4 Ways to Reduce VOCs in Your Home

Formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds are guests that have worn out their welcome.

Our indoor environment is often far from pristine places. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates people spend as much as 90 percent of their time inside, mostly in their homes. You work hard to create a sense of comfort and peace in your everyday spaces. Shouldn't you also decorate with health and quality of life in mind?

Eliminating the hazardous chemicals found in traditional household cleaners is a great start. But you and your family may also be cozying up to hidden toxins lurking on walls, under the couch cushions and beneath your feet. These chemical concoctions off-gas for years into indoor air, potentially impacting your long-term health.

1. Find Formaldehyde-Free Furniture

Most people don't think of their furniture when assessing their indoor air quality, but if yours is made from treated wood or particle board, it probably contains formaldehyde, the same chemical used in funeral homes as a preserving agent. A study by the California Environmental Protection Agency says indoor levels of formaldehyde are typically several times higher than outdoor levels.

Formaldehyde was recently classified a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization. And according to the American Lung Association, short-term effects of exposure to formaldehyde vapors include eye, nose and throat irritation as well as coughing, skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and nosebleeds.

If you're planning to remodel your kitchen, choose cabinets made from solid, untreated wood. And phase out your particle-board furniture, such as shelving and office desks, with pieces made of natural materials such as hardwood, rattan and iron.

2. Stop Sleeping with Chemicals

You've heard that you spend approximately a third of your life in bed. That's roughly 25 years in this one room in your house.

Most mattresses contain considerable amounts of synthetic and chemical-based foams, plastics and artificial fibers, and most box springs are made with chemically treated wood and chemical adhesives. Next time you buy a mattress consider one made from more health-conscious materials, such as natural fibers and untreated wood. In the meantime, a mattress cover made of barrier cloth can help isolate a chemical-laden mattress.

Also consider that most bed sheets are made from cotton, a crop that takes 25 percent of the world's pesticides to grow by today's common agricultural methods. And most conventional sheets have a formaldehyde-resin finish to make them "easy care" and/or water-resistant, and to reduce shrinkage. Use organic sheets made from natural fibers — organic cotton is readily available in a wide range of styles and colors from low-impact dyes.

3. Change Your Paint Color Along with VOC Levels

You know that new paint smell? It usually has something to do with the chemicals added to paint to improve spreadability and durability. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) evaporate at room temperature and can damage the kidneys, liver and central nervous system, according to the EPA. While the paint is drying, VOC levels can be up to 1,000 times outdoor levels, and VOCs will continue to off-gas at much lower levels after the paint dries.

When shopping for paint, look for one that contains VOC levels of 150 grams per liter or lower, advises Mother Earth News magazine. Or, better yet, choose from the growing selection of no-VOC paints.

4. Walk Away from Synthetic Carpets

VOCs don't just come from your walls; they can also come from your wall-to-wall carpeting. The American Lung Association says new carpet — as well as the adhesives and padding used during installation — can be a source of VOC emissions and act as a "sponge" for chemical and biological pollutants. For example, pesticides used on lawns can be tracked inside your home and remain inside the carpet fibers.

Leave your shoes at the door and opt for natural flooring such as sustainably harvested hardwood, bamboo, cork or tile, and no-emission carpeting of natural fibers such as sisal or wool.

All of these simple changes improve the quality of your indoor environment — as well as the environment outside. Sustainably harvested natural materials are gentler to the planet and can actually help promote healthier ecosystems, so you'll help clean your surroundings outside your home, too.

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lucky's picture
User offline. Last seen 9 years 10 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 05/18/2007

I am trying to get away from chemicals because researchers are always finding bad side effects from the chemicals that we use at home. By accident I found a US owned company that uses plant extracts, naturally derived enzymes, naturally derived cleaners, baking soda, vinegar, essential oils and citrus solvents on their products to replace the hazardous cleaning agents that we use on a daily basis. For more information go to or copy the link and paste on your internet browser

Sarah580's picture
User offline. Last seen 4 years 20 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 03/05/2012

I wish we could reduce all these harmful chemicals in our home right away but it would surely cost a lot in immediate renovation. I'll just make sure the next time I decide to remodel, I'll choose environment-friendly materials.

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