Off-Gassing: Common Sources That Could Be Polluting Your Home

Off-Gassing: Common Sources That Could Be Polluting Your Home

Even if you haven’t heard the term “off-gassing” there’s probably a good chance you’ve felt its effects. If you love that “new car smell” but find it gives you a massive headache, then you might’ve experienced off-gassing. If your eyes started to water when you walked into a department store or home improvement store, that too could be from off-gassing. If you just installed new cabinetry or carpet and can’t help but notice how much your nose is running, or that you’ve had more asthma attacks, then you might’ve been feeling side effects of off-gassing. So what exactly is off-gassing, where does it come from, and what can you do to avoid it?

Off-gassing (also known as out-gassing) refers to the release of airborne particulates or chemicals—dubbed volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—from common household products. reports that while off-gassing can be easily identified by certain smells (new cars, new carpet), it can also be odorless. The Minnesota Department of Health notes that some of the most frequently off-gassed chemicals are:

Many of the chemicals released during off-gassing can cause allergic reactions and other health problems, including congestion, coughing, skin irritation, asthma attacks, and fatigue, as well cognitive decline and even more serious health conditions. says that the side effects of off-gassing usually depend on which chemical(s) are emitted, the concentration of VOCs in the home, and how long/often a person is exposed. In the same article, it’s shown that in the past 50 years, more than 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into the environment, and the majority of them haven’t been studied for their effects on people or animals.

Some common sources of off-gassing are: 

Almost anyone can be affected by off-gassing. Persons with respiratory problems such as asthma, young children, elderly, and chemically-sensitive people may be more susceptible to irritation and ill effects from VOCs. Some side effects include:

  • Eye, nose & throat irritation
  • Coughing
  • Asthma attacks
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Skin irritation
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue

The Minnesota Department of Health says that the best health protection measure is to limit your exposure to products and materials that contain VOCs when possible. Other steps you can take to reduce off-gassing effects and VOC exposure:

  • Control the source. Remove or reduce the number of products in your home that give off VOCs.
  • Choose products (paints, varnishes, etc.) with low VOC levels.
  • Only purchase amounts of chemicals that you know you will use and carefully follow directions on product labels. Remove unused chemicals from the home because stored chemicals in closed containers can sometimes “leak” and release VOCs into indoor air.
  • Consider purchasing floor models that have been allowed to off-gas in the store or pre-owned items from consignment stores.
  • Choose solid wood items with low emitting finishes.
  • Make sure your home is properly ventilated. Open doors and windows, and use fans.
  • Controlling the climate in your home (lower temperature and low humidity) can help too, since chemicals off-gas more at warmer temperatures and higher humidity levels.
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