Thursday, 11 April 2019

VOCs in your home

This week the ultra-low emissions zone (ULEZ) has been introduced in London. This will see vehicle drivers being charged a daily fee if their cars fall foul of the required emissions standard. Being out and about whether in or out of a car can expose us to a lot of harmful pollution but our own homes can also have toxins in it. One of the main problems stem from those found in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are emitted as gases and have been found to be higher indoors than outdoors. This is not surprising since these chemicals are found in all manner of household items from cleaning products to home furnishings. As such it makes no difference whether you live in a rural setting or in a densely populated urban area. If you suffer with headaches, sore eyes, dry skin and breathing problems then the VOCs in your home could be the cause. Let's look at some of the common sources of VOCs.

Paint – Whatever you think of the EU one thing that has happened is the reduction of VOCs in the paint we use thanks to a directive issued in 2010. However, we are all familiar with that smell that comes with a freshly painted wall. For greener alternatives look at water-based paints that are low in VOCs or solvent-free. There are several well-known brands that are now producing 'eco paints'. These include Crown's Breatheasy range which claims to be 99% solvent-free and certified asthma and allergy friendly. Farrow and Ball moved to an entirely water-based paint formula in 2010 and now all of their range is classed as having low or minimal VOCs.

If you are wanting to repaint and improve your indoor air quality at the same time then Lakeland Paints have developed their Atmosphere Purifying Paint. All of the Lakeland Paints range are solvent-free and claim to have some very impressive eco-credentials but the Atmosphere Purifying Paint says it absorbs and filters out 98-99% of indoor air pollution such as VOCs but also petrol fumes from outside that come into your home.

Furniture – We all need tables, chairs, beds and storage units but the materials the furniture is made with could contain VOCs. If you are buying new then go for natural materials such as real wood rather than MDF. If you do go for a flat-pack option then check they are free from formaldehyde as this is one of the worst offenders when it comes to VOCs.

Of course if you buy second-hand furniture not only are you cutting out the production process but also older furniture should have already released any harmful chemicals. If you are thinking of refurbishing it then be mindful of the paint or vanish strippers you use and what you decide to paint or stain it with.

Wood burners – Last year the Environment Secretary Michael Gove caused a bit of stir when he announced proposals to ban the most polluting of wood burners and the fuel used in them. Burning wood causes VOCs through the evaporated carbon compounds it releases. If you are wanting to install a wood burner check the design of it as the better models use improved air circulation to burn the wood in a cleaner way. Also look to see that the fuel you are using be it wood or coal is properly certified and never burn wet wood.

Cleaning products – The latest Instagram stars are those showing us how to keep our homes clean. All those sprays and disinfectants may bring a gleam to your kitchen worktops but not necessarily good for you overall. It can be hard to work out which products contain VOCs as they are not always listed. I know the effect some laundry detergents have on me due to the rashes they cause. One of the main ways VOCs sneak into cleaning products is the fragrance used to scent it so buying fragrance free products would be a good way to start.

Bad ventilation – Many of the things you have in your home and what you use everyday will contain VOCs. They are so common and very hard to escape from. However you can do your bit by keeping your home well ventilated. This is as simple as opening your windows and doors and letting the outside air in and the indoor air out. If you live in an area with heavy traffic levels this may seem a bad idea so think about an air purifier instead.

Do you think you have problems with VOCs? How do you try to green your home?

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