During Creative Nonfiction class at Victoria University (VU) with the wonderfully inclusive teacher and writer, Michelle Fincke, one of our assignments was to write for something for Weekend Notes. We learnt about writing listicles and blog posts (Like, short articles, which, for a verbose writer, and rarely a concise one, was a challenge!) and we practised writing news articles. One of the examples up on the board was a Weekend Notes article called:’Six Uses for Aluminium Foil’; now as my readers know, I can tell you a lot about uses for aluminium foil! However, on that day in the classroom, the air being uncontaminated by fragrance, petrochemical and solvents from personal care products, the HEPA air filter supplied by Vic Uni’s Disability Services was blowing filtered air, and I, without the mask impeding on conversation, put up my hand to say, “I could write that article even better; I have a heap of uses for aluminium foil.”. I wasn’t joking, for I was sitting on a piece that had been carefully laid across my chair before sitting down for class.
I’d already let it slip, during a previous conversation with my teacher, that I live in a house where the floor is covered in aluminium foil and we all need to wear socks so as to delay ripping it and having to change it so often, so I knew she was in on my self-depreciating joke trying to burst the bubble on my illness. We then spoke about how, yes, indeed I did have a lot of inside knowledge on the use of foil, but if I were to write about it in listicle form, then the uses would need to be audience appropriate. (The example used that day was about uses for the average consumer not
yet effected by chemicals.) So, without further ado, here are my top ten uses for foil for the average chemically sensitive consumer:
- Chairs: Not only can it be used on public chairs (like the one above) that are ordinarily, but also wrongly, sat on by people wearing clothes washed, dried or sprayed with products containing fragrance, solvents and petrochemicals, but it can also be used over car seats to protect your clothes from petrochemical fumes embedded in the fabric/leather (How many times have you got out of a car, gone inside to shower and change clothes, then came back to your clothes later and found your clothes reek of engine oil/fragrance chemicals? How long did it take for you to recover this time after going out? Try the foil trick, you may recover faster next time and save yourself a set of clothing.) And you could also use it to cover a dentist’s chair.
- Floors: Have you seen those newspaper articles where they wonderfully sensationalise the stories of people who are chemically sensitive? You know the ones where they show everything wrapped in foil including the area that houses the kitchen sink? Hey, it’s not so sensationalistic. Wake up, come to my house; it’s reality: my whole floor is covered in heavy duty aluminium foil (I have more photos, and I’ll post about my new improved floor-covering technique next). My rental property has pine floors, and even though they are really old (surely old enough to have outgassed?), they release fumes that impact on my health. On days were the weather is warm, it’s blatantly obvious that the previous tenants were smokers and that the floor’s been cleaned with fragrance-based cleaners and it releases terpenes from the pine floorboards. My eyes sting and burn and I get a headache. As soon as the temperature goes over 22 Celsius I have to put the air-conditioning on so as to calm my symptoms or avoid them all together. But it’s the foil that’s really helped. This is a quick-fix solution for a rental property. (The ideal remedy, but often not possible, would be to have tiles laid; or concrete polished with low VOC sealers.) (Additionally, if you have carpet to deal with, due to the amount of VOCs emitted by the materials and glues, and possibly by any cleaning agents used, this may not work at keeping in the VOCs for very long.)
- Steering Wheels: Yes, I used foil tape (over other materials to protect the leather from the adhesive) on my car’s steering wheel because of the fragrance left over from the previous owner. (Foil can be reflective so if it’s put near the sun it needs to be covered with something else to protect your eyes from the harsh glare.) My only other choice to fix the fragrance-emanating-from-the-steering-wheel problem was to buy a new one; and, due to the cost, it just wasn’t an option.
- Money: I keep foil in my purse so I can wrap money in it. I don’t even sniff it, or get anyone else to sniff for me anymore, I just assume it has fragrance on it and fold it between the foil so that it doesn’t embed in my purse. I learned this trick from other people who have this same problem. (Don’t leave home without it!)
- Shopping: My partner does all our shopping but if I’m in the car we always keep a roll of foil spare so we can wrap or cover anything that’s come from a shop that sells fragranced-based cleaning products. This way fumes are not released into the cabin space; it doesn’t take long for a warm car to become extremely uncomfortable for someone sensitive to chemical irritants. (Again, don’t leave home without it.)
- Incremental Uses: Foil can be great to use in an emergency for when you just don’t have a solution to chemicals outgassing into your immediate breathing space. My treadmill has plastic housing over the motor. I’m not usually sensitive to plastics but lately (like, three months now), these particular plastic fumes cause a sharp headache around the sinus area in my forehead during or after my workout. Solution: I’ve laid a piece of foil over the vent, taping it down only on the side that points in my (jogging/walking) direction. My theory: the fumes are released in the other direction and soaked up by my Austin Air Purifier. (Tip: Buy foil in bulk.)
- Food: Yes, conventional use, I know. However, convention also suggests we use plastic cling wrap to seal in freshness. In chemically sensitive circles, due to phthalates in plastics, it’s de’ rigueur to use foil! (Get with the status quo.)
- Kitchen Cabinets: Again, we’re back to the “sensationalistic ‘Chemically Sensitive Person Must Cover Whole Kitchen in Foil Just to Make a Sandwich’ theme” again. I am being hyperbolic about it: it wasn’t the whole damn kitchen, it was just the unsealed particle board underneath the brand new kitchen cabinets that belonged to the house I rented four houses ago. (Do not try this yourself at home; get someone not—or at least less—chemically sensitive to do it for you.)
- Camping or staying in alternative accommodation: a layer of foil is the perfect—if not noisy—way to protect your clothing and bedding from a mattress that may be embedded with fragrance-chemical irritants. It can also be used to block dampness rising from the soil, if you’re sleeping outdoors.
- Building or Caravan Wrap: Yes, another conventional use, however, I must list it as a building wrap because as far as ‘renovating’ goes, I pray this will be the last use I have for using foil for any large scale projects, all just so that I can have a safe living space. Building foil (so long as you get one without paint or fire retardants on it) is a great product to use to seal in heat, lock out the cold and make your home more energy efficient. During our build (coming up), wrapping the house in foil is one of the jobs I’m scheduled to work on. And I’m actually very excited about that! (We are using Kingspan.)
Do you have conventional (in chemically sensitive circles) uses for foil?