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Christine Johnson

What Is Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing is a process in which common household products or appliances release airborne chemicals —known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—into the air. While we don’t know the full effects of off-gassing, we do know that many VOCs can cause allergic reactions and other health problems when inhaled (such as Sick Building Syndrome). There are thousands of different types of VOCs. While some are clearly toxic (like formaldehyde), others are not well understood.

The off-gassing process is more likely to occur with newly manufactured items. In some cases, you may be able to smell off-gassing. For example, ‘new car smell’ is actually the materials of the car off-gassing.

What Causes Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing is typically an indoor air quality problem, where concentrations of VOCs are often ten times higher inside than outdoors. Appliances and electronic products, particularly when they’re new, are prone to off-gassing. This is because chemicals are trapped or absorbed into the product material during the manufacturing process. Over time these chemicals are slowly released into the air. An example of off-gassing would be that ‘new carpet smell’, which is the carpet materials emitting VOCs. Over time the smell goes away, and similarly, over time most products emit fewer VOCs.

When it comes to the chemicals used to manufacture common household goods, there’s a whole lot we don’t know. Most appliances and products off-gas to some extent. Furniture, mattresses, carpeting, paint, electronic devices, clothing, aerosol sprays, and building materials are just a few of many, many examples.  

The amount of time it takes a product to off-gas usually ranges from a few days to a few weeks. Some things, such as scented substances, may take a few minutes or hours to off-gas each time you use them (e.g. If you spray perfume there may be an initial spike in VOCs, but it should dissipate quickly). Other products can off-gas for several years.

How To Protect Yourself From Off-Gassing

  • Buy products that are green certified or use less VOCs
  • Use hardwood floors instead of carpets (because synthetics and fabrics may require more time to off-gas)
  • Vacuum and dust frequently
  • Air out products in open spaces with a lot of ventilation
  • Use air filters to reduce VOC emissions