By Amy Highland
Modern manufacturing processes can introduce harmful substances into your home. One category—volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—can find their way into the most intimate of spaces—your bedroom. But, there are ways to avoid and keep VOCs down so they don’t interfere with your health or sleep.
The Rundown on VOCs
VOCs come from organic chemicals that can be used in everything from adhesives, paints, stains, and cleaning and disinfecting agents. During the manufacturing process, bedding and mattresses may be exposed to or have components that emit VOCs.
VOCs are a health hazard and many are known carcinogens. They’re particularly dangerous for bedroom items because you spend nearly one-third of your life in this one room with close contact to potentially harmful emissions. Lying in or on bedding that emits VOCs for eight hours a day can irritate the eyes, lungs, and skin. Dizziness and headaches are common complaints with high VOC exposure. Some people also experience vision and memory problems.
The easiest way to keep your air clear is by avoiding VOCs all together. Research has shown that clean air can improve sleep quality and your ability to perform at work and home. To keep your air clean might take some light investigative work on your part.
Look for Certifications
Standards and regulations vary by industry. Some, like the mattress industry, don’t have set standards when it comes to VOCs. However, there are independent organizations that test products for harmful emissions. You can look for a seal or certification from these organizations on any bedding or mattresses you buy.
There are two, in particular, you’ll want to watch for. First, the OEKO-TEX Standard 100, which is a group of 18 independent research and testing facilities in Europe and Japan who check products for certain chemical emissions, including VOCs. Their certification can be found on bedding, mattresses, and other household products.
The second (and third though with the same company) is GreenGuard and GreenGuardGold. These certifications assure that materials and products do not go over certain emission limits and VOCs are on their list.
Air Out Your Products
Just because a product has been checked for VOCs doesn’t mean it won’t off-gas or have some kind of smell. To avoid any potential dangers, we suggest airing out your bedding and mattress after you bring them home. A large item, like a mattress, may need several days in a location with good ventilation. Sheets, blankets, and pillows may still need to air out, but not nearly as long. Once the chemical smell is gone, you’re good to go.
Testing for VOCs
If you are concerned about your indoor air quality, have your home tested by an independent inspector, like RTK. Mold and VOCs are responsible for about 80% of all indoor air quality issues. A trained professional can help you understand whether you have a problem with VOCs or mold or any other toxic substance, and tell you what you can do about it.
Even if you’ve done a good job at keeping VOCs out of your bedroom, furniture, carpeting, and printers can bring them in again. NASA conducted a study to find plants that clean indoor air of biotoxins. Their list includes plants that remove benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene. On the list are some familiar plants like aloe vera and the gerbera daisy as well as lesser-known varieties like the spider plant and mother-in-law’s tongue. These plants absorb traces of VOCs so you’re breathing cleaner, fresher air all night long.
What Can You Do?
The next time you’re buying bedding, check the labels for certifications. If there’s one you don’t recognize, it’s worth looking up as it could give you an idea if VOCs are entering your home. You may not be able to escape all VOCs, which is why it’s important to keep your home well ventilated. If you want to be safe, have your home tested for VOCs so that you can identify the issues and take steps fix them. These small efforts can help you sleep better and keep your family safe.
Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. Her preferred research topics are health and wellness, so Amy’s a regular reader of Scientific American and Nature. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.