Say No to Fumes in Your House

Wipe out the chemical odors that can trigger allergies and asthma.
By: John Yates


Hand in rubber glove spraying cleanser

Photo by: Comstock Images

Comstock Images

You bring home a brand-new shower curtain and your eyes burn for the next few weeks. The new carpeting looks great, but nobody can stand being in the room.

One important strategy for controlling allergies and asthma — aside from controlling your exposure to dust mites, pollen and mold — is to find ways to eliminate or reduce the household chemicals, fumes and smoke that can irritate inflamed tissues in your eyes and airways.

Here are some tips for clearing the air in your home:

Control formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

VOCs are chemicals that evaporate at room temperature, giving off irritating fumes that cause asthma flare-ups. "Everything from the furniture you buy to cleaning solvents to paint may have formaldehyde and other kinds of VOCs with these off-gassing properties," says Mike Tringale, director of external affairs at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). "Particle board or pressed wood is often finished or treated with some kind of formaldehyde preservative."

These fumes dissipate over time, so don't hesitate to ask furniture, carpet or flooring dealers to allow a product to off-gas for a couple of weeks or so before delivery. Consider storing it in your garage before bringing it into the house, and provide good ventilation in your home at all times.

Ventilation is particularly important while painting. Indoor paints now carry VOC ratings on the side of the can; compare products and buy the paint with the lowest VOC number.

Opt for PVC-free shower curtains

Plastic shower curtains containing PVC (polyvinyl chloride) can release a potent mixture of more than 100 VOCs — including toluene and xylene — that are classified by the EPA as hazardous pollutants.

Find safe substitutes for household cleaners, or make your own

"The more you can strive for a fragrance-free or off-gassing-free household, the better off you're going to be," says Mike. "When you're closed in a closet or bathroom using cleaning products like ammonia or bleach, it can become very noxious."

Washing soda cuts grease and removes stains, and it's available in the laundry section of grocery stores or in its pure form, sodium carbonate, from chemical supply houses. White vinegar is also good for cutting grease.

Hydrogen peroxide, an alternative to bleach, is available in supermarkets and drugstores. Sodium perborate, another alternative to bleach, is available from chemical supply companies.

Homemade cleaners:

To clean ovens: Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with 1/4 cup of salt; add enough water to make a paste.
To clean bathtubs: Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with enough white vinegar to make a paste.
To clean drains: Mix 1/2 cup of baking soda with 1/2 cup of salt. Pour down the drain, and then follow with 2 cups of boiling water. Let it sit overnight.

Ban smoking from your home and that includes improperly vented wood stoves

It goes without saying that cigarette smoke is harmful to one's health, but so are wood stoves and fireplaces that send smoke into the house as well as up the chimney. Wood smoke contains a mixture of gases and fine particulates that can be extremely irritating to mucus membranes and cause respiratory problems. Use an EPA-certified wood stove, and call a professional to make sure it's properly installed.

There's an unavoidable presence of environmental triggers and irritants in the modern home, Mike says, but "if you can reduce it below the threshold needed to trigger your symptoms, you've done a good job."

Keep Reading

Next Up

Clean Your House in 45 Minutes or Less

Last-minute dinner party? No problem! Get your entire house guest-ready in less than an hour.

Three Types of Repairs to Keep Your Lawn Healthy

Even the healthiest of lawns require regular maintenance. Here are three common repairs that your outdoor space might require.

10 Steps to an Orderly Kitchen

An organizing expert offers expertise for kitchen organization and storage solutions.

5 Tips for Controlling Dust Mites

These bedbugs are a leading cause of allergies and asthma. Here's how to fight back.

Allergy-Proof Your Home

6 tips for clearing your indoor air

Cleaning Secrets for the Entire Home

Home cleaning experts share their best hacks and tips for tidying up your kitchen, bathroom and more.

What's the Story, Morning Glory?

Morning glories are poisonous beauties. Know your plants to keep your household safe.

Fireplace Maintenance and Safety

Tend to your chimney with care with these expert tips.

Take a Moisture Assessment of Your Home

The best way to have a mold-free home is to prevent the mold from happening.

Top Allergy and Asthma Triggers

Identify the top triggers in and around your home, then follow our tips to help clear the air.


House Hunters

12pm | 11c

House Hunters

12:30pm | 11:30c

House Hunters

1pm | 12c

House Hunters

1:30pm | 12:30c

House Hunters

2:30pm | 1:30c

House Hunters

3:30pm | 2:30c

House Hunters

4:30pm | 3:30c

House Hunters

5:30pm | 4:30c

House Hunters

6:30pm | 5:30c

House Hunters

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Fixer Upper

8pm | 7c

Fixer Upper

9pm | 8c

Log Cabin Living

11:30pm | 10:30c

Fixer Upper

12am | 11c

Log Cabin Living

2:30am | 1:30c

Fixer Upper

3am | 2c

Shop This Look

Found a living space you love in HGTV's Photo Library? Get the look in your own home with products from Wayfair.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.