Does wallpaper affect indoor air quality?
Wallpaper can affect indoor air quality in several ways. Homeowners need to be aware that any new material they bring into their homes, be it new furniture, new carpeting, new appliances, even new wallpaper will emit hazardous chemical compounds knows as VOCs. These VOCs outgas from these products over time, initially at higher levels and then falling off over time.
Aside from the VOCs that new wallpaper can bring in, you should be aware that the wallpaper that you currently have in your home can be hiding mold and other fungi as well. Older wallpaper can start to break down and release tiny particles into the air that are easily inhaled into the lungs. All of these things can lead to poor indoor air quality and potential health issues for you and your family.
Wallpaper and VOCs
Volatile organic compounds are substances that are found in most indoor air and come from many different sources. Some are brought in from the outside air, some are outgassed from products and materials in your home, and others are generated in the home by cooking and other activities.
VOCs found in wallpaper include formaldehyde and vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen.
The first thing to know about wallpaper is that new wallpaper can be as much as 4 times as bad as new carpet regarding the amount of VOCs that can be emitted from its surface. This is because of the large surface area of the walls as compared to carpeting that only covers the floor.
As with carpeting these days, manufacturers are getting the message and are starting to really embrace the movement towards low-VOC and no-VOC materials for the home. Make sure that you are reading labels and doing your homework when it comes to picking out new wallpaper for your home. Lower VOC selections are the best choice for better indoor air quality.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) wallpaper is going to generate a considerable amount of VOCs. Look for non-toxic brands with green certifications and avoid PVC wallpaper if possible.
One more thing, if you are using a wallpaper that requires a separate glue, make sure that it is low-VOC as well.
Wallpaper and Mold Growth
Loose wallpaper can harbor mold and mildews, particularly in rooms that tend to be higher in moisture levels. This is one reason I tend to not recommend wallpaper in bathrooms. Aside from the potential for mold growth, the high humidity of these rooms will cause the glue to start to break down over time leading to loose wallpaper. Eventually, the wallpaper will start to peel off of the wall.
Being able to see mold is the one major factor is controlling it. Most mold in homes is never seen and, left unchecked, can cause health problems from chronic exposure to mold spores.
Wallpaper that is not fully secured to the wall creates areas between itself and the wall where mold can live and thrive. If you have wallpaper in your home that is starting to peel or has loose spots, it is time to replace it before mold gets a chance to start growing.
For bathrooms, pull out the old wallpaper and go back with paint, or porcelain tiles. Wallpaper is great for other rooms in your home, the bathroom is not one of them. Keeping wallpaper to a minimum in the kitchen area is also a wise decision.
Wallpaper and Fine Particulate Matter
Wallpaper is notorious for collecting dust and other types of particulate matter. These particles can easily be dislodged and returned to the air. Cleaning some types of wallpaper is practically impossible, this these contaminates build up over time.
Smoke and smog particulate are very tiny particles and easily stick to wallpaper surfaces. Any disruption, including the slightest air movement, can cause these hazardous materials to become airborne again where they can be breathed into the body.
When replacing wallpaper, it is a good idea to ensure that it can be cleaned with getting damaged.
Wallpaper that was put up prior to the early 1980’s can pose yet another danger, asbestos. If your home has vinyl wallpaper that old, it may contain asbestos and it is best left alone. Check with a professional if you are not sure and if there are tears and rips in this wallpaper. If there are, you may be getting exposed to asbestos and not even realize it.
Other Hazardous Substances Associated With Wallpaper
Phthalate plasticizers – This material is added to PVC to make it more pliable, a desirable trait with wallpaper. Phthalates can be released from the wallpaper and find its way into our air. Some are known carcinogens and have been known to aggravate asthma as well as cause other respiratory diseases, affect reproductive system, and could be responsible for nervous system disorders also.
Heavy Metals – Lead, cadmium, and antimony have all been found in wallpapers. Of particular concern are imported and older wallpapers which could contain dangerous levels of these toxic metals.
Fire retardants – Wallpaper is inherently flammable because of its high plastic content. The chemical compound Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, is used in wallpaper coverings as a flame retardant. Chronic exposure to this toxic substance in your body can lead to a number of health issues including thyroid disruption, nervous system problems, reproductive problems, and it has been listed as possibly causing cancers.
Biocides – Wallpaper and wall covering adhesives can contain biocides used to prevent mold and other microbes from growing. These toxic substances, by their very nature, are designed to kill organisms and this may have some undesired side effects for humans.
As a homeowner, you must decide if your wallpaper presents a threat to the overall quality of your home’s air. Serious health issues have been the result of exposure to some types of wallpaper and the toxic substances that they can contain.
If you choose to replace wallpapers, go with PVC (vinyl) free plastic coverings whenever possible. It is best to select those with no flame retardants or antimicrobial treatments (biocides).
Wallpapers are not recommended for moist areas of your home such as bathrooms and, to a lesser degree, the kitchen. Replace torn, peeling, or lose wallpaper to prevent mold growth and the release of other potentially harmful particulate matter such as fine particles, VOCs, smoke particulates, and asbestos.