Breathing easier indoors

It can be difficult to control what gasses and pollution you are exposed to outside, but we can have a much greater influence over our indoor environment.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds that have a low boiling temperature which means they evaporate molecules at room temperature.

Some VOCs occur naturally and not all are bad, but some may cause respiratory irritation, or have a detrimental health impact over time.

Paint and other coatings have been a major source of VOCs. VOCs in exterior paint are not such an issue, but inside, that fresh paint smell might be VOCs.

We recommend low (or no) VOC paint, or thoroughly airing freshly painted rooms.

Depending on a number of variables, the VOCs should off-gas a significant portion of their VOCs within a couple of weeks, but some research shows paints still off-gassing up to four years after application.

Cleaning products may also contain VOCs and other chemicals. You can select products with lower levels of these chemicals, and/or air the room during and after cleaning.

There are a number of cleaning products with lower levels of harsh chemicals (some approved by the Sensitive Choice program).

Air purifiers with an activated carbon filter will remove these undesirable gasses from the air. Air purifiers with different filters can also do the same, but not those with just HEPA or particulate filters.

Some chemicals to look out for:


Formeldehyde may be in a number of building materials, including paints, wall boards, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), adhesives and more.

Formaldehyde is known to cause respiratory irritation and where options without formaldehyde (or with low levels) are available, we recommend those.

Propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs)

PGEs in children’s bedrooms have been implicated with higher incidences of asthma.

The jury is still out on PGEs, but we recommend reducing exposure to PGE vapours if possible.

Cigarette Smoke

We all know it’s unhealthy, but one of the ingredients in cigarette smoke is a VOC called benzene. We recommend not smoking at all, but the effects of second hand smoke will be magnified in enclosed spaces.


Some people are allergic to some fragrances. Ideally, these people should know which fragrances to avoid. If you don’t, your doctor is the best point to start, but you may be referred to an allergist for skin-prick testing.

More information

For products and services that may help you avoid these triggers, visit our Sensitive Choice website.

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