Fix-It Chick: Steps to reduce volatile organic compound exposure

A volatile organic compound, or VOC, is a solid or liquid that can easily break down into a gas. VOC vapors are everywhere and they quickly become dangerous when they are allowed to accumulate in high concentrations. Excessive exposure to certain VOCs will exasperate respiratory health problems and create a host of health issues. Taking steps to reduce exposure to VOC vapors can benefit everyone.

Step 1: A wide variety of toxic VOCs are found in most paint and refinishing products. Although most manufacturers are actively producing low or no VOC formulas, paint and refinishing projects should always be done in well-ventilated spaces. Use of respirators, fans and air purifiers will greatly reduce exposure. Open windows and doors whenever possible before, during and after the project. Purchase the minimal amount of paint or chemicals necessary for each project. Keep lids on when not in use and avoid storing chemicals within the living or work space. Dispose of unused products at the local hazardous waste facility.

Step 2: Choose natural fibers and sealed wood when buying home furnishings. Purchase used furnishings whenever possible. Allow new items to air out before bringing them into the home. Avoid unfinished particle board, plastic and man-made fibers whenever possible.

Step 3: Select low nap cotton, wool or sisal carpets and rugs. Consider replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with pre-finished wood, tile, cork or linoleum flooring.

Step 4: Purchase fragrance-free household products. Eliminate the use of air fresheners and other scent rich products.

Step 5: Install and use exhaust fans in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and workshops.

Step 6: Open windows and doors whenever possible. In the winter, splurge and crack a window every now and then, but only for a few minutes at a time.

Step 7: High relative humidity increases VOC emissions. Use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity level in your home at 45 percent in the summer and 30 percent in the winter.

Step 8: Keep chimneys, fireplaces and wood stoves clean and in good working order. Burn only well seasoned wood.

Step 9: Turn computers and other electronic equipment off when not in use. Limit time spent around electronics.

Step 10: Take regular breaks and go outside for fresh air throughout the day.

Step 11: Make houseplants part of all home and office decor. Houseplants remove carbon dioxide and VOC vapors from the air.

Step 12: Change furnace filters regularly.

— Have a home improvement question for Fix-It Chick? Email it to Linda Cottin at