VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals based on carbon that evaporate easily at room temperature. This process is referred to as “off-gassing.” The warmer the environment, the more rapidly these chemicals evaporate and the quicker the off-gassing occurs.
There are essentially three ways to reduce your exposure to Volatile Organic Compounds and improve indoor air quality in your home. And the good news is they are all environmentally friendly.
Control the Source
By far, the most effective way to improve indoor air quality in your home is to control the source of the problem. Off-gassing of VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds from new carpets and furniture, painting and varnishing, and the use of chemical household cleaners are just some sources of the toxins polluting the air in your home. Simply allowing off-gassing to occur outside the home will improve indoor air quality substantially.
Formaldehyde is one of the most common volatile organic compounds found in the home. It is prevalent in particleboard-based furniture. Flat-pack kit furniture is commonly made from particleboard and may be off-gas for months or even years.
Allow such furniture to off-gas in a well-ventilated area after assembly and prior to close contact. Since most off-gassing occurs when furniture is new, second-hand furniture is less harmful to indoor air quality. Alternatively, solid wood furniture also emits lower levels of volatile organic compounds.
Similarly, when painting or varnishing, make sure the area is well-ventilated and allow the area to air as long as possible prior to close contact. Low VOC emission paints and varnishes are now also available to reduce chemical emissions.
The simplest source of poor indoor air quality to control would have to be the use of chemical household cleaners. The harsh chemicals we use to scrub our homes are relatively modern concoctions. We don’t have to go back too many generations to find that the most prevalent household cleaners were baking soda, vinegar, salt, and soap. These items, commonly found in our pantries, make efficient, environmentally friendly cleaners.
Eliminating the source of all volatile organic compounds in your home will be near impossible. So you will need a method for flushing them.
A very simple way to improve indoor air quality is to ventilate. It doesn’t have to be a fancy ventilation system. Just open doors and windows and allow fresh air to flow through your home. Then keep air circulating with the use of fans to minimize the accumulation of volatile organic compounds in your home.
Filtering the Air
Any lingering volatile organic compounds can be filtered from the air to improve indoor air quality.
In studies intended to find ways to purify the air for extended stays on space stations, NASA discovered that many common household plants also remove toxic volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene, benzene, and formaldehyde from the air.
The study also showed that some plants are better at removing chemicals from the air. Below is a list of plants and the volatile organic compounds and other indoor toxins they remove.
- Philodendrons, Spider plants, Pothos, and Money plants remove formaldehyde present in carpets and furniture (particularly flat-pack particleboard furniture and foam insulation).
- English Ivy and Boston Ferns remove airborne mold.
- The Areca palm removes indoor chemicals and acts as a humidifier.
- Gerbera Daisies and Chrysanthemums clear benzene and trichloroethylene found in plastics, synthetic fibers, detergents, varnishes, adhesives, and dry cleaning from indoor air.
The study recommends one healthy, leafy plant in a 6-inch or larger container for every 100 square feet of indoor space. The more robust the plant, the better it filters volatile organic compounds. Use a variety of the species above to counteract the full range of toxins.
So, to improve indoor air quality in your home and limit your exposure to potentially harmful volatile organic compounds, think twice about the type of products you bring into your home. If you are looking to renovate, consider scheduling at a time when your home will be unused or at a time of year when you can adequately ventilate your home. Switch to earth-friendly cleaning products, and in the interest of improving indoor air quality, decorate your home with living air filters-plants! At worst, the chrysanthemums and Gerbera daisies will put a smile on your face.