Toxins Lurk in Home Furnishings: What You Need To Know
Our homes are our sanctuaries. We decorate them with comfort and visual appeal in mind. We carefully pick the perfect mattress, the right carpet, and the ideal sofa. But what we don’t give thought to is the possibility that many of the furnishings in your home may contain toxic materials and chemicals.
Fabrics, glues, finishes, glosses, polishes, and flame-retardants are prime offenders. They fall into a class of chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which pollute your indoor air by releasing vapors. Formaldehyde, vinyl acetate, phthalates, and benzene are a few of the toxins commonly found in household items, from throw pillows to mattresses. Some have strong odors, like that “new car smell”, and others are odorless.
Bottom line: These items off-gas toxic chemicals, which impact your home’s indoor air quality and are hazardous to your health. Headaches, fatigue, eye, nose and throat irritation, nausea, and loss of coordination are all side effects of VOCs. Many are classified as carcinogens.
The only way to know if you have unacceptable levels of indoor air pollution is to have an indoor air quality test. Once your home has been tested, there are several ways to help reduce airborne toxins:
A good air filter can go a long way. Air purifiers remove particles from the air, and “clean” the air in your home. HEPA filters will do a good job of capturing particles, but they don’t actually remove VOCs. To remove formaldehyde and other VOCs, you will need an air purifier with advanced technology. Chemical VOC air purifiers are specially designed to reduce exposure to contaminants and toxins. Do your research to find the best one for you.
Yes, it pays to think green! There are certain varieties of house plants that are said to help absorb chemicals in the air, according to several studies, including:
- English Ivy
- Purple Heart
- Bamboo Palm
- Chinese Evergreen
- Gerbera Daisy
- Pot Mum
- Peace Lily
- Spider Plant
- Mass Cane/Corn Plant
- Foxtail Fern
- Wax Plant
Scatter plants throughout your house. Better not to concentrate them all in one area, as the humidity will rise in that spot and potentially lead to mold infestation.
The good news is that over time, the amount of chemicals off-gassed from furniture and household items lessens. The bad news is that off-gassing can continue for years. If at all possible, place new home furnishings outdoors or in a well-ventilated garage so that the initial off-gassed toxic chemicals don’t get sucked into your HVAC system. Open windows periodically, and allow for natural air to get in and toxins to get out. Exhaust fans are also important tools to circulate the air. Note: Be sure to clean your exhaust fans every 3 – 6 months for optimal performance.
An easy step to get cleaner air is to change your filters. If you have a forced-air heating or cooling system, be sure to change the filters regularly. Specialty filters, like electrostatic filters, can help ensure airborne irritants and dust is trapped instead of re-circulated throughout your home. You should also consider cleaning your ducts to remove trapped dust and mold.
Active charcoal is highly absorbent by nature, and is a good way to capture VOCs from the air. Activated charcoal carbon filters should be changed regularly.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals – Use Natural Products
Air fresheners and harsh cleaning products are Public Enemy Number One when it comes to indoor air pollution. Instead of buying commercial products, make your own. Essential oils are a fantastic way to freshen the air inside of your home. Lemon juice and olive oil make for a great wood polish. Vinegar and baking soda can be used to de-grease and as cleaning and deodorizing agents. To prevent mold in bathrooms and around sinks, add a few drops of tea tree oil to water before you clean the area. Bonus: you save money!
Being aware is half the battle. If you think you may have an indoor air quality problem, schedule a test today. About 80% of indoor air quality issues stem from VOCs or mold. Once you know what you are dealing with, you’ll be able to plan a course of action to mitigate the problem.