Just months ago, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were of little concern to me. Yet, as I began exploring about all the chemicals that were inside the air I breathe, I quickly realized that VOCs are indeed a major issue.
And if you just bought a new home, VOCs should be a concern for you as well.
But how do you remove VOCs from the indoor air in a new home? Use air purifiers with activated carbon filters. These are equipped to remove small particles like VOCs. Most homes will need several air purifiers, depending on the square footage of the home. Lastly, consider other methods like cross ventilation, air-purifying plants, and upgrading your HVAC air filter.
Luckily, most VOCs will off-gas shortly after moving into a new home. That doesn’t mean that the danger is over, though. VOCs may exist at lower levels, but they can accumulate over time in your body as you continue to live inside the home for years to come.
Simple Ways to Remove VOCs From Your New Home
When it comes to reducing VOCs and protecting you and your family, consider a 3-step action plan:
- Remove sources of VOCs before moving into the home.
- Use an air purifier to clean the air before moving into the home, in conjunction with other purification methods.
- Delay moving into the home until the odors disappear and the air has been sufficiently cleaned.
Let’s take a look at each step in more detail.
Remove the Sources of VOCs
In a new home, most of the VOCs come from the new building materials and the paint used. If you have some say in the way the home is built, it might be wise to work with the builder to choose greener building materials. If not, you’ll have fewer options, but they will still help.
If Home Is Still Being Built
Here are some tips to follow if you’re still in the process of building your home.
Offer to buy your own no-VOC paint. Make sure to pick no-VOC rather than low-VOC paints whenever possible, especially in your children’s rooms. You’ll find my recommendation on safe wall paint here.
Choose real wood whenever possible. VOCs like formaldehyde are mostly found in composite wood products. Instead of picking laminate flooring for your floors, why not choose a pre-finished hardwood floor or ceramic tile? You may be surprised, but those composite “wood” cabinets in your kitchen could be full of formaldehyde as well. Your kitchen will already be a source of other pollutants each time you cook. The last thing you want is even more VOCs coming off from the cabinets.
Lastly, the furniture you buy will have formaldehyde also if it’s made of composite wood. Upgrade to fewer pieces that are made of real wood and toss out the cheap, “fake wood” kind.
Stay away from adhesives. Some materials can be close to harmless sometimes, that is until you add adhesives to them. Carpet is a perfect example. Adhesives are notorious for containing high amounts of VOCs, so stay away from them whenever possible. Even if you choose laminate flooring for your home, you could at least instruct your contractor to install it as a floating floor instead of gluing it down. If you must choose vinyl flooring, pick the peel-and-stick kind as this option will off-gas less.
Have already pre-finished floors. When picking hardwood floors, it’s best to ask for a pre-finished floor. That way, the polyurethane won’t create a storm of VOCs right inside your home as the contractors apply each coat. If you’re worried about what kind of pre-finish to select, you may wish to select hardwood floors that have been certified by the Greenguard Gold program. They have a convenient product finder tool.
Use the drywall to your advantage. If the home is still in its early stages, insist on drywall that can help you clean the air. That’s right, AirRenew has come up with drywall that can absorb VOCs for 75 years, including formaldehyde.
If Home Is Already Finished
If you’re moving into a new construction home that has already been completed, you still have a few actions you can take to minimize the effects of VOCs. The easiest thing to do is to just open all the windows and allow the air to cross-ventilate naturally. Most people scoff at this idea since it’s so simple, but it really is the most effective way to get rid of VOCs.
Next, take a look at what gives off VOCs and can be removed. You can’t gut your home now and start removing everything in plain sight, but some things you can do. For example, paints and paint thinners will continue to off-gas if you let them. It doesn’t matter if they’re stashed away in a nook in your basement – their fumes will find a way to your and your children’s bedroom. Get rid of them and make it a habit to never stash them away again. Make a pact with yourself to only buy paint supplies for single use only, throwing anything that remains away after the first use.
Declutter your home, especially when it comes to cheap particle board furniture and rugs. If you don’t need those items, it might be time to throw them away or give them away.
Use an Air Purifier That Can Clean VOCs (And Other Methods)
You’ll definitely need to introduce an air purifier or two into your home if you want to get rid of VOCs. They’ll continue cleaning the air in your home well after they help you get rid of the new home off-gassing and are a wise investment.
Most people rush to buy an air purifier with a HEPA filter when shopping for one. I definitely recommend it, as a True HEPA air purifier will be able to remove 99.97% of the pollutants in the air of your home. Unfortunately, when it comes to VOCs, you’ll have to look beyond a HEPA filter.
HEPA filters are one of the best filters currently available on the market, but they can only remove pollutants that are 0.3 micrometers in size and larger. Besides a True HEPA filter, any air purifier that has the ability to remove VOCs from the air has to have an activated carbon filter as well.
Activated carbon filters typically are the third filtration step inside an air purifier. After the air has been through the pre-filter and the HEPA filter, activated carbon can then trap the finer particles like smog, smoke, bacteria, viruses, and VOCs.
A good sign of a good activated carbon filter is its heaviness. The filter needs to contain granules instead of just being a thin, spray-on filter. This makes it much more potent since it has more pores (and more surface area) to trap the VOCs. If your activated carbon filter makes a rattling sound when you shake it and is heavy, rest assured it will be a good filter to remove VOCs.
Don’t stop at the air purifier, though.
There are other ways to remove VOCs from the air. Look for other ways you could introduce activated carbon to your home so that the VOCs can be trapped by even more surfaces. Why not use pleated activated carbon air furnace filters for your HVAC system? If it seems expensive, keep in mind that you only need a few until the majority of the VOCs have off-gassed. Afterward, you can always use any air filter you’d like for your home.
Another inexpensive idea is to buy a few activated charcoal bags and disperse them throughout your home. I love these bags – they’re fully sustainable and last two years.
Lastly, consider introducing air-purifying plants into your home. That’s right, these plants have the ability to purify the air in your home.
Delay Your Move-In Date
We all get excited when we buy a new home. Heck, we don’t even need a mattress – we’ll sleep on the floor!
But you’d be wise to wait it out a bit longer before you actually move into the home. Why not buy an air purifier and use some of the suggestions I mentioned first, and then move in? Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you have to wait an entire week here.
A good air purifier cycles the air in your home at least once every 15 to 30 minutes. You should see a noticeable difference quickly. All you really have to do is turn on all the air purifiers in your home at the highest power setting in the morning, and come back a few hours later. If the new home smell is severe, then obviously you can wait a bit longer.
Are new carpet fumes harmful?
They can be, although for most people the effect will be temporary and mild. When exposed to new carpet inside their homes, many people will experience irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, or skin. Some may feel dizziness and nausea, others may have trouble breathing, while others may get a persistent headache. These symptoms usually subside once the area has been sufficiently ventilated and typically go away in a day or two for most people. Those with a weaker immune system and health, however, may experience more severe symptoms.
Contrary to popular belief, carpet doesn’t contain formaldehyde. It does, however, contain other VOCs like styrene and 4-PC (4-phenyl cyclohexane). The adhesive used in carpet is also toxic, not just the synthetic material used for the carpeting surface.
Read more about carpet fumes in this post.
How long does off-gassing take?
There is no way to know for sure. Every home has its own unique combination of building materials and ventilation systems that it’s impossible to tell. However, you can expect most of the off-gassing to have happened in the manufacturing process before the products or building materials arrive at your home. The problem with off-gassing is that it can be just as dangerous at low levels if you’re exposed to it for years inside your home.