Dangerous VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are a predominant issue in modern homes. Authorities agree that VOCs such as formaldehyde, butanal, acetone, terpene, benzene, and others are all harmful to your health. They cause migraines, breathing problems, disorientation, even cancer.
Manufacturers use materials that off-gas these dangerous fumes, such as adhesives, solvents, and plastics. On top of that, we create additional VOCs in our homes from smoke and pets. The problem is then compounded with energy-efficient homes that may not have sufficient fresh air exchange to exhaust these toxic gases. So, what can you do to remove odors and VOCs from your house?
Here are nine steps you can take to remove VOCs and odors and keep your indoor air as healthy as possible…
Step 1: Ventilate to remove heavy VOC contaminants from your home
Any time there’s a high chemical release in your house, such as from painting, construction, or gluing, the first line of attack is to let the space air out. Ventilate the contaminated air out of your house. After a fresh paint, it may take a couple of days for the VOC off-gassing to diminish. If you suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), it’s best to use a paint that is VOC-free.
Step 2: Wash your walls and ceilings to remove smoke and other odors
Do you smell smoke, tobacco, and other unpleasant odors? One of the most effective and affordable actions you can take is to wash the walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. This is especially needed in spaces that were most contaminated from tobacco, cooking smoke, or other toxic chemicals.
Step 3: Wash or replace carpets and rugs
Does a room smell of urine, vomit, or pets? Likely, the cause of the odor has seeped deep into your carpets and padding. In some cases, a professional rug or carpet cleaning may be able to remove the contaminants and odors.
But often, the water introduced during a cleaning just makes the smell worse. In this case, your best option is to replace your carpet and underlying padding. Make sure to check your subfloor for rot or mold. All damaged material should be replaced before putting on fresh flooring.
Step 4: Buy house plants that absorb VOCs
Getting indoor plants that are great at absorbing VOCs is the most natural and healthy solution you can do. Not only do they safely eliminate VOCs, but they also provide you with fresh oxygen, reduce harmful bacteria counts, and provide your home with a refreshing look.
Some plants are better at absorbing VOCs. Here’s a list of the top VOC-absorbing plants that you can choose from. In addition to your personal taste, be sure to weigh in how much of a green thumb you have, as some of these plants are easier to maintain than others:
- Palm plants: Indoor palms such as bamboo palms, areca palms, lady palms, and dwarf date palms top the list of VOC-absorbing plants. While each type of palm has it's own “best at removing,” chemicals, the list includes toluene, xylene, formaldehyde, benzene, xylene, and trichloroethylene.
- Dracaenas: The warnech dracaena, snake plant, and other varieties remove a wide range of VOCs, including formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and benzene. They are also a great provider of fresh oxygen and are easy to care for.
- Rubber plants: These hardy large plants are best for removing formaldehyde. They grow great indoors due to their preference for the same climate control we enjoy. They also prefer not to have direct sunlight.
- Spider plants: Spider plants can remove carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and benzene. What’s also great about spider plants is that they reproduce off-shoots that can be replanted to provide you with more plants around the house.
It should be noted that while indoor plants are the most natural solution and provide many side benefits, they can only remove a limited amount of VOCs. Their rated CADR (clean air delivery rate) is less than 1% of that of an air purifier built to remove VOCs. Thus, we come to the next highly effective step…
Step 5: Use an air purifier that absorbs VOCs
Most air purifiers will not pull much VOCs and odors from your air. VOCs are gas-phase contaminants. They pass right through a HEPA filter. Gladly, there is a solution to filter them out of the air.
The long-standing champion for removing VOCs is activated carbon, also known as activated charcoal. Activated carbon has the surface area of nineteen football fields in every single ounce. Even so, a prefilter impregnated with activated carbon just isn’t enough carbon to work for a sufficient length of time.
Look for a purifier that is rated high in removing VOCs and includes several pounds of activated carbon. The more carbon, the more VOCs it can remove and the longer the filter will last. Airpura, Austin Air, IQAir, Blueair, and Levoit are among the top choices.
Step 6: Central Air VOC scrubbers
For a more complete solution than air purifiers, your central air system can be equipped with air scrubbing equipment that removes VOCs and odors.
These have several advantages over portable air purifiers. They have better air distribution throughout your house, operate quieter, and have higher efficiency rates. And we can’t forget the aesthetics! There’s no bulky unit eating up your space or ruining your perfectly designed ambiance.
Step 7: Deal with radon
Radon can silently cause cancer in your home without any visible sign or odor. It’s a naturally-occurring radioactive bi-product of uranium in the bedrock. Radon is a local problem here in Southside Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH). Nearly 700 Virginians die from lung cancer each year that is likely a result of radon.
Pittsylvania, Campbell, and Appomattox counties all are in zone 1, with the highest potential of dangerous radon counts. While Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg, and Prince Edward counties are not in zone 1, they are in zone2. This means you should be aware of how safe your house is from this potential carcinogen.
On top of the geographic reality of radon in our area, many of our homes are older, and not built to address the radon issue. We may be living with high radon levels in our house and not even know it.
First, complete a radon assessment of your home. You can buy a radon test kit from VDH and other sources. These tests should always be done in the winter when your home is more closed-up. Alternatively, you could opt for a more complete indoor air quality IAQ monitor that measures radon and other gases year-round.
If your radon levels exceed 4 pCi/L, the EPA recommends fixing your radon problem. A radon-mitigation system costs between $800 - $2000 depending on the type of foundation you have (slab, crawl space, basement). For lower radon levels, the same VOC air purifiers mentioned above will do the trick.
Step 8: Get your air ducts cleaned
A house that has seen years of indoor smoking, excess chemical use, or high mold spores may have buildups in the air ducts. If wall-washing and the other above steps don’t do the job, you may need to get your air ducts cleaned.
Step 9: Call an IAQ Expert
For the most complete solution to VOCs and odors in your house, call an IAQ expert. Indoor Air Quality professionals will run all the tests you need to make sure what the source of your IAQ issue is. They will then design the best solution to fit your needs and your budget.
Solutions Heating and Cooling is here to help
The technicians at Solutions Heating and Cooling are experts at IAQ. We can fit your home with the best solution for your gas-phase air pollutants. We are equipped to handle most common gas-phase pollutants with the exception of radon. We perform a visual check of your ductwork, and recommend the best IAQ solution for you.
We provide affordable duct cleaning services that remove the THS (third-hand smoke) or other chemical buildups. Additionally, it removes buildups of dust and mold. We make sure to vacuum all the pollutants into a HEPA-filtered container that removes 99.97% of pollutants down to 0.3 microns. That way, the duct cleaning process doesn’t contaminate your home. Once completed, your indoor air quality will improve and you won’t have to worry about the air ducts being a source of bad odors.
For air scrubbers, we always recommend the most effective air scrubbers for your needs. We can assess your HVAC system, help you choose the right unit, and professionally install the air scrubbers. They can be specified to handle common allergens such as pollen, dust, and dander, as well as kill mold, bacteria, and viruses, such as covid.
Don’t suffer the harmful effects of VOCs and nasty odors any longer. Call today at (434) 222-0541.
Let’s get your air clean, fresh, and healthy!