What is Outgassing?

PhotobucketIn our world of manufactured products, much goes into the producing of an item that many of us may never think about, such as formaldehyde. But what goes in must come out, especially when it comes to the process of outgassing (sometimes called “offgassing”). Maybe you’re familiar with it and have taken precautions. Or maybe you’ve heard the word around but really don’t know what it is that causes outgassing and how to keep it out of your home. 

Outgassing occurs when certain gases are trapped in an object and then begin to slowly release. To make it simpler, think of the last time you walked into a new house. What did you smell? Most likely, you smelled brand new carpet, fresh wood, new furniture, plastic blinds. All of these items produce gases that leak over time, particularly in the beginning. In fact, a new piece of furniture containing any sort of wood laminate or particle board takes about two years to outgas. (Some studies suggest even longer at 5 to 10 years.)

When I first heard the term “outgassing,” I suspected a hoax or some scare tactic. But companies and hospitals that require cleanrooms are very familiar with outgassing and the need to eliminate it from their sterile environments. NASA deals with this issue as well, ensuring as little outgassing as possible, so as to avoid problems for their astronauts while working in spacecraft. So you see, it’s a very real occurrence.

What can a homeowner do to cut down on outgassing in his or her everyday life?  There are several things that I’ve been learning and implementing in our home over the past few years. For instance, when we buy a new piece of furniture that isn’t solid wood, we assemble it and place it in the garage for as long as we can stand not having the new item in the house. This gives the furniture a chance to at least release the worst of the gases. 

Opening doors and windows, even in winter, goes a long way to circulating the air and allowing the gases somewhere to go. It’s proven that rooms with little or no ventilation have more gases trapped inside, so fresh air is definitely one of the best ways to rid your home of gases.

Here are some interesting links I found that will give you a more thorough look into outgassing and how to eliminate it:

Formaldehyde Removal by Plants

To Carpet or Not to Carpet (Lots of great advice on Healthy Home Plans!)

Breathing the Air Indoors (Another of their articles.)

Whenever discussing things like outgassing, the most important thing we can do as parents is to not be afraid. There is always something we can do to reduce such risks to our family, and all it takes is knowledge. One of the greatest combatants of fear is the gathering and using of knowledge to solve the problem. If we raise our children to see our environmental obstacles as things that need creative problem solving, we’ll encourage them not to run and hide, crying “the sky is falling”, but to instead enthusiastically embrace changing our world for the better.

 

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