Escaping the toxins you come in contact with every day, and going off the grid to live in an unfinished wood cabin in the middle of the woods sounds like a great plan, but unfortunately it isn't sustainable for most of us to conduct life. So how can you combat the toxins you are surrounded with, even in your own home?
What are VOCs? Without getting all scientific, VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds, are made up of chemicals. They can be emitted in forms of both solids and gas. They can have adverse health affects in the short term, but also the long term. They are emitted from materials both indoors and outdoors. Their release can be affected by fluctuations in temperature.
There are three types of VOCs:
Very volatile organic compounds (VVOCs)
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs)
The higher the volatility of the compound, the more likely it is to be emitted from a product or surface into the air. Organic compounds that are classified as "very volatile", are so volatile that they cannot be measured the same as other compounds. These types of VVOCs are all almost entirely gases in the air rather than in materials or on surfaces. The "least volatile compounds" that are found in air are emitted from solids or liquids that contain them.
Where do they come from?
VOCs are emitted from furniture, paint, cleaning supplies, varnishes, air fresheners, pesticides, flame retardants, beauty products, and aerosol sprays just to name a few (for more information on the dangers of hairspray, reference my post here). They can also be high in concentration after construction of a new building or within your newly renovated home.
How do they affect your family's health?
VOC concentration is much higher indoors because of things you have in your home. Unwrapping a brand new carpet made with toxic glues or polyester backing,, or moving in a brand new couch that was made with unnatural fibers and stuffed with synthetic materials all give off VOCs. Always allowing the air conditioning to kick on, or opening your windows for a breeze, is the best way to filter indoor air toxins from your home, and allow clean air in. VOC levels can be up to 10x higher indoors! These toxic chemicals can affect your health in a variety of ways. Throat irritation, headaches, nose and eye irritation, are just a few of the side effects, and more serious side effect include fatigue, dizziness, etc. The EPA states that, just as any other pollutant, the extent health effect depends on many factors. The factors that need to be considered are the nature of the pollutant, and the length of time exposed to it.
How can you rid your home of VOC's?
For a quick list of tips on designing a non-toxic nursery, check out my recent post here. To decrease the level VOCs in your home overall, think of replacing synthetic materials and chemical filled products, with natural products that allow for cleaner, fresher air.
1. Air Ventilation
When using products that emit VOCs, such as paint, opt for a NO-VOC paint, or only paint outside, where there is increased ventilation. Do not expose children to these chemicals.
2. Utilize Indoor Plants that Filter the Air
Indoor plants do amazing wonders at filtering the air. A very well known VOC, formaldehyde, has numerous health effects. There are indoor plants, such as the Peace Lily, and the Florists's Chrysanthemum, that filter this toxin. See my most recent post on indoor air plants here.
3. Utilize a HEPA filter
If you have a HEPA filter in your home, make sure it contains an activated carbon filter. This type of filter eliminates VOCs. Without it, a regular HEPA filter will not capture VOCs, and off-gassing in the air. This type of filter captures not only odors, smoke, allergens such as dust and mold, but it also purifies the air, and kills airborne germs like staph and influenza. Germ Guardian makes amazing filters, and we use one in our home around our child, and it even creates a soothing, white noise sound, with 3 speed settings.
4. Completely Rid Your Home of Synthetic Fragrances and Plug-ins
How many times have you used Febreeze, or plugged in an air freshener or lit a candle? These synthetic fragrances push tons of toxins into the air, which you are breathing into your lungs. Using therapeutic grade essential oils to diffuse, or clean burning candles are the way to go. These types of fragrances are truly natural, and won't give you cancer or allow you to pollute your home.
5. Swap Out All Cleaning Products for Homemade, or "Green" Options
The traditional cleaning products you have under your sink are not only harmful to your health when sprayed around the house, but they contain VOCs that are released into the air and if they aren't filtered out, they can cause harm to your lungs, respiratory system, and worse if exposure occurs over time. The cleaning supplies that are considered "green" today is up for debate, as many seventh generation products have high health hazards, according to EWG. Mrs. Meyer's doesn't score that much better. See my recent post on making your own vinegar based cleaning products here. My favorite natural and non-toxic picks to purchase are MamaSuds, Branch Basics, or EWG lists 86 products that scored an A for all purpose cleaning.
Make simple changes for a cleaner, greener home. Decrease your home's level of harmful volatile organic compounds with these 5 tips. Protect your family's health and environment.