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Chemicals play a bigger part in interior design than perhaps we realise. Chemicals are found in many of the items that you will use in redecorating and refurbishing and many can have  a significant impact upon your health and the earth.

This page is is intended to offer you some information about the types of materials that may use potentially harmful chemicals.
Much of the information on this page is sourced from other websites. Whilst I believe them all to be highly reputable please be aware that you must make your own research and judgements as to its accuracy and relevance to your queries. Legislation and scientific research continues to address these issues and much more can be found on the internet.

Topics covered:

Vinyl flooring

Vinyl actually became popular as a substitute for linoleum . Natural linoleum sales have steadily increased over recent years, but vinyl remains a popular choice.
The primary reason vinyl has come under fire by those concerned about indoor air quality (IAQ) is its outgassing characteristics.

Vinyl is made from petrochemicals, particularly plasticizers. which give the floor its flexibility. A number of chemicals, or VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are out-gassed by
these floors.

Some VOCs can cause respiratory symptoms and difficulties, as well as eye irritation. Indeed, some of the side effects are similar to formaldehyde exposure. If the vinyl is placed using an adhesive, often that will contain formaldehyde as well as other chemicals.

VOCs (chemical exposure) has been linked to asthma and allergies and some of those chemicals are carcinogenic (may cause cancer).
Children are the most vulnerable as they breathe more air for their size than do adults. Also, children live and play much closer to the ground (the floor).

There are several types of vinyl used for flooring. There are some differences, so we'll look at each individually.

Vinyl Sheet Flooring

Sheet vinyl floor is probably the biggest seller of them all. It is also the most flexible, which means the amount of VOCs or plasticizers, is higher in this product.
It is quite economical and comes in an enormous number of designs. Often, it will mimic the look of tile, marble, brick, wood or stone.

Vinyl Floor Tiles

Vinyl floor tiles are thicker, and thus less prone to the amount of outgassing that the lower end sheet vinyl gives off. Often mimicking a ceramic style of tile, vinyl flooring tiles are not too difficult to install, but need a bit more careful cutting than simply the sheet type.

Self Stick Vinyl Tiles

Self stick vinyl tiles have the adhesive already attached so they can be merely "stuck" onto the floor or sub floor wherever you like. The adhesive on these tiles doesn't tend to be as odorous as an adhesive placed on-site.
If you plan to use sheet vinyl or tiles, look for a low-tox adhesive.

Making Vinyl Less Toxic?

Some people have been able to tolerate vinyl by allowing it to outgas for several weeks or months in a garage or unused room in the house. This way, the strongest outgassing can take place in unoccupied areas.
Another idea is to consider purchasing vinyl in a remnant form - this works especially well for smaller rooms. Most likely, the remnant has been in the outlet store for some time, and may have a less strong odor by the time it is purchased.

Can vinyl be considered a green product?

Considering the fact that this flooring is seldom recycled (usually ends up in landfills) and has toxic components, it is not especially eco-friendly. You may be surprised to discover that some of the more natural flooring products are much more price-competitive than they used to be.

Also, keep in mind that tile, stone, linoleum and hardwood can be expected to have a much longer life than vinyl flooring.

Information from


Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is a manufactured wood product used in a variety of industries. The manufacturing process includes some chemicals which may be hazardous to humans, leading to concerns about the health risks of MDF. There are two primary health risks of MDF: exposure to the chemicals used to make it, and wood dust. By being aware of the potential health risks of MDF, people can protect themselves when they work with it.

To make MDF, a company shreds wood, softens it, and turns it into a fine powder. The powder is combined with resins and other bonding agents and compacted into solid boards. A number of different woods can be used to make MDF, and the material is also sometimes treated to be fire, water, or stain resistant. Many lumberyards sell varying types and widths of MDF for an assortment of uses.

Toxic chemicals are one of the major health risks of MDF. The chemical of most concern is formaldehyde, which can aggravate asthma and other lung conditions, irritate mucous membranes, and cause contact dermatitis. Studies on formaldehyde also suggest that it is a likely carcinogen, and it should be generally avoided. During the manufacturing process, personnel should protect themselves with respirators and adequate clothing. When cutting or working with MDF, nose, mouth, and eye protection should be worn. Finished MDF may also offgas, raising concerns about its use in the home. MDF should never be burned except in adequately ventilated facilities.

Information from

Fire Retardants

Toxic chemicals used as flame retardants are rapidly building up in the bodies of people and wildlife around the world, approaching levels in American women and their babies that could harm developing brains, new research shows.

The chemicals, PBDE's, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are used to reduce the spread of fire in an array of plastic and foam products in homes and offices, including mattresses, bedding, upholstered furniture, building materials, televisions, computers and other electronic equipment.

This year, the European Union banned the two PBDE compounds that have been shown to accumulate in human bodies. Some European industries had already begun to phase out the chemicals, and levels in the breast milk of European women have begun to decline.

Information from
Information from the Environment Agency syas that PBDEs were identified as priority substances for risk assessment under the Council Regulation EEC 793/93 of 23rd March 1993. Following the completion of the PeBDE risk assessment in 2000 and its subsequent review, the Commission is now in the process of banning both the use of PeBDE and placing it on the market as a chemical or additive in products.

Perfluorinated chemicals

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are a family of fluorine-containing chemicals with unique properties to make materials stain and stick resistant. PFCs are incredibly resistant to breakdown and are turning up in unexpected places around the world. Although these chemicals have been used since the 1950s in countless familiar products, they’ve been subjected to little government testing.These are used in the manufacture of non-stick pans and stain resistant treatments for carpets and clothing.

There are many forms of PFCs, but the two getting attention recently are:

PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, used to make Teflon products.
PFOS or perfluorooctane sulfonate, a breakdown product of chemicals formerly used to make Scotchgard products.

PFCs are used in wide array of consumer products and food packaging.

  • Grease-resistant food packaging and paper products, such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes, contain PFCs.
  • PFOS was used until 2002 in the manufacture of 3M's Scotchgard treatment, used on carpet, furniture, and clothing.
  • PFOA is used to make DuPont's Teflon product, famous for its use in non-stick cookware.  If Teflon-coated pans are overheated, PFOA is released.
  • PFCs are in cleaning and personal-care products like shampoo, dental floss, and denture cleaners.
  • Even Gore-Tex clothing, beloved in the Northwest for its ability to shed water, contains PFCs.

How can I reduce my exposure?

Avoid purchasing or, at a minimum, limit use of products containing PFCs.

Avoid stain-resistance treatments. Choose furniture and carpets that aren’t marketed as “stain-resistant,” and don’t apply finishing treatments such as Stainmaster to these or other items. Where possible, choose alternatives to clothing that has been treated for water or stain resistance, such as outerwear and sportswear. Other products that may be treated include shoes, luggage, and camping and sporting equipment.

Check your personal-care products. Avoid personal-care products made with Teflon or containing ingredients that include the words ”fluoro” or ”perfluoro.” PFCs can be found in dental floss and a variety of cosmetics, including nail polish, facial moisturizers, and eye make-up.

Avoid Teflon® or non-stick cookware. If you choose to continue using non-stick cookware, be very careful not to let it heat to above 450ºF. Do not leave non-stick cookware unattended on the stove, or use non-stick cookware in hot ovens or grills. Discard products if non-stick coatings show signs of deterioration.

Information taken from

More information can be found at