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The indoor air you breathe: how vocs off-gassing is the silent threat in your home

The idyllic concept of the home as a haven for family comfort, nourishment and security is easy to depict in photos. Natural lighting, open spaces, bright colours, eco-friendly materials and more – these are some elements used to paint the ideal home. But what pictures fail to capture are the invisible and silent threats that have are even sometimes caused by the very things that make up our home. One such menace comes from Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs.

What are VOCs?

VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate or off-gas at room temperature. Common sources for VOCs are chemical products such as paint, cleaning materials, fresheners, glues, pesticides, automotive liquids and other solvents. It is generally accepted and recommended to minimise exposure to said products given the fumes they give off, which cause instant physical reactions such as dizziness, eye irritation or even nausea. However, VOCs are also off-gassed from seemingly innocuous items like furnishings, fabrics, building materials and alarmingly, bedding. It is alarming that this phenomenon is not discussed more openly, especially given proximity to our bodies.

Specifically, it is important to shed light on VOCs off-gassing from polyurethane based mattresses. That “new mattress” smell? These come from any chemicals sprayed on or incorporated within the foam material. These do dissipate, but the regular contact with our bodies that result in indentation and heat transfer is what starts the VOCs emission process. All things, man made or natural, break down. But whatever material breaks down is what we get exposed to as well. There is a reason that biodegradability in a product or material is appealing – it’s because the more natural it is, the easier it is to break down and whatever by-products are will not be harmful to us. So the pressing question is, do you know what is in your mattress?

What Risks do VOCs Pose?

An article in the high quality publications arm of the American Chemical Society showed elevated area-specific emission rates or SER of VOCs from crib mattresses. The amount of time infants (and people in general) spend sleeping mean prolonged exposure to VOCs concentrations. We are literally breathing in toxicity during sleep – an event which should be rejuvenating our bodies. Further research is yet to be conducted on long term health effects but the immediate risks should be reason enough to be mindful of our bedding choices as well as increased awareness of VOCs sources.

What Can We Do?

From a general household perspective, some recommended steps to take in minimising exposure to VOCs are:

1. Doing the research and identifying common culprits when it comes to VOCs off-gassing.
2. Increasing the ventilation in a room where known VOCs off-gassers are housed.
3. Keeping these pollutants distant from common rooms and bedrooms, where a third of the day is spent by most humans.
4. If unable to avoid using chemicals that produce off-gassing, ensure that only small amounts are purchased to discourage from storing the products long-term.
5. Making a conscious choice to source household products that emit minimal to no VOCs.

At Peacelily, one of the pillars of our innovation is to support non-toxic living through our products, and spearhead consumer education within the mattress and bedding industry. Not only is VOCs off-gassing unhealthy (even considered as carcinogenic) for humans, it is also dire for air quality which subsequently impacts flora and fauna well-being.