How long does it take for VOCs to dissipate?

Contrary to what many may believe, it is quite difficult to predict how long it takes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to off-gas from new materials in a specific building.  Sure, you can do chamber studies under controlled conditions to determine emission or concentration decays, but how the material will behave in the real world can be quite different.

On Friday I was hired to perform a follow-up assessment for a home under construction that is experiencing elevated VOCs from varnishes and paints applied almost 7 months ago.  One month ago I was in the home and found some very high levels based on measurements with a photoionization detector (PID).  While PIDs are not as accurate or detailed as other methods of measuring VOCs, they can be used as a good screening tool with immediate feedback.  I’ll write a blog post on the advantages and disadvantages of PIDs in the near future.

During my follow up visit a month later, I saw a 40% reduction after he followed some of my recommendations listed in this blog post: Reducing VOCs.  Unfortunately, this was still 4 times the outdoor levels.  We opened up some windows in a room and very quickly we saw a significant reduction.   Here are a list of the problems:

  • The home uses 2×6 “advanced framing” making the walls better insulated and tighter.  However, the home is not bringing in mechanical ventilation.  Many states have laws requiring mechanical ventilation.
  • The owner selected hardwood floor varnish and oil-based paints high in VOC content and emission. He should have used products listed in the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute Product Guide.
  • The owner moved in before the home was complete.  It would have been better to wait for the VOCs to dissipate more.

So back to the question at hand… how long does it take?  We can find some answers in a recent article in the Indoor Air Jounal titled “Decreasing concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emitted following home renovations”.  The authors found a return to “normal” VOC levels after 2-3 months.  The research was based on “real life” studies in Germany, not chamber tests.

Use the 2-3 month timeframe only as a guide, as my experience in the tight home with strong sources indicates it can take much longer.

70 thoughts on “How long does it take for VOCs to dissipate?

  1. Very helpful! Would you say diffusion rate for new mattresses same as paint off gassing? And any studies done you’re aware of re “emission/concentration decays”??

    1. I looked through my library of articles, and the only one I found that came close to matching was, “Inhalation Exposure to Brominated Flame Retardants in the Sleeping Microenvironment: Preliminary Modeling and Results”. I’ll email you a copy privately.

  2. Help! My renovators have just used oil-based varnish on my floors and I am worried about VOC emission as I have a 2.5 yr old. Is it worth re-doing the floors with water varnish?

    1. @Daniela,

      There are too many variables to know exactly what is going on. The expense of testing the air may exceed the cost of just having the floors redone. Ventilation may be a viable option. Keep the windows open and get as many air changes as possible. If you’re in a cold climate, that may not be possible this time of year.

      Have you or your child had sensitivities to chemicals in the past? That could be the most important variable of all!

  3. My neighbor one floor above me in a condo building refaced her kitchen cabinets (stripped them first). I ended up in the hospital room the day after the work was done. That was in mid-December. I am still very sick and have vacated my condo for good. I tried leaving for days at a time, but would get sick again after returning home. She has not been home since the work and will not respond to requests to ventilate. We live in Chicago, so it’s cold here now.

    I live in a two story condo (hers in a single floor condo). How long do you think it will take before I can return to my home. An air test showed moderate levels of acetone and ethanol.

    1. @Dawn,

      There are too many variables to give a specific timeframe. I am based in Chicago and could potentially check out the condo. You can reach me at the office at 312-920-9393 if you are interested.

      Ian

  4. Hi Ian,

    I was also interested in any information you might have concerining the VOC’s in mattresses. We want to get our twelve year old a new mattress and are concerned. Thank you.

    Michelle

    1. @Michelle,

      I recently came across this article which shows erroneous “no VOC” claims on mattresses: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/07/mattress.shtm

      I haven’t researched mattresses for a while, so I’m not up on the latest. I know there are natural latex based ones, but I don’t have first hand experience. My biggest concern with mattresses are flame retardants, which often mimic hormones and disrupt the endocrine system.

      Will you post here which mattress option you select? It may be helpful to others in the same situation.

      Regards,

      Ian

      1. Hello,
        Just came across this site in search of information regarding a freshly painted house.

        I was very concerned about mattresses and ended up investing in cocomat – they are made in greece and are all natural. I also bought a mattress from natural mat company in England but they have branches in USA. They use natural wool for the fire safety part of it
        I hope that helps.

  5. Per the ‘voc’s in mattresses, I’m a homeopathic doctor and treat chemical sensitivities. It’s not ‘VOC’s’ that you should research, it’s PBDE’s (polybrominated biphenyl ethers). The flame retardant chemicals they put on mattresses. I’ve seen people in the hospital from a new mattress and from new furniture in general due to off gassing from PBDE’s. Hope that helps:) Thanks for your article on VOC’s too. Education is the first step – people need to understand their options. Blessings!

  6. We are painting our stairwells, just the treads with VOC paint. One is right outside my 4 month old’s bedroom. Should I be worried? Am going to keep her out of the house for a couple hours after the painting is done. Enough? When can she go in her room?

    1. There are too many variables to say precisely how high the levels are, or how long it will take for them to dissipate. Without instrumentation, you can only rely on your nose to detect it. At a minimum, I would have all the windows open and keep her away until the paint is totally dry.

  7. Hello! My office has created new “Mother’s Lounges” for pumping mothers. They are beautiful with new vinyl tile floors, paint, furnishings (and mini-fridge). The problem is the odor is incredibly strong. After using the room twice yesterday, I felt a bit nauseous and had a head ache so I began to do some research which led me here.I am going to contact Facilities and HR regarding the problem but also want to offer a solution.

    The room is perhaps 5’x7′ with no fresh air. The door stays closed. (I propped open the door and put a fan in the doorway but someone removed it and shut the door by the time I came back).

    Would an industrial fan – on over a weekend with the door open (to the office – not fresh air) help? Would an air purifier help?

    Thank you.

    1. Charity,

      The easiest solution is to open a window, but that doesn’t sound like an option. How close is the closest window? Could a fan blow outdoor air into the room? If not, you’ll need to look for a “gas-phase” air cleaner. These use granular activated carbon and other sorbent media to physically remove VOCs from the air. There are other options as well, such as chemisorption and photocatalytic oxidation (PCO).

      Regards,
      Ian

  8. Hi Ian,
    I bought a Tempurpedic mattress…horrible off gassing…two year old vomiting every night…had removed within 10 days…bought two chemical air purifiers…Austin Health mate plus…running both in bedroom with doors shut…how long until I can open the door…I also experienced memory problems,. sore throat…kids stomach problems…afraid to open the door…also aired out room for a while before I received the purifiers…
    Thanks Hallie

  9. Hi,

    I had asked my countertop guys to use an eco adhesive…but it seems that they didn’t. So mad! Anyways, I’m pregnant and have a 3 year old. Do you have any information about indoor plants or biochar being able to help clean the air in the kitchen. What about air purifiers. About to freak out here!

    Thanks!
    Jennifer

    1. @Jennifer,

      Probably one of the cheapest and most effective approaches will be to ventilate the area with open windows. Facilitate the ventilation with some fans. I’m not sure where you are located, but it is 0 degrees F in Chicago today, so having windows open might not be much of an option. Where are you located? Forget plants, there are some gas-phase air cleaners but they are very expensive. Open windows actually does a great job compared to all other technologies. The only thing better is not putting in the VOCs in the first place! (Sorry to rub it in).

      Ian

      1. Hi Ian,

        We are in Austin…and it was warm the installation day and the two days after…so what we did was to ventilate the entire house, placed a fan facing outside in the kitchen. At night sealed off the kitchen with plastic and aired it out (two doors to outside/garage in kitchen) and didn’t use the heating system those nights. Yesterday it got cold, not like Chicago, but cold and so I purchased more plants, and so we had a total of 12 small and large plants in there; shut off heating vent to kitchen, sealed it with plastic, but couldn’t ventilate overnight. The smell has dissipated more.. but again…will they be offgassing for years to come??!! How come you don’t like plants…are they really that ineffective?
        Thanks.

  10. Hi Ian,
    We live in York, PA…summer of 2012 we had new carpet installed in our 2,000 sq/ft finished basement. A couple of months later I began experiencing skin irritation, itching, etc; 8 mths later I finally figured out that my health issues were related to the carpet off-gassing. We ventilated with fans, open windows, etc. with no relief of symptoms. I installed a REME 305 (hydroperoxide/UV light technology) in my HVAC system….no help. Recently I purchased an Airocide® which we are told needs to run for several weeks prior to seeing results. I purchased over 30 plants the other day too.
    Very cold here, so currently unable to keep windows open while my symptoms continue to evolve….red, itchy skin, primarily the skin that is exposed to the air. I have tested my air and while we have moderate levels of VOC’s related to cleaning products, I’m not sure there was adequate testing conducted for carpet-related VOC’s. BTW, when I leave my home I do not experience the symptoms I’ve described.
    Any suggestions?

  11. Hi,
    Came across your site while trying to figure out paint odor problem. I have a design build firm in Mi. Work in Chicago a lot. Finally painted my own home which had needed it for some time. Used Benjamin Moore Aura low VOC paint in matte through most of the house, Advance for trim, and Aura Bath and Spa in bathrooms. The smell in the bathrooms was almost indiscernible in the beginning and now three weeks later is worse and worse. I can smell odor if I smell wall itself. Don’t know what to do. Never had smell develop after paint is dry.I’m very sensitive to odors and concerned about what could be happening. Any help would be so greatly appreciated.

  12. Hi Ian,

    Very glad I stumbled across this website. I thought I was the only one having so much trouble with indoor air/sensitivities. I moved into a new apartment and had the walls painted with zero VOC paint, as I’m very sensitive to chemicals (sherwin Williams Harmony). I am reacting very strongly to something after moving in. My chest becomes tight and I have horrible airway irritation every time I go into my apartment. I am now not living there, and waiting for it to subside. I’m wondering if the paint could be the problem (it’s been a month) or that the unit the floor above me was competent renovated with new hardwood floors. How long should it take to subside? My boyfriend has been airing it out on warmer days. Is there anything else I can do or an easy way to test levels?

    Thank you!

    Christie

  13. I am a recycler of building materials. Is it safe to say that a laminate flooring that has been in a home for a year or more has likely finished off gassing or will off gas very little at that point?

  14. Hi Ian, thank you for providing us with your helpful information.
    My wife and I have our first baby due in 3 months. I just started prepping the baby room for painting. I bought no VOC paint. But after scraping the one corner of the ceiling that had some loose paint I found stained and chalky dark mold. The area is about 3 feet long by 3 inches wide right along the crease between the ceiling and the wall. With the advice of a contractor friend, I used bleach and water and Tilex to clean it. I then used a shellac based primer, stain blocker by Bin. I have the windows open as well as a fan and will for as long as it takes to clear the smell but my question is will painting over this with the no VOC paint help eliminate the VOC or should I let it dissipate on its own first then paint over it?

    Thanks so much!

    1. I have heard anecdotally that some paints can lock down high VOC paints, but I don’t think it has ever been independently tested, pier reviewed, and published. Many people mention AFM Safecoat for that purpose, but I don’t know.

  15. We are doing renovations after a flood – everything was torn out and being replaced new. I had asked for no VOC primer and paint but they started with a low VOC primer. Today they put on the zero VOC primer, and wow, can I see the difference. The first one was AquaLock Plus, it looks AMAZINg and it’s <50 VOC g/l. The other was the Benjamin Moore no VOC. I have a small child and I'd like our air quality to be good – do you think it's a mistake to go with the AquaLock?

  16. Hi Ian,

    If a house was recently redone and they used paint loaded with VOCs, if you repaint the walls with non-VOC paint and sand/repaint all the cabinets/doors/trim with non-VOC paint, will this eliminate/trap in the VOCs from the paint?

    1. @Nicole,

      There is plenty anecdotal evidence of encapsulation of high-VOC paint. However, I have not come across any peer-reviewed scientific literature that substantiates these claims. Tread carefully.

      Regards,
      Ian

    1. @K.Castillo,

      There are too many variables to come up with a strict timeframe. Keep windows open and in the absence of fancy instruments that I have, you can always use your nose. Your nose won’t tell you the exact concentration but it can tell you the relative abundance. Hopefully the odors will go away and indicate an improvement.

      Ian

  17. Hi Ian, Our contractor painted our house with non low VOC paint, even though I had discussed this with him from the begging. It’s pretty hot in the house but I managed to keep the AC off the whole day. Will I be able to turn the AC on soon? Im afraid turning it on will bring fumes into our house and we have two small children. How bad is exterior paint that is not low VOC? How long until it stops offgasing? Thank you so much!

    1. @Hello23

      Exterior paint generally has higher VOCs. Most air conditioning systems do not have an outdoor air intake… they merely recirculate the air. Therefore, running your air conditioning shouldn’t have a major influence on the amount of outdoor air being pulled in. Does your AC system have an outdoor air intake?

      Ian

  18. Hello. Over Memorial Day weekend we pulled out our 9 yr old rugs and put in Trafficmaster laminated flooring. For the past 2 weeks I have been experiencing first nasal issue and that went away and now I have a sore throat. I went to the doctor and was placed on antibiotics but am going back tonight as I am not feeling any relief. So I did some research and am now really scared that it is the flooring. I feel no relief when I am away from the house so I’m not sure if it is the flooring or if I have something else or if I have been exposed so long that i’m not feeling any relief now. Anyway, the air conditioner is on all the time as we are in Florida. Do you recommend opening the windows and airing out the place? I’ve done it before but by 9am it is over 90 degrees outside and it is unbearable. Anyway, does the heat bring off gasing more due to the humidity? What do you recommend? I seem to be the only one experiencing this and my family thinks I am crazy. 🙂 Help!

    1. @Millie,

      You would be surprised how well opening windows works. I was in a home last week where levels were at 15,000 µg/m3 in an upstairs bedroom recently remodelled and dropped to 800 after having windows throughout the home only slightly (there were young children and the had window locks).

      Here’s the caveat… when the windows were closed again for 24 hours, the levels went back up over 12,000. So the point is… open the windows and keep them open!

      Ian
      VOC Testing in Chicago

  19. Hello. I am buying a commercial building & found it had a dry cleaning service in the 1960’s. I am wondering if there’s any reason for concern. Thank you.

    1. @Bonnie,

      The concern would be with vapor intrusion of perc (Tetrachloroethylene) or other dry cleaning solutions that may be in elevated concentrations in the soil under the building. You may want to consider a laboratory-based VOC test to detect perc and other common dry cleaning solvents.

      Ian

  20. Hi, I recently did something very stupid. I sprayed raid in the wall around a pipe and inside a fixture attached to the wall and have had the raid smell and some VOC symptoms for 45 days now. I sprayed in my kitchen but somehow the raid fumes/odors made their way to an upstairs bedroom, how long would this off gas? I sprayed a few times not a large quantity, it feels like I am more sensitive now. I am using fans, and have had the windows open for a month now. I really dont want to break into the walls and remove the drywall where I sprayed around the drain pipe. The asbestos might be something thats in the walls so I am trying the ventilation approach first. Thanks for having a forum like this!

    1. @Greg,

      Sorry to hear about the raid. Many pesticides are semi-volatile, meaning that although they spend most of their time in a condensed state on a surface, they can find their way into the air, especially when they heat up. As such, pesticides can be more persistent than other VOCs. For example, hand sanitizer off gasses quickly but pesticides using naphthalene can off gas for years. Keep ventilating as tearing out the walls should be a last resort, especially if there is an asbestos risk.

      Ian

  21. I can open a couple of windows put a window fan in one of them. Is it better to have the fan blowing in, or out, Or does it make any difference?

    1. @Bob,

      Great question, and one that most people get wrong! While you’re painting or have a large release of VOCs, that area should be under a negative pressure. That means you would blow the room air out.

      However, after the paint has dried, you should have fans blowing in to push fresh air into the space (ideally pushing the air into the rooms adjacent to where the painting activities happened). If you have an airtight home, you may want to open a window in the room with the highest VOCs to relieve the pressure.

      Ian

  22. we just painted a foul smelling master bedroom closet in the house we just moved into with low voc kilz primer. it says it dries within an hour and it does. we can still smell the “paint” smell though. what does that mean? we have windows open. when can we sleep in our bedroom? is our whole house contaminated with voc? do I need to open all windows etc in the entire house? i didnt realize how toxic this stuff was!

  23. Hi Ian,

    I work in a home office (upstairs), and currently there is construction going on downstairs involving the use of polyurethane and some other solvents (wood stain, etc.). The odor is not terrible where I am but I can still smell it, and I am only there about 4 hours a day. However, I am 6 weeks pregnant, so I am terrified that the fumes are going to have a negative effect.

    The workers are not exactly doing their best at keeping the downstairs ventilated, I have to go open doors and windows, and they shut everything at night. I have been wearing a painting mask with the filter on it lately. I have no idea what brand they are using…is a mask sufficient in this situation?

    Thanks!

    Kryssa

  24. Hi Ian, you offer me hope. Thank you for your insight. I work in an elementary school. We just moved into a brand new building (8/2015) built especially for us. I am in an office with carpet and no window that opens. From the main hall, you go into a waiting room (no open window, leads to 3 offices), and then my office. We are over the moon happy about our new building! However, I have been experiencing pretty severe asthma -burning sensation in lungs, bronchitis, shortness of breath, wheezing, etc). It gets worse in my office and better when I’m not sitting at my desk for an extended amt of time – and way better over the weekends. I’ve got fans blowing air out & circulating the air. After reading your replies, I will position a fan near the hallway door & blow air in. The building is enormous-only 2 stories but very long. I can’t really get fresh air in. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  25. Hello Ian.
    Ee are moving into a rentl home. Landlord promised to paint the whole housse with non voc eith natura. I stop by the house and found out that its been painted with cheap commercial product, super hide egg shell c284. It has 105 voc level. I read articles nd it says it would taake 2 momths off gasing.

    I have 16 month baby, 3 year old kid both have very sensitive skins. I am very worried. I need to decide whether i should move in.

    If its repaint to zero voc, will it be reverted?

    Any suggestions?

    What does voc 100 grams per liter mean? Toxic? It says slight hazard.

  26. We had a contractor who did not wash the tile after installation yielding a grout haze. I told him I was chemically sensitive and he assured me he would use safe products to clean the haze. He brought in Mafei Ultra Care Cement Grout Haze Remover and Miracle Epoxy Grout Film remover. I had an immediate reaction to these products (throat closed, dizzy, confused, coughing, etc). The contractor just let me sit outside didn’t even offer me water. Finally, I drove to where I was staying and collapsed. I didn’t have the strength to drive to medical care. It is three weeks later and I’m still having respiratory problems, sharp pains under my left rib, very fatigued, and a rash on my back. Finally got to a doc this week who took blood tests, reported they are normal Does anyone have any ideas about what is going on and what I can do to feel better?

  27. @Ian, reading through this page of concerns, I am staggered by the chemicals that we knowingly expose ourselves to. 6 years ago, I moved into a completely renovated apartment – all new MDF counters and cabinets in the kitchen and bathroom and the cheapest of laminate flooring, and crap paint.

    I have been sick for 6 years now. Slowly getting better, but still my day to day life is very limited, and challenging. There are many places I can’t go as I need to reduce my risk of exposure to VOCs, and that evil, which is everywhere, formaldehyde.

    Please folks – if you know better, do better. You don’t want to end up with my life.

  28. Thank you for his wonderful blog. I just had the flat roof on my house done. They used EPDM with Mule-Hide bonding adhesive. Many VOCs and other highly toxic chemicals. They promised fumes would not enter the house but intense fumes were in the house for over two weeks, we had to evacuate. After serious ventilation the fumes have stopped but my question is, do they leave residue? How about carpets, stuffed furniture, bedding, clothes? I have pets and do not want to put them in danger. Can I clean this up , and how? Thanks for any advice you can give.

  29. Hi, pro painter here. One very big issue with a lot of hack painters or contractors is forcing recoats. I would say a large majority of problems of a room offgasing is really due to application and not the paint itself. The issue is, most paints have a 4 hour recoat time for a second coat, but are dry to touch in about 1 hour. So many painters, especially non-specialists, as in, “do it all” GCs and handymen, will just recoat after 1 hour not reading directions (or sometimes less, painting wet on wet for truly *spectacular* results and finishes…) This causes the first coat to not be able to offgas fully, and then the gases will be trapped in layers, then instead of having mostly offgased itself in 4 hours, it now can take potentially years depending on circumstances.

    So really, it’s very important to make sure whoever is painting your house follows the recoat times recommended by the manufacturer strictly, or even better, insist on a full day between recoats. Many people will try to force recoats so they can get done quicker, but this “shortcut” besides potentially looking ugly, has potential for offgasing for a long time.

    Lastly, regarding low VOC, it’s not surefire regarding how a room smells, if you get sick, etc. There are many chemicals in paint that are not considered VOCs, but still can cause issues, especially in the case of not being allowed to off gas properly.

    Best regards,
    Zeta Painting

  30. Hello. I’m so hoping someone can help give my family and me at least some helpful information. I’m 8 months pregnant and we have an 8 year old asthmatic daughter. We are renovating our home in order to have room for our new addition coming. We had a contractor come and finish our basement floors. He put a solvent based sealer on the floors and also had our garage door down and all the windows sealed while he put the product on because he did the work while it was raining. When we came home that evening, our house was beyond unbearable. We left and stayed in a hotel. Since it was still pouring the rain, we waited until the next morning to return and open all the doors and windows. We also removed the concrete stain by grinding it all off the floor in the basement. It’s been 8 days of airing our home out and the whole house still smells like paint thinner. We don’t know what we can do. I’m obviously more concerned since I’m pregnant and since my daughter has asthma. Has our home absorbed the vocs and is continuing to emit them? We’ve had our home fogged at this point, we have three air purifiers running, there is charcoal and coffee grounds out in every room…but the smell is still there. What can we do and when would it be safe to return? Thank you so much for your help.

  31. Thank you Zeta Painting. I think that is exactly what happened. The first coat of adhesive was improperly applied, then they slapped another piece of roofing and more adhesive over that. It is a month and a half later and it is still soft. I think it will have to be pulled up and redone. Thanks for the information.

  32. Hi Ian,
    Thanks for such an informative blog! We have a sunroom on the back of our home that was a 1980’s addition by the previous owners. The room has a concrete slab surrounded by two window walls, a solid wall (no openings, etc.) and the former back wall (brick) of the home. There is an original sliding glass door on the house wall that can be opened or closed as needed, one exterior door with jalousie windows and two 60 inch casement windows. The room is heated and cooled as needed using a hotel type PTAC unit.

    We recently pulled up the original 1980’s green outdoor carpet and had it replaced with low pile interior carpet that was glued down. Our problem is that the flooring contractor used a solvent based exterior carpet adhesive that was clearly marked as being for outdoor installations only. Although the smell of the glue was overwhelming at first, a steady course of heating the room for a day and then ventilating the next for the past three weeks has helped somewhat. The smell is not overwhelming, but it is still there. Fortunately, we can close the sliding doors leading to the house so ventilating this room is not a problem.

    I’ve been told by the glue manufacturer that once cured, the glue smell will go away, but he couldn’t tell me how long that might take given that it’s the middle of January and the cold will most definitely slow the process down. He also told me that once fully cured, there would be no danger to those of us using the rooms. That includes two adults with no known respiratory ailments and two year old twin grandchildren that regularly use this room as their playroom when here.

    So with all that said, I really just have two questions. 1) If we continue to heat the room to expedite the curing process and then ventilate the room to exhaust the fumes, do you have any idea how long we might have to wait for the glue to fully cure? And 2), is there any danger to us or the two children short term or long term once the glue has fully cured?

    The mfg is confident that there will be no danger once cured, but I’d really like to hear that from someone with more experience in this area. Thanks in advance for any advice and/or help you can provide…

    1. Note that carpet itself can contain a host of lung irritants itself; most notably, formaldehyde (a known carcinogen); which will take years to off-gas.

      Carpet (with the exception of brands such as InterfaceFLOR) and laminate flooring are best avoided for indoor use.

  33. We had a room painted with zero voc paint which included a primer component and the smell is still there after four months. Kept our window open and fan going all day for that period of time with very little dissipation. The room and paint in cans smells like the room, a chemical paint smell which is slightly sour and irritating. Where can we go to test the paint properly and find out what the odor is and how we can remove it from the walls. Until we know the source, we cannot remedy it. We have found it almost impossible to find a laboratory that tests paint for consumers other than testing for mold or lead. Please help. We are in the Southwest but could mail it to anywhere in the U.S. We are looking for a lab with integrity who will be independent and give an honest assessment of the problem. Thank you for this site and your excellent advice and support.

    1. You said, “until we know the source, we cannot remedy it”. Isn’t the source the paint? Options for reducing VOCs include:
      1. Ventilations… lots of fresh air
      2. Heating the space up… it will off-gas faster
      3. Activated carbon air cleaners… you’ll need a lot of carbon and not as effective as opening windows generally.
      4. Painting over it… there is anecdotal evidence of this, but no published research. Proceed with caution.

      A lab that does a lot of work with VOCs for homeowners is Prism Analytical, aka Home Air Check.

      Ian

      1. There is some stuff going on with low VOC paints. You may be familiar with the class action suit against Benjamin Moore “Natura”. A consumer painted several rooms and had to vacate the premises due to bad odor and the paint never dried.

        This same thing happened to me with a PPG product: ICON (now renamed ASSURE) The paint seemed fine, but before the job was done had become stringy/rubbery. Several months later, the paint could still be wiped off the wall and smelled like B.O. and paint.

        The Paint Research Association recognizes “Wall Odour Phenomenon” and that it has increased in frequency with newer low VOC paints. Primer doesn’t always correct the problem, and heating with ventilation only makes matters worse. Apparently high-molecular weight components mix with ozone and can continue to off-gas indefinitely.

        These newer paints are also more susceptible to bacterial contamination.

        The paint companies aren’t admitting these issues, nor are they helping with advice or remediation, because in part they don’t know what to do – and – when people have to replace their drywall, it gets expensive.

  34. I live in an apartment complex. Residents are now in the middle of a toxic soup. By this I mean, asbestos in 40 year old kitchen flooring is being removed in all 125 residences. The have already been caught by the DEP doing the asbestos removal wrong. Residents have moved back to find construction dust all over their furniture as well as in their apartments, particularly in baseboard heating units. The owner of the property have also installed a laminate type flooring that is held down by a particular glue. They have installed cheap fake kitchen counter tops, cheap wood cabinets, low grade GE plastic containing refrigerators, dishwashers and a GE stove. Some of these apartments sit on wetlands (Lincoln, MA) – recently an enviromental tester found rampant mold in a 3 bedroom here only to be refuted by the owners enviromental tester. Some apartments (ours) have been painted with a low VOC (they claim) paint. They have replaced bathroom shower wall tile with a plastic vinyl type material. They do have the Safety Date Sheets on site (after 5 months past starting this renovation) and only because the DEP showed up and shut down 6 units that were under construction for asbestos removal violations. Our apartment has recently been re habbed with all the above cheap replacement items. The apartment smells like a noxious toxic soup. Today we are having an enviromental tester come to test for asbestos, mold, air quality and VOC off gassing. However, because of the construction schedule we now are being asked to return to our apartment at 35 days while this construction was taking place. I have gone into the apartment for less than 5 minutes on 2 occasions and the reaction I had after leaving the apartment and going back to our on site “hotel unit” that has not been renovated as of yet, was to find myself feeling like the inside of my nose was inflamed and then I got a headache. We do not want to return to our apartment next week 5 days from now. In short, HOW do we aide in the off gassing of the apartment and should we return there if we can avoid it. We feel this is the responsibility of the owners of the property to provide us with a safe environment to return to and we feel that our apartment is NOT safe to return to now. We will know more when I our tester gives us our testing results. We have asked the owners for air filters and to keep the windows opened – they have not done either. Any suggestions you can make will be helpful. They have also replaced all windows but have used a chemical around the windows that has been banned in several states in the US. HELP! We don’t want to live in a toxic soup.

  35. Hi Ian, Thanks for your info. I am researching this because last week we had Luxury Vinyl Tile installed in the majority of our home (minus the bedrooms and bathrooms). Both the planks and the adhesive were supposedly low-VOC and no-formaldehyde.

    When I came home that evening, the smell about knocked me over. We opened all the windows and turned on all the fans. The next morning, I woke up with no voice, coughing, and red, puffy eyes. I’ve been staying at a friend’s house ever since. We aired out the house for the full weekend…no help. We ordered some little VOC and formaldehyde testers on Amazon (brand is Uni-T) hoping to find the “smoking gun” in order to perhaps get our money back on the floors, since we realized we would have to have the floor torn out. Both meters read “average” levels. Not much worse than my friend’s house, or my office, which has had no renovations in many years. So we figured there must be some other chemical causing the odor and making me sick.

    We had the floors torn out, but much of the adhesive was still tacky and stuck to the floor. The guys who ripped the floors out spread thinset grout over top of the adhesive, to level the floors. But the house still wreaks!! Today I received a Foobot air monitor. It reads right now that the VOC’s are over 936 ppb. (Their recommended threshhold is 300). (So much for the adhesive being low VOC!)

    I even had the house completely open with a cross-breeze for 2 hours this afternoon, and closed up the house only about 3.5 hours ago. We live in Florida, and it is 93 degrees out this week. My husband melts in the heat, and must have the A/C on when he is home, which means closing up the house. He is less bothered by the odor, so he is living at home, while I live at a friend’s house.

    Anyway, we have an Austin Air HealthMate Plus being delivered tomorrow. It has charcoal and zeolite, as well as a HEPA filter. But I also wonder how long this floor is going to off-gas, and if it is okay to install tile (our new flooring choice), over top of this stinking adhesive, or if it will prolong the off-gassing for a much longer time. (Though I don’t think that removing it is an option at this point, considering all the grout on top of it.)

    Thanks in advance for any insight or advice.

    1. Using fans to flush the house with fresh air is usually the most efficient option short of grinding all the adhesive residue off.
      It sounds like you now have a sensitivity to one or more chemicals used in the flooring or adhesive. At this point, don’t do any more VOC tests… just use your body as the guide. Tile over the top should greatly reduce the VOCs from the remaining adhesive.

      -Ian

  36. Hi there,
    I am 20 weeks pregnant and my work installed a new carpet in one area of our open plan office about a month ago.
    While the smell is not terrible, I do sometimes catch a smell still of new carpet a number of times a day. I try keep the windows open in that area for an hour each day.
    Could those fumes from new carpet cause damage to unborn baby?
    Thanks so much.

  37. We have been remodeling our kitchen and I have been really sick from the paint which was suppose to be low voc and the vinyl plank flooring. My husband tore up the first floor and put down one with low voc and used a sealer that blocks voc on the paint. Anyway After about 2 months I was doing better until he did a backsplash using Double Duty Mastic and now I’m really sick. I’m so mad he used something so toxic, he thought it was ok since he used it years ago in the bathrooms and I was ok then. I’m so sick I can’t even function, he hasn’t sealed it yet and refuses to rip it out. Is there something we can seal it with to stop offgassing, we have a fan in the window blowing the air out and windows open. I also have a air purifier for Vocs and we have sealed the room off from the rest of the house. None of it helps I’m still real sick. Before he seals the tile is there something you can recommend for offgassing and does this stuff stop offgassing. I’m desperate any help you can give me would be appreciated.

  38. Hello Ian!

    Thank you so much for your blog!

    I have a quick question that may also help others as well.

    I have been doing lots of searches to see if I can find an appropriate test kit for this etc.

    Recently there was a honeybee hive in my apartment’s outside wall. I asked management if they could get a beekeeper to come and save them since they are in such trouble. Sadly, mgmt opted to have their pest control co come and seal them in the outside wall. They said it was a safe product etc etc. as I had asked, as I am really sensitive to all chemicals.

    I called the pest control company and they gave me the names of the products that they probably used, but they got nervous when I asked for the active ingredients etc.

    I had to do that, because, since it has happened a strange odor started coming into the room that is opposite the outside wall. The air seems to hang with a kind of light gaseousness especially since it has gotten hot hot (Southwest US) and I am having strong reactions both watery and burning eyes and a headache when I am in there, I am concerned in opening the window because the offgassing may be outside as it’s in the wall and I may let even more voc’s in. I have a voc air purifier running in there and I am presently trying not to be in the room a lot until I can find a test that will cover the product’s ingredients but am not sure where to find it. Do you by chance know who may have a test kit that tests for pesticides in the air? I can email you the names of the products they used if need be.

    I am needing to take care of it in the most natural way possible. So I am searching for natural ways to clean/clear the pesticide residue if it is in dust form comng in through the floor board etc. Just trying to find the best solution. Thank you so much for any ideas on anything! Happy 4th of July!

  39. Hello Ian, we have a small child and are currently remodeling a subterranean space of our house (it has 2 windows). We found out that our painter did not use zero VOC primer/ texturizer 2 days, and are currently keeping her out of the house with the grandparents. We requested a commercial fan be put in to blow out air and keep the door open as much as possible (door connects to outside parking garage that has good ventilation). Is there anything else you recommend? He is no applying zero VOC paint from Benjamin Moore and Dunn Edwards. I know it can take a while for VOCs to dissipate and want to make sure that we are being as safe as possible for our 4 year old. Thank you.

  40. Just wanted to add that our townhouse is 3 levels and the subterranean space connects to the living room via a stairwell. There is no door. They have currently hung plastic, but is there a better way to seal off the area?

  41. We leave in Brooklyn NY my wife was pregnant in her ninth month, a neighbor called a floor man to sand and refinish there floors with moisture cure urethane, the smell became so bad and toxic, my wife started to fill very sick and she collapsed she was taken to the hospital and the unborn child died.

  42. Hello Ian!

    I need your advice. I went to Lowes thinking the sales lady would help me get the right paint to paint my daughters room. I have never painted before. The sales lady gave me paint + primer. I painted the room and now for 12 days the smell has made me sick, red eyes and I feel like I want to pass out. I have the window open all day and night, at night I have a fan blowing towards the window with the door closed, but the smell just won’t go away. 7 days after I first painted the room I had my dad paint with a egg shell paint over it to cover the first paint. I’m thinking about tearing out the walls, ceiling and carpet. What can I do to get rid of the off gassing. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you!

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