Saturday, July 13, 2013

Green Nursery: How to Off-Gas Furniture

Do you have sensitive nose? That kind of nose that can smell the laundry detergent someone used, a perfume they're wearing, something cooking from another room, or even a candle down the hall? Well, I do and when I'm pregnant it's at an even heightened level that's especially on the lookout for toxic chemicals. I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm well aware of what it takes to make that perfume smell like a "Hawaiian beach" or that cleaning spray smell like fresh lemons....and it's anything but natural.



A time when most people notice smells, whether you have a sensitive nose or not, is when purchasing new furniture. You know that "new car smell"?  Well, I also believe there's something called, "new furniture smell" and the benefit of benefit of the new car smell is that you only have to smell it when you're in your car, but things are a little bit different with furniture. Usually those things are in your living room, your bedroom, or even your children's room...all rooms that we spend a lot of time in.  Combine this with the fact that these pieces of furniture are emitting chemicals on a 24/7 basis, and you mind find yourself with a bit of a headache, itchy eyes, and just plain in a cranky mood and you don't know why (that last one would be me).

This leads me to the topic of our post today...off-gassing.




What is off-gassing? Off-gassing involves the release of chemicals and toxins (remember when we talked about VOCs in this painting post?) that were used when the furniture was made, often within the paints, solvents, glues, and even wood materials themselves. Well, as if it wasn't enough for these products to contain these chemicals, they are often packaged up from the manufacturers, sent to stores, and then picked up by you, the consumer. Once brought home and opened up, toxic chemicals begin to release from their pent up homes within the wood/particle board/or whatever material was used. A few of the chemicals found to be released during this process, according to this study, were: formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, and toluene just to name a few.  I don't know about you, but I didn't sign up to get a hefty dose of chemicals when I purchased my baby's bed or that  new entertainment center!

As I cited a moment ago, in this news story that aired on Good Morning America: "The Indoor Air Pollution Threat You May Not Have Known Existed" a number of new furniture pieces (bed, rocker, changing table, crib mattress, and even decorations) were all added to an expecting mother's nursery and then tests were performed to measure the air quality and what chemicals were being released. The individual furniture pieces were also tested to see which chemicals were being released. The results: over 300 chemicals were found in the fully furnished nursery! A test was also taken from outside the home, in the open air, and only 2 chemicals were present, can you believe that? Here we think our homes are a safe-haven from the toxic pollution and smog, but yet they are often more toxic than the air outside!

Watch the full story here:




Negative effects of off-gassing, as you saw in that video, can be felt in the form of: headaches, burning eyes, throat irritation, and dizziness, among other things in the short term and potentially asthma and cancer in the long term. My main symptom was always just a headache that lingered anytime I was around new furniture, and this usually would put me in a bad mood because I wasn't sure what the cause was.  Then after reading some "green" books, I finally put two and two together and realized it was the fumes from the furniture off-gassing that caused all the ill symptoms.

A time when it's the most important to protect ourselves from these off-gassing chemicals is when we are preparing a nursery for a baby. Because not only do I want to decrease my exposure, as a pregnant mom, but I don't want my newborn baby to inhale those chemicals once she's born either.

Here's Avery just a few days after she was born.  Stay
back off-gassing chemicals...you are not welcome
near this baby! (Cue karate-chopping, green mama).

But even if you're not pregnant, or you don't have a baby at your house, it's no reason to subject yourself to the harsh chemicals that off-gas from new furniture. These chemicals can affect everyone, in different ways.  So let's learn how we can off-gas them to help everyone breathe a little easier.

What to do: To "off-gas furniture" we are going to place it in a location that allows it to "air out" without affecting our health, such as outside, in a garage, or even a spare bedroom. This way the chemicals can release and we don't have to smell them, feel them, or even be around them.

Here's Mila's baby bed, un-assembled, off-gassing on my
back porch.

Where can you do it? Ideally you would place the furniture outdoors so that none of the off-gassed chemicals return into your home. The outside is also great because the furniture can get some sunlight, which some people claim helps the chemicals release faster. Right now it's the middle of the summer here in the Midwest and every day is pretty hot and humid, apparently this is also helpful for encouraging the furniture to off-gas. On the opposite end, colder, less humid temperatures cause the chemicals to be released at a slower rate, but if that's the climate you're working with, I say that placing the furniture outside is still your best best when it comes to getting it off-gassed.

Here's a book/toy shelf for Mila's room, also un-assembled,
and placed on my back porch to off-gas.
In case you're wondering, I did bring my furniture pieces inside to our garage each night, just in case of rain mainly. This part wasn't too big of a pain because my back porch is near my garage so my husband would load them in at night and then set them back out in the morning. Obviously it was more work because we had two sets of furniture to off-gas, but sometimes that's how it goes when you're getting ready for a baby's nursery.

Now if weather, security, or just plain lack of time get in your way for allowing your furniture to off-gas outside, the next best option would be your garage, since it's separate from your main living area. Benefits of the garage are that it's free from the threat of weather changes, you don't have to move it daily if you don't feel like leaving it out all night outside. Downsides would be that it wouldn't have as much air circulation, and possible sunlight to speed up the process, but still a great off-gassing option.

Here's Mila's mattress, which although it's still a natural brand,
 I still wanted to let it air-out a bit in setting where no debris
from the outdoors would get on it. 

But what if you don't have a good place outside or a garage? You could place the furniture in a spare bedroom that way you are not constantly around the fumes being released. Take it the next step further in this location by turning on fans to this room, closing the door so the the fumes aren't released into the rest of the house, and even opening a window in the room to allow the fumes a place to go. Be sure to place some indoor plants in the room as well to help with filtering out the toxins in the air, read more here.

How long do you have to do it for? In researching this post, I searched and searched the web to find a definitive answer to this question and I did not find one...at least that I liked. Several sources stated that it would be best for the furniture to off gas for months before being used...some even said the chemicals could continue to off gas for 1-7 years! Wow, I don't know about you but I don't have that kind of time to just wait around. Usually we buy furniture because of a need, such as something has been broken, and needs to be replaced or someone is moving in (try a baby!) and needs a bed. In most situations we want to use that furniture as soon as possible.

So, with that in mind, and the advice from this news story that you saw above, I'm going with the standard of ONE WEEK when it comes to off-gassing any furniture I bring into my home.  To me that gets a good amount of the fumes out, and while there may still be a few that linger, I will try and use things like indoor plants to continue to help absorb and filter out some of the toxins from the furniture as time goes on.

Really you can let your nose be your guide. If you have off-gassed a piece of furniture for a few days and it seems to have released most of it's "smell/chemicals" then go ahead and bring it in. Or if it's been a week and it's still too much for you to take, keep it outside for a bit longer. Go with what feels right to you.

What do you think Avery? Is it done off-gassing?

The type of furniture you purchase will have a lot to do with this off-gassing time. If you are able to get a more eco-friendly brand, that uses solid wood, and a non-toxic paint you probably won't have to off-gas it for more than a few days. But if it's made with particle board or painted with a traditional finish or varnish, you may find that you need longer than a week.

Curious what furniture I purchased? I'll have assembled pictures posted in the upcoming weeks (when the off-gassing is complete), but in the meantime here's the brands I got:
  • Bed: DaVinci "Jamie" 4 in 1 Convertible Crib ($149). I love this bed because it can be converted from a crib to a toddler bed, and even to a twin size bed (with the purchase of Full/Twin Size Bed Conversion Rails $70). It is made from sustainable New Zealand pine wood, and made with a non-toxic finish. Avery's crib is a similar model from this same manufacturer and we've been very happy with it. Obviously there are greener crib options out there, but for our budget and for the lasting power this bed can have (literally from crib to college), it works for us. 
  • Crib Mattress: DaVinci Willow Natural Coconut Palm Mattress ($169). This is the same mattress I purchased for Avery and we love that it has two sides, a firmer side for infants, and a softer side for toddlers. As the title states, it's made with natural coconut palm fibers and a latex-free foam. Even better, it doesn't contain any toxic flame-retardants, a pesky chemical found in most crib mattresses, read more here
  • BookcaseLand of Nod, 48" Flat Top Bookcase ($349). Probably not the most green option, but according to their website, the white bookcase I bought is made with: "Solid poplar with low emission engineered wood (painted White)".  I'm glad it's not made with particle board, but I can definenlty smell the paint on it, so I can guarantee this one will be off-gassing the longest. 
So there you have it, the rundown on off-gassing, what it is, how you can do it, and the benefits it can have you for and your family. Have you ever tried off-gassing before? Any tips, tricks, or time suggestions you could add to the discussion? Share below.

Happy off-gassing greenies!

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