The smell of a new carpet or furniture in your home can be more harmful than you know. That particular smell is caused by off-gassing, which happens when chemicals used during production and manufacturing are released into the air. Known as volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), they cannot always be detected by our senses and can linger in the air for a long time.

Off-gassing can result in serious, potentially fatal illnesses you might not be aware of. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the deaths worldwide caused by exposure to dangerous chemicals increased by 29% in 2019 compared to 2016.

What are the common VOCs that can be found in the home?

Many everyday items contain toxic chemicals that can have harmful health effects. We bring toxins into our homes and inhale them through consumer activities and exposure. We are exposed to them every day – from phthalates in synthetic fragrances to noxious fumes in oven cleaners.

In the United States alone, over 84,000 chemicals are sold, of which 15,000 are used in high volume. Only 200 have been tested for safety, and only five have been banned due to toxicity. The average US household contains about 62 toxic chemicals according to research.

Here are some common VOCs that can be found in a typical US household:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Polyurethane foam
  • Phthalates
  • Chloroform
  • Phthalates
  • Acetone
  • Ozone
  • Ethanol
  • Chemical flame retardants
  • Methylene chloride
  • Benzene
  • Perchloroethylene

The largest amount of off-gassing usually happens in the first few months when the item is brought into the house and opened. However, there is no specific indication of how long it will take before the chemicals entirely dissipate. There are cases where off-gassing can happen for years, even decades. This is when it becomes particularly harmful – long-term exposure to VOCs can lead to severe health conditions.

Off-gassing VOCs can be traced from these common items in the home:

    • New Furniture: beds, couches, and even chairs that have just been purchased, particularly those that are made of particle board or plywood
    • New Carpet and Rugs
    • Cleaning Products: soaps, glass cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, detergents, and polishes.
    • Dryer Sheets
    • Children’s toys, sporting equipment
    • Cosmetics and personal care products
    • Home interior decorations and finishes: any item that has paints, wallpaper, adhesives, cabinets, bedding, varnishes, floor coverings, fireplaces, vinyl, plastics, air fresheners, and moth balls.

What are the Risks and Dangers of Off-Gassing

Short-term Exposure

Short-term effects of exposure to VOCs from off-gassing include dizziness, headaches, irritation of the eyes and nose, nausea, and temporary memory loss. These symptoms are linked to VOCs because they strongly react with mucosal membranes and airway epithelium, which are parts of your nose and mouth.

Long-term Exposure

Long-term exposure can cause cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, and neural damage. In addition to affecting lung function, long-term exposure to VOCs, specifical formaldehyde, impairs breathing. The presence of even low levels of VOCs for a prolonged period of time can irritate the senses and contribute to asthma development.

How to prevent and avoid the dangers of off-gassing

Although essential things can still cause household off-gassing, off-gassing hazards can still be avoided and prevented. Here are some pointers to help you:

  • Always remember to let new furniture air out completely before using it.
  • After installing new furniture, take into account using a dehumidifier.
  • Use low-VOC or, even better, organic cleaning products when doing general cleaning.
  • When cleaning, ensure that your home has adequate ventilation.
  • For VOC detection, consider installing a smart air monitor in your home.
  • Learn to spot poor indoor air quality; if the air smells or feels strange, look for off-gassing causes.


Alford, K. L., & Kumar, N. (2021). Pulmonary health effects of indoor volatile organic compounds—a meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4).

Gostner, J. M., Zeisler, J., Alam, M. T., Gruber, P., Fuchs, D., Becker, K., Neubert, K., Kleinhappl, M., Martini, S., & Überall, F. (2016). Cellular reactions to long-term volatile organic compound (VOC) exposures. Scientific Reports, 6.

off-gassing. (n.d.). Oxford Reference. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from

Soto-Garcia, L., Ashley, W. J., Bregg, S., Walier, D., LeBouf, R., Hopke, P. K., & Rossner, A. (2015). VOCs emissions from multiple wood pellet types and concentrations in indoor air. Energy & Fuels : An American Chemical Society Journal, 29(10).

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