Could Some Wrapping Paper be Unhealthy for You?

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December 20, 2017

The most rewarding moment of the holiday season is watching family and friends unwrap the gifts you’ve taken the time to choose just for them. But could the act of unwrapping gifts actually be unhealthy?

It was a question we began to ponder one day as we were getting ready for the holidays and discussing how this season can be particularly tricky when it comes to staying safe and healthy--especially with the air quality in your home.

If you’re wondering why we’re so concerned with air quality, you’re not alone–many of us believe that the air we’re breathing is healthy, safe, and won’t have much effect on us since it’s not something we can typically see. But this isn’t the case, especially for air that’s indoors. In fact, indoor air can be 5x more polluted than outdoors, which can affect allergies, asthma, productivity, and more–even our quality of sleep.

Having healthy air quality can be tricky at times because the smallest changes can have the greatest impact--we’ve noticed seemingly innocent activities such as vacuuming, cleaning, and even sleeping with the door closed have caused the air in our homes to be unhealthy.  After hearing  a few speculations over whether or not gift wrapping paper can have a negative effect on your air quality, we decided to find out for ourselves.

In the spirit of the holidays, we decided to conduct a quick experiment by wrapping and unwrapping three “gifts” (empty boxes), using standard gift wrapping paper bought from a local department store. To understand whether or not the air in the room around us was safe, we used Awair, and indoor air quality monitor that tracks toxins and chemicals in your air and gives you personalized recommendations to help you stay safe and healthy.

We watched the Awair’s display carefully as we began tearing wrapping  paper off the first gift, and after a few minutes our Awair noticed the air quality begin to decline. After about 10 minutes of wrapping and unwrapping the gifts, we decided to check the Awair app for a closer look at our air quality.

According to Awair, the air quality in our room had declined from “Good” to “Poor”--meaning our health could potentially be at risk. But why?

Our air is filled with a variety of different factors that determine how healthy it is, from dust, to carbon dioxide, to its levels of humidity, to its most underestimated ingredient–chemicals.

The type of chemicals typically found in your air are called VOC’s: volatile organic compounds. “VOC” is an umbrella term used to describe any organic chemical that evaporates easily at room temperature–and this trait is what helps make VOCs very common.

Awair has a specific sensor dedicated to tracking the levels of VOCs in the air, so we decided to take a look at the graph in the Awair app, which shows us how our chemical levels change over time:

Almost immediately after we began unwrapping, the level of chemicals in our air spiked from a healthy 89 ppb to 1,049 ppb--which is considered to be very unhealthy.

What do we mean by “unhealthy”? VOCs can sometimes come in scary packages–like Formaldehyde, Benzene, and Acetone. Once these chemicals are released in your air, they can easily travel into your lungs and, eventually, blood stream.

Short-term side effects of VOCs include headaches as well as itchy eyes, nose, throat, and skin. Too much exposure to VOCs has also been linked to eczema flare-ups, acne breakouts, hives, allergies, asthma attacks, and cancer.

So how were we able to get our levels of chemicals back down?

It’s easy--just use fresh air! Opening a window and allowing for proper circulation throughout your home is a very effective way to clean VOCs. Or, if you’d like to eliminate VOCs from your gift giving entirely, you can use one of our ideas for healthy alternatives to gift wrap.

Awair can help you keep tabs on your indoor air quality and alert you when pollution levels become unhealthy.