Toxic fumes can be a scary and, gulp, invisible threat.
I’m sitting here thinking about how many times I’ve walked into a furniture store and ended up feeling dizzy within the first 5 minutes.
Every. Single. Time.
Anyone else experienced this from that overpowering ‘new furniture smell’?
I did a bit of research and found out that toxic fumes aren't an uncommon problem. As it turns out, the chemicals and resins used in making furniture like tables, sofas and cabinets emit toxic fumes and are what makes people like me light headed every time we walk into a furniture store.
But what if you had to live inside the furniture store?
That’s practically what it’s like if you’re travelling in a RV.
Since a lot of any RV is made out of wood components and upholstery – cabinets, floor paneling, tables, carpets, etc – the research I did also led me to a lot of articles and forums where RV owners wrote about feeling suffocated inside their own motorhomes.
Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs
VOCs are the toxic fumes emitted by new furniture that you need to watch out for when you’re stepping inside your motorhome.
Here are the four main sources of volatile organic compounds that you might find inside your RV:
- Wood furniture and hardwood flooring
- Carpets and upholstery
- Shower area
- Pretty much any spot inside the RV that isn’t water resistant(Mold growth)
The best ways that I found through my research for removing toxic VOC fumes from your RV are:
- Allowing the wooden furniture and cabinetry to off-gas(especially for new RV’s with lesser than 2 years of usage)
- Buy an air purifier for scrubbing away existing VOCs inside your RV
- Get a portable dehumidifier on board for preventing mold- a source of microbial volatile organic compounds or mVOCs.
This was just the cliff notes version though. Here is a more comprehensive answer:
What are VOC’s?
VOCs are a class of indoor pollutants that many people may not be aware of, but there is a very good chance that they are present inside your motorhomes.
In fact, they are generally recognized as one of the biggest causes of indoor pollution.
The smell that people associate with the newness of wooden furniture is actually VOCs being released or ‘off gassed’. This off-gassing can continue on for months and in some cases, even years. It’s hard to ascertain how long because it depends on which VOC is being emitted.
Yep. The new car smells are toxic fumes.
Do you want to know the most common VOC indoors and most probably, inside your RV as well?
Formaldehyde as a toxic fume
Formaldehyde is typically used as an adhesive while making wood furniture. Here are just some of the effects that prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can have on you:
- Light headedness
- Pain in the eyes
- Breathing difficulties
- Possible cause of cancer(known cause of sinus cancer in animals)
Why RV Owners Are More Affected By Indoor Air Pollution Than Traditional Home Owners
The obvious reason here is that houses are much bigger than RVs and are much more well ventilated which is why any VOCs being emitted by furniture are not noticed as much. Those toxic fumes have more room to spread out and dissipate.
But this is where it gets concerning:
A few decades ago, after widespread outrage against indoor air pollution caused by VOCs,, the government laid out regulations that limited VOC concentrations to 0.2 ppm inside of homes and in the workplace.
However, this law so far has not been applied to the RVs industry. Logically it should, because for long stretches of time RVs serve as mobile homes for many people.
Toxic Fumes can cause problems with RVs used for emergency relief
In the aftermath of the Katrina tragedy the government spent about $2 billion rehabilitating the victims inside trailers. Soon enough, a lot of them started to complain about the living conditions.
Breathing troubles, feeling suffocated inside the RVs and all the other classic signs of prolonged VOC exposure.
On the flip side though, a lot of RV owners don’t experience any issues with indoor air pollution.
After reading about a lot of their experiences across forums, websites and social media, a common theme came out- the more expensive your RV is, the smaller chance you have of experiencing toxic fumes inside it. That’s because some of the cheaper RVs tend to source some not-so-great-quality materials from China and other Asian countries.
5 Things You Can Do To Safeguard Yourself From VOCs While Buying a New RV:
#1 Ensure that your RV is CARB2 compliant
CARB stands for the “California Air Resources Board” and CARB2, in particular, is a legislation enacted in 2007 to reduce the percentage of formaldehyde found in composite wood products, including:
- Hardwood plywood (HWPW)
- Particleboard (PB)
- Medium density fiberboard (MDF)
- Thin MDF
#2 Ask for Non-VOC or Low-VOC furniture
With more and more consumers becoming aware of the dangers of VOCs, even manufacturers are catching up. Whether you’re looking for a new RV or are looking to change the furniture in your existing RV, ask for non VOC or low VOC wood fittings.
#3 Rely on your senses.
Your senses are your best friend here- so if you step inside an RV and experience any of the symptoms that I mentioned earlier, you know that it's probably not a great idea to go ahead with it no matter how great the RV is, otherwise.
Remember, you will be practically living inside it for days at a stretch when you are travelling.
#4 Don’t smoke inside the RV or cook without the exhaust on and windows open
This one’s kinda obvious, but a lot of people tend to neglect this. Just go outside and smoke guys!
#5 Buy a used RV.
It makes financial sense too, because most RV’s aren’t used much after the first one or two summers of purchasing them. However- their prices start deprecating a lot and you can end up saving yourself about $10,000-20,000.
The other big plus point?
You practically ensure that you won’t have to deal with furniture that’s still off-gassing, as long as the RV is a few years old.
What Existing RV Owners Can Do
How to test for VOC levels inside your RV
You have two options:
You can either get a certified professional test the air quality out for you- such as Intertek(here’s a handy list of their offices within the United States)
Get a portable home air quality tester, such as this reasonably priced home air quality tester found on Amazon. You just need to set it up inside your RV for some time to allow the air sample to be collected inside the sampling tube. After that, you just mail the sample tube to the company(postage included) which will analyze it and send the report in a week or two.
Keep in mind though, that this isn’t a comprehensive test. A portable home kit just checks formaldehyde levels, and not ALL VOCs. It will however, be significantly cheaper than getting a comprehensive test done by a professional.
Since formaldehyde is THE most common VOC indoors, it does make sense to do an initial preliminary test for formaldehyde first.
How To Remove Formaldehyde And Other VOCs From Your RV
Sit it out in the sun
VOC off-gassing can continue on for several months and even years, however, the rate of off-gassing increases with an increase in humidity and temperature.
A lot of people online have shared that when they buy new RVs they just sit the RV out in the sun for a couple of weeks so that the off-gassing rate increases. They also ensure the RV is well ventilated by keeping the windows open so that the emissions don’t remain trapped inside.
Some RV owners have even mentioned that they tried cranking the heater to high and leaving the RV with the windows open to artificially increase the off-gassing rate. I don’t think it makes sense to do this though, because VOCs can continue to off-gas for a period of months and years and it would be quite hard to artificially run out that timeline with your RVs internal heating.
Get an air purifier
From my research, HEPA air purifiers are the best because they filter out the smallest particles. I found on Amazon, a RV sized HEPA filter that scrubs out VOCs . This filter is small enough to be put on board the RV and isn’t too expensive either. I'm reasonably confident that the carbon portion is key to scrubbing VOCs.
Sprinkle baking soda on carpets and rugs
Or any other furnishing/ fibre based furniture that may have a layer of finish or chemicals added that contain VOCs. Baking soda will absorb the odors, within a few hours, after which you can vaccum it away.
This won’t completely work for wood furniture though, because that contains formaldehyde within it’s layers as an adhesive. However, for any VOCs contained inside the varnishings or wood polish, baking soda would be helpful.
Spritz with some white vinegar
Lot of people recommending this online as a way to remove formaldehyde in their homes. Since vinegar has a powerful smell, you can mix ½ white vinegar and ½ water and spritz your upholstery with it.
For the hard surfaces such as your dashboard, cabinets or even the RV walls, use a sponge dipped into the vinegar solution and wipe them down.
Get some new plants
Buy the right plant and you’ll have your own, natural air purifier. Get a Boston Fern or a Peace Lily for your RV. They’re small and don’t take up a lot of space and are excellent at removing formaldehyde.
Since Peace Lily is toxic to humans, maybe keep it away from kids if they’re onboard or just go for the Fern.
Get a shower-head filter
Another often overlooked source of VOCs is your water. As an RV owner, you are going to change campgrounds often while travelling, which means you may not always know how pure your water source is.
Unless you continuously buy jars of water from Walmart, of course.
A lot of RV Travellers also prefer to fill up water supplies at gas stations which will usually offer you a free refill for your water tank if you’re getting your fuel tank filled.
Here’s the problem with that:
Most of the United States gets chlorinated tap water which is purified for drinking purposes and that’s a great thing for ensuring public water sanitation. However, there are some lesser known effects that chlorine can have on our water. Such as the formation of VOCs.
Chlorine is an oxidizing agent and if it finds organic matter in water, it converts it to VOCs or volatile organic compounds.
This is the reason that a lot of people, especially those who already have some respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis have trouble breathing during showers.
VOCs evaporate from water easily even if the water is at room temperature (volatile is in the name!) but of course, this effect is aggravated even more when when one is taking a hot shower.
Here’s what you can do about VOCs in your water:
Get a shower filter that removes chlorine. Shower filters are wonderful portable devices that you can simply attach onto your shower head or even replace your shower head with, for the purpose of removing chlorine and VOCs from your water. I’ve been very happy using one for over a year now and so, I recommend getting shower head filter from Amazon.
You can also read more about the different types of shower filters here.
Get a dehumidifier for your RV
Ah, no! That familiar musty smell!
Mold growth, while nasty to look at and even nastier to clean- emits mVOCs or microbial VOCs which have been known to cause symptoms like nausea, fatigue and headaches in some people.
One of the most common mistakes one can make is to leave the refrigerator door in the RV closed when the RV isn’t being used and is powered down. Always remember to leave it ajar if you’re shutting power to the refrigerator, otherwise there’s a good chance some mold might grow due to that internal moisture.
Since mold thrives on humidity, consider getting a dehumidifier to prevent it’s growth in the first place. Here is a low cost dehumidifier on Amazon.
That's about all you need to know about protecting yourself from VOC toxic fumes inside your RV!
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About The Author:
Shubhankar found his passion in blogging a year ago when he founded Urban Life Guide– a website about healthy living in the hustle and bustle of city life. He loves his entrepreneurial projects, and believes that life is too short to do anything else than what you love!