If you’ve shopped for paint or bought a crib or mattress or new flooring, you might have seen a UL GREENGUARD Certification Mark on the product packaging. But what does it mean, exactly, and how can it help you enjoy cleaner indoor air?
All about emissions
If a product has been GREENGUARD Certified, it has been tested and scientifically proven to have low chemical emissions, says Scott Steady, product manager for indoor air quality at UL. In other words, it’s guaranteed to give off only low levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
VOCs are carbon-based chemicals (such as formaldehyde) that easily become vapors or gases. Mattresses, flooring and even wall paints give off VOCs. They’re responsible for that new building smell and new car smell, Steady says. Inside your house you may be breathing anywhere from 50 to hundreds of different VOCs at any time.
Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “We look at the air — it’s empty space, but there are hundreds of chemicals floating around at low levels in our space. Those chemicals are in every breath,” says Steady.
A peek at the testing chambers used by GREENGUARD is eye opening. These polished stainless steel compartments — some as large as rooms — are known as dynamic environmental chambers. They are temperature and humidity controlled “so there’s no background level of VOCs,” Steady says. Inside these chambers go furniture, laptops, space heaters, humidifiers, flooring, insulation and anything else GREENGUARD tests.
“We have over 100 chambers ranging from about the size of a small oven up to a full room-size chamber for a crib or queen-size mattress,” Steady says.
As the product sits in the chamber, UL measures the emissions. “Our chemical analysts can see between zero and 200 or 300 chemicals coming out of a product.”
Some items, such as building products and furniture, sit in a chamber for two weeks. They off-gas the most chemicals on day one, and the levels decay over time, Steady says. After a few weeks, they reach a steady emissions rate.
Other items, such as electronics, stay in the chamber for only a day. “Electronics have some emissions before plug-in,” Steady says, “but they get hot as they operate. That heat generates the emissions, so we measure as they heat up.”
From start to finish, the certification process takes about one to six months, depending on the complexity of the product, says Steady. Thousands of products a year go through some sort of testing. And once an item has GREENGUARD Certification, a new version of that item is retested each year.
Products for kids’ rooms and schools
GREENGUARD Certification means the product has met industry standards for low emissions, but anything designed for a child’s room or educational setting has to meet even stricter standards, Steady says. GREENGUARD Gold Certification means products “emit even lower levels and incorporate a really low level of formaldehyde emissions specifically,” Steady says.
“Kids are more susceptible to indoor air quality problems. They breathe more per body weight, so they get a bigger dose of whatever’s in the air.”
To find certified products, go to UL’s Sustainable Product Guide to search through more than 13,000 GREENGUARD Certified items.