Why everyone should be wary of MVOCs
If you have chemical sensitivity, the chances are you’re already taking steps to reduce your exposure to chemicals. You’re probably using fragrance-free, natural toiletries and cleaning products. You may have even changed your decor to minimise the amount of fixtures ‘off-gassing’.
However, there’s one trigger that is present in almost every home, especially at this time of year. This trigger is often overlooked as a ‘separate problem’ to chemical sensitivity. Most people would never even consider this common household annoyance to be contributing to their symptoms.
This trigger is mould; more specifically, the chemicals released by mould as it grows. These Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds, also known as MVOCs, are produced by a variety of moulds, but not all.
What are MVOCs?
When the conditions are right and mould has the essential elements like humidity and light that it needs to grow, MVOCs are released as waste products. There are over 200 different types of MVOC, with examples including alcohols and terpenes.
You may already be aware of some types of ‘normal’ VOCs. Not all of these are hazardous; some in fact are perfectly natural, like the scent of a flower. However, others have been associated with diseases like cancer. Some examples of these more hazardous kinds of VOC are formaldehyde (off-gassed by items like MDF furniture) and benzene (from cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes).
What symptoms do they cause?
Exposure to MVOCs can cause unpleasant health symptoms in many people. They may affect you more severely if you have multiple chemical sensitivity. More research is needed on the health effects of MVOCs and the exposure limits. However, symptoms that people have reported in the past as a result of exposure include:
- Irritation of mucous membranes
A key indicator that you have MVOCs in your home is that musty smell you get from mould. Even if there is no visible mould, MVOCs can still be present. So if you can smell mould, you need to take action promptly to protect your health.
What can I do to reduce my exposure?
MVOCs are only produced when mould is actively growing. Therefore, by removing existing mould and inhibiting mould growth, you can help to reduce your symptoms. Here are a few tips...
1. Tackle existing mould
The first step is to identify any obvious leaks or damp in the home and get these fixed. Make sure you wear a face mask when checking basements or cellars. Mould can be rife in these areas. Get rid of any carpets or furnishings which have previously been damp, such as in bathrooms. These can harbour mould and mildew.
If you have any visible patches of mould in your home, these should be removed. Depending on the severity of your allergies and sensitivities, you can either do this yourself (wearing an efficient face mask) or consult a professional.
Don’t scrub at existing mould as this disperses spores into the air for you to inhale. Treat it by applying a natural-based solution like HomeCleanse and gently remove with a damp cloth. Alternatively, add ten drops of tea tree oil to water, shake well and spray on mouldy surfaces. Tea tree is a powerful antifungal and can help clear small areas of mould growth without harsh chemicals.
2. Monitor moisture levels
Mould requires humid conditions in which to grow. So using a humidity meter (also known as a hygrometer) is an excellent place to start. Ideally, the relative humidity (rH) of your home should be between 50 and 55%. If the rH is over 60% you should use a dehumidifier. This is advisable even if you do not have mould allergy or chemical sensitivity.
Humid conditions don’t just encourage growth of mould spores; they also cause levels of house dust mites to rise. These can cause multiple allergy symptoms of their own, including wheezing and itching eyes.
Conversely, if relative humidity is too low (below 40%) then a humidifier may be necessary. Air that is too dry can cause respiratory irritation and dry skin conditions.
Another useful tool is a home mould test kit like MouldCheck. These kits are very simple to use and will show you the results on a Petri dish. Based on the number of colonies, you can work out which measures you need to take.
Activities like drying washing on radiators and not ventilating bathrooms can cause humidity to rise.
A dehumidifier is essential if your home is too humid. Reducing humidity levels in your home will help to restrict further mould growth.
Ensure you choose an appropriate dehumidifier for the area size you want to dehumidify. Some dehumidifiers, like the Meaco Platinum models, have additional features to enhance air quality such as a HEPA filter.
Most dehumidifiers available today fall into two categories; compressor, or desiccant. Compressor dehumidifiers are the most common and work in a similar way to refrigerators. Desiccant dehumidifiers tend to be quieter and more ecological. They can operate in colder temperatures than compressors, making them ideal for boats and garages along with domestic environments. They do, however, tend to be a little pricier.
4. Maintain the right conditions
Removing obvious sources of mould and tackling humidity problems is not enough. You need to keep up an anti-mould regime for long-term mould control.
Making small lifestyle changes (such as keeping your home well ventilated and shutting the bathroom door after showering) is sensible. Ensure surfaces like sinks are kept meticulously clean and make sure these are wiped dry afterwards. Consider using an extractor fan in the bathroom and kitchen if your home is poorly ventilated (or it’s simply too cold to open the window!) The soil and leaves of house plants can also collect mould, so keep these to a minimum.
An air steriliser is an easy, low-maintenance way of removing mould spores from the air. The Radic8 air sterilisers fill the air with ‘super oxidants’ to eliminate impurities such as bacteria, viruses and of course mould spores. The Airfree air sterilisers work slightly differently, by incinerating allergens and irritants like mould spores using a patented sterilisation system.
Using gentle spray treatments such as AirCleanse and HomeCleanse is a convenient method for routine mould control. These fresh-smelling sprays use natural ingredients and essential oils to inhibit the growth of mould and other allergens. These can be used in the air or on soft furnishings, mattresses and carpets.
Tackle mould and MVOCs with these products...
Please note: Information included in this website is not to be used as a substitute for consultation with a medical practitioner.