Using nontoxic paints is one great way to make your home decor both stylish and healthy, as last week’s column pointed out. But paint is not the only home decor product that can cause indoor pollution problems.
Toxic gases in your home environment can come from finishes you choose. In addition to smelly paints as a source of volatile organic components (VOCs), carpets or flooring, furniture, upholstery and window treatments can add to the pollution in your home.
This “off-gassing” is most serious when the product is new, but it continues to a lesser degree for years. While some people are less affected, others who are more sensitive can suffer from headaches, dizziness, respiratory problem, lingering colds, skin rash and fuzzy thinking.
We certainly cannot afford fuzzy thinking and we don’t much like any of the possible side effects for either ourselves or our clients. So we think about reducing the toxic load whenever we redecorate. Here are some pointers we try to use when we can:
• Carpets, and especially underpads, can ooze nasty smells for years — these evaporate into your house and reduce your interior air quality.
Environmentalists have long recommended hard natural surfaces under your feet such as ceramic tile, wood, bamboo, cork, or linoleum made of linseed oil.
If you love something a little fuzzier under your feet, go for rugs made of wool, sisal or any other straw or grass-based rug. And remember to look for a wool or synthetic heat-fused rather than glue-fused underpad.
• When buying furniture or kitchen cabinets, try purchasing solid wood if you can, rather than particleboard. Conventional particleboard is made with substances — often urea formaldehyde — that will produce toxic gases and add to poor air quality in your house for years.
If you can’t use solid wood, opt for plywood, which is usually made of less toxic substances than particleboard.
• Stains, polyurethanes, primers and sealers can be just as smelly and toxic as conventional paints-look for low-VOC versions of these. For example, AFM Safecoat Polyuroseal Wood Finish (distributed through Vancouver-based Cbr Products, ww.cbrproducts.com, is a great alternative to smelly polyurethanes.
Another alternative is Barrie, Ont.-based Hempola’s All Natural Wood Finishing Oil, www.hempola.com/products/hempwood.htm. In Toronto, this product is available through Grassroots, 408 Bloor St., or the Big Carrot, 348 DanforthAve.
• Avoid stain-guarding of upholstery or drapery fabrics. Also look for less toxic flame-retardants on furniture and bed mattresses. The Europeans are further ahead on this issue — try IKEA for mattresses that use less toxic flame-retardants.
• Caulking with conventional caulking can leave a strong and unpleasant headache-inducing smell for days after application. Glues can be in the same category. So stick with natural cure or acetic acid-based caulking, or standard wood glue rather than contact cement or any other strong-smelling adhesive.
• Stay away from paint strippers. They’re highly toxic. Instead, consider less toxic products like Environmentally Friendly Paint Stripper manufactured by Maple Ridge B.C.-based Molecule Tech Coating Inc., or Bio-Wash Paint Stripper, manufactured by Napier Environmental Technology, located in Delta, B.C. 3M also carries a non-toxic stripper called Safest Stripper.
While we will admit to the occasional lapse of good environmental judgement in our home decor decisions — after all, we react to style above all else — we are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of living in less toxic ways.
And that’s not fuzzy thinking!