean your floors
- Open your windows
- Bathe your pets
- Wash your sheets and laundry
- Clean all upholstery with white vinegar and water
- Turn on a dehumidifier
- Use an indoor air purifier
- Use a natural odor absorber
4. Is your furniture making you sick?
This is a great question, but it’s hard to answer in a one-size-fits-all way.
The health effects of VOC exposure range from person to person.
It also depends on the chemical and its concentration.
Sometimes, you may feel the impacts of off gassing after using cleaning products.
It’ll result in temporary dizziness which will soon go away.
Other times, you’ll feel nothing at all, but that doesn’t mean that the products aren’t off gassing.
That said, doctors continue to be concerned about the issues related to off gassing.
Chemical contaminants have been linked to 180 diseases so far…and that number could continue to climb.
5. Does off gassing last forever?
No, it doesn’t last forever.
However, it can be hard to tell how long off gassing lasts.
Chemicals off gas at different rates.
Some goods may off gas for a few weeks right after they’re produced while others can off gas for up to five years.
Carpeting is one example of a product that will off gas for years at a time.
Certain VOCs like Phthalates are odorless, and as a result, they may go undetected.
6. What can you do to make sure you don’t buy products that emit VOCs?
Consumer safety advocacy has significantly increased over the past two decades.
Now, there are third-party certifications for household goods that can help you understand if a product has low or no emissions.
For example, GREENGUARD, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), and SGS Group certifications all denote furniture that have either low or no emissions.
This can help guide your consumer choices.
Additionally, the types of synthetic materials that your goods are made of can dictate how many VOCs they emit.
Solid wood generally contains fewer VOCs than either plywood or particleboard.
If you’re looking for a mattress, the best materials include organic cotton, chemical-free wool, and natural latex.
Additionally, if you want to protect yourself against the worst off gassing, consider buying secondhand furniture.
This is one of the best ways to protect yourself against harmful chemicals.
7. What can you do to decrease off gassing on the items that you’ve already purchased?
After learning about off gassing, you may be tempted to throw any at-risk items out.
This may be a bit extreme.
However, you probably shouldn’t let them sit in your house as they off-gas.
Instead, we recommend leaving them in your garage to air out over a period of a few weeks.
If you don’t have an area where you can safely off-gas your items, then some furniture stores will allow you to ventilate your purchase on-site before taking them home.
It’s worth checking with them to see if this is a possibility.
We also recommend painting your home in the spring, so you can open your window.
There will be dozens of items in your home at various stages of off gassing.
It’s a good idea to use an air purifier to filter the VOCs out of the air.
8. What’s the difference between off gassing and outgassing?
While doing research on this issue, you may hear the term “outgassing” instead of “off gassing.”
What’s the difference?
Both these terms are used to describe the release of harmful gases trapped in products and materials during production.
Off gassing, however, is commonly used when discussing indoor air quality, manufactured household products, and furniture.
Outgassing is used in reference to industrial or lab settings.
9. What are the symptoms of VOC exposure?
Symptoms of VOC exposure may include:
Skin irritation or allergic reaction
Nausea and vomiting
VOCs can have varied impacts.
They can have either short or long-term effects.
Individual effects will depend on the type of VOC, the concentration in the air, and the length of exposure time.
The most serious health effects of VOCs will include damage to the kidneys, liver, or central nervous system.
Some VOCs are either suspected or known carcinogens.
One example of a known carcinogen is formaldehyde.
10. How does temperature affect VOC off gassing?
There’s a correlation between indoor VOC emissions and temperature.
VOC emissions reach peak values during summertime when temperatures are at their highest point in the year.
This is important information for home owners to have.
Understanding how the indoor air temperature impacts your ventilation system and VOC emissions can help you address the issue best.
11. How do you control pollutant accumulation due to off gassing?
There are three core ways to decrease VOC concentration.
Here are the steps you should take.
Remove the source
Either remove the source of VOCs or minimize their emissions as much as possible.
You can do this by selecting furniture made of certain materials or low-emission products.
Increase the ventilation
An increase in ventilation can help you overcome the off gassing rate.
We recommend controlling ventilation based on VOC measurements for the most cost-effective results.
Use an air purifying system (just note that not all will remove VOCs) or plants.
We think plants are an especially great option as they can absorb pollutants while providing oxygen.
Plus, they’re great décor!
12. Why are modern ventilation systems ineffective against off gassing?
Ventilation systems typically have a rated airflow that’s determined by building codes.
The building codes will calculate this airflow based on a variety of factors.
The most important include:
The main use of the indoor space being analyzed
Total floor area
Sadly, building codes have been slow to address the topic of air pollutants across the globe.
Thus, ventilation systems are not normally designed to respond to VOCs and other common air pollutants.
One example of this is when the codes call for demand-controlled ventilation, which is when the airflow of a ventilation system is adjusted based on occupancy.
This design approach is flawed for two reasons.
It ignores the fact that occupancy doesn’t always correlate with air pollution.
Only a few people can participate in activities that result in large amounts of pollutants.
For example, cleaning can cause many indoor surfaces to be exposed to chemicals with a high content of VOCs.
The second reason the design approach is flawed is that pollutants may be released when there are no occupants at all.
Off gassing is an example of this.
To have high indoor air quality, ventilation systems must be able to directly respond to pollutant concentrations.
Therefore, they must have air pollution data, which can only be gathered with a reliable air monitoring system.
Also, keep in mind that not all air filters are able to remove VOCs.
In fact, one study found that some air filters may even produce VOCs themselves.
Carbon air filters do the best against VOCs according to this same study.
13. How should you speed up off gassing?
There are a few ways you can speed up the off gassing process in your home.
Try these out, so you don’t suffer any harmful health effects from chemicals.
Ventilate: You can increase ventilation by opening the windows, using fans, etc.
Heat: Off gassing rises with temperature, so a heater can be useful to speed up the process.
Air out: Allow a new product to air out before using it.
This can be difficult for products like couches or mattresses, but you can do it in a garage or ask a store if it’s possible to do it at their location before getting it delivered.
Off gassing is a process that occurs whether you take note of it or not.
Each and every time you purchase new household products, your health could be at risk.
It’s important to understand how to control the accumulation of air pollutants so you can appropriately mitigate or ventilate for them.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.