This article is going to go through step-by-step what you need to do to offgas those new carpet VOC chemicals. You do not need to do every step, only go as far as you need to solve the problem. The more advanced steps are for those who are extremely sensitive to chemicals.
For most people, one or two of these steps will do.
Some of these steps will also help to sequester fragrances and particulates like dust and mold spores.
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1. Bake Out
The first thing to do is to get those VOCs to offgas. We can greatly speed up the natural offgassing process by doing a “bake out”. According to Carl Grimes, to bake out a house you want about 3-5 days of constant (24 hours a day) increased temperature of at least 85-90 F.
You also need ventilation – at least 2-3 air exchanges each day. If you don’t ventilate, you will have reabsorption of the VOCs, so that won’t help you.
You can ventilate by opening doors and windows for 10-20 minutes. If the wind is blowing then 5-10 min will do. Note: Most HVAC systems do not ventilate, most of them circulate the inside air.
Consult with a contractor to make sure you won’t have any materials (like wood or bamboo floors) affected by the higher temps and/or by the humidity level that opening the windows will create.
If this process only helped somewhat but not enough, you can repeat the process until you get the VOCs low enough for you.
This doesn’t work very well on old chemicals, like fragranced carpet. But if it seems like the carpet was freshly cleaned with fragranced products this can help.
The next step I would take is to seal in the VOCs of the carpet with the AFM carpet sealing system. This system effectively blocks about 60-80% of the new carpet offgassing for up to five cleanings or one year.
The products themselves are 0-VOC so they will work for most chemically sensitive folks.
This is only going to work for some types of carpet so be sure to check that first and do a spot check. It generally works on synthetic carpet. It’s not for wool carpet. Also, if it’s a rental be sure to get permission to use this system.
The first step is to shampoo the carpet with AFM Carpet Shampoo. This will help to pull out some of the chemicals.
The second step is to use SafeChoice Carpet Seal a unique sealer designed to prevent the offgassing of chemicals used in carpet backing such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, xylene and styrene.
The third step is to use SafeChoice Lock Out which performs two functions. First, it seals in the offgassing of harmful chemicals found in the carpet fibers, and second, it helps repel dirt and stains.
It’s very important to thoroughly dry out the carpet after these steps. You may even need to bring in a dehumidifier as you need to get the carpet dry within 24 hours.
Used in conjunction with the “bake out” this will be enough to get rid of new offgassing for almost everyone.
If the problem is one of fragrance and not new carpet, you can use the EnviroKlenze Everyday Odor Eliminator instead. Directly apply the product to the carpet, then use the carpet cleaning machine to extract it from the carpet. This allows for better and longer contact time between the fragrance and the product compared to adding it to the carpet cleaning machine.
3. Air Purifier or Air Exchanger
The next step to take if the first two are not enough is to add either a very high-carbon air purifier or to add air exchange. Air exchange is more effective and both are about the same price. (However, an air exchange can bring in a lot of draft and the temperature might not be comfortable).
For an air purifier, you will need one with the highest amount of carbon. This article covers and compares the options. Air purifiers like this help but they don’t solve a high offgassing problem, especially if the person has sensitivities.
The best air exchanger for most climates is an ERV. In some climates, an HRV will be preferable. While whole house systems are fairly complex you can install point-of-use units like the Panasonic WhisperComfort ERV. This moves a lot of air. You can install it into a wall, or ceiling (looks like a large bath fan), or even mount it temporarily at the window (described here).
Both of these technologies reduce the concentration of VOCs or fragrance but do not address the source.
These next steps are for those extremely sensitive to carpet and who have not gotten enough relief from the above steps.
Now in this step, we can absorb and block some of the VOCs or fragrance. Do not use baking soda for this step. Although that can help with odors, with most carpet it’s impossible to fully remove that from the carpet.
Once the zeolite becomes saturated you can put it in the sun to re-activate it and you can use it again with a new sheet of charcoal.
This can be used for new carpet odors, fragrance in older carpets, and even to block some of the dust, mold spores, and other particulates.
If you’re extremely sensitive to the offgassing, fragrance, or particulates that are in the carpet you may need to go all the way and totally sequester the carpet. This is the most extreme step.
I would use a radiant barrier which is plastic on one side and aluminum on the other. Both materials together block VOCs, odors, and particles. If you’re sensitive to plastic, use the foil side up.
Now the only tricky part here is that you need to secure this around the edges and tape is really the best way to do that. So see if you can find a tape that you do well with.
Options to attach it to the perimeter:
- SIGA Rissan was the best tape for me when I was extremely sensitive (and it has a strong adhesive too)
- Double-sided tape/stickers could be used and if you want to be really meticulous and tuck in the radiant barrier just slightly under the tape so that the edges of the tape are not exposed.
- I learnt this trick in South America, silicone caulking can be used to stick things together even though it’s not that strong of an adhesive. Since this fully offgasses you could use it to attach the radiant barrier to the baseboards.
Note: The radiant barrier will leave the floor slippery so be sure to take precautions like adding a rug on top to help with that.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.