10 Uses for Foil

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.

My Trusty Heavy Duty Foil used to protect my clothes from fragrance chemical residue and/or fabric softeners

My Trusty Heavy Duty Foil Over a Chair Trick!

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:

  1. 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.
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  2. 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.)

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  1. 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.
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  2. 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!)
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  3. 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.)
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  4. 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.)
  1. 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.)
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  2. 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.)
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  3. 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.
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  4. 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?

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

How to Seal a Room With Foil

If you, or someone you know, could do with a safe room, then try this: buy a roll of foil from a plumbing shop, your local hardware, or order it from a company that specialises in this type of product. Use it to seal the floors, the walls, even the furniture. Building wrap, designed to stop vapours, is what you are looking for. Brands in AUS include: Vapastop, and Kingspan; In Europe: Pure Aluminium Barrier Foil; and in the US: Dennyfoil 245. (I’m sure there are some more trusted brands that myself, and my readers, would love to know about, so be a Gem and leave your suggestions in the comments below, and I can then update this post to include them.)

 

Important: The types that don’t have an insulating blanket attached to the outside are imperative for this project, because the blankets are treated with fire retardants (aka: the asbestos of our time!)—we want just foil for this project.

When looking for heavy duty foil, another unsuitable product people may find is a type of builders’ foil; it has blue paint on one side, and foil on the other: the blue paint is solvent based. So, know this: most people who’re sensitive to chemicals won’t tolerate this well. For me, trying this product was a disaster: when I moved into my first specially chosen rental property in Portsea. There was a brand new kitchen and it was a huge problem for me. I couldn’t stand over the kitchen counter without experiencing breathing problems and headaches, which was terrible as I had a seven-year-old to cook for. So, at my Immunologists suggestion, I had a friend seal the underside, exposed parts with builder’s wrap. It was the only heavy duty foil to be found at Bunnings. This affected my eyes and nose, burning them when breathing the fumes in (even though the painted part was face-down against the chipboard). That’s when I found Vapastop, it’s just foil with nylon webbing on the inside, giving it that heavy duty-ness that is needed in high traffic areas. (Builders’ foil can be used to seal chemically vaporous areas where tiles are to be laid; this is a good option if you want to seal in the chemical residues left over from carpet that has been pulled up, or something else acting as an irritant to the occupant.)

aluminum-foil-708244_640

(I’ve used this for many things, even wrapped a mattress or two in it (DON’T DO IT before reading this post.). This foil is so handy for us chemically sensitive Aussies, that there is even a woman who used it to wrap the plaster cast on her broken arm so as to put a stop the chemicals emitting from the plaster that were making her ill.

You know that silver accessories have been in fashion for a while now, don’t you?

Vapastop is perfect for small jobs, or anything that is soft and needs a bit of flex or has corners that need covering: furniture, chipboard, anything that outgasses fumes. (Just remember, anything that’s got a fabric component needs to breathe, or it may go mouldy: a la mattresses! So it’s a temporary measure.)

Most recently though, in this house of mouldy horrors, I’ve used Kingspan to seal the floors in two bedrooms. One was the room where the concrete slab was drawing in water from the gardens outside; therefore creating dampness, and inviting it’s best buddy in with it: mould. (In this house, every time it rains I can smell an earthy smell, my breathing is affected and it’s just plain rotten around here, and all my plans—writing, working, living, cooking—turn into uneventful mush made from pain, irritation, sadness and frustration.)  The other was in a room where new floorboards—not real wood, but fake wood, the chipboard kind—have been laid. The door had been kept closed over the last summer we had, with the window open also—so as to outgass them—but they were still a problem. (In case you don’t know chipboard contains glues made from formaldehyde, and these take years to outgass. (For those who are new to reading this blog and/or reading about chemical sensitivities, outgassing is the process where a  substance, material or product—say a new kitchen, or couch (even fresh paint or mould)—releases vapours into the surrounding air. These are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and when too many of them build up inside an inclosed space, they can cause the occupant(s) health problems such as headaches, asthma and/or chemical sensitivities (or MCS as it is also known as). For a person sensitive to those chemicals they can cause or worsen serious health problems. And that’s what happened to me.) So I did what I’m good at: smothered the pain causing area with foil!

The Kingspan foil is made by a company who specialise in building wraps for ecological buildings. And, even though it has its own blanket made from polyethylene, this is sealed in between two pieces of heavy duty aluminium foil. It comes in a roll, and needs to be cut by someone who is not sensitive to chemicals, or if you are chemically sensitive, wear a mask just in case. It comes in two thicknesses: 6.5 and 8 mm. Both of these rolls are 1350 mm x 22.25 m. Kingspan are transparent about what goes into their products—all their Material and Safety Data Sheets are available online, here. And I’ve spoken to them, and they even recommended the best product to use: Insulbreak! Aircell has tiny holes in so that houses can breathe, so it’s not a good choice for this job. One of the reps even dropped some samples around to me. How kind was that?

(Just so you know, when you’re ringing around, trying to find a company that sells a particular product that is suitable to seal in chemicals created by certain other companies who manufacture certain other products that release these chemicals, some people can try to treat you like a Right-Royal-Weirdo, but DO NOT listen to them, just keep searching; then you will find an environmentally sustainable company (like Kingspan) who also care about *sustaining humans* and their health, as well as our magnificent Earth! And this company will know exactly what you are talking about, and they will understand exactly why you want to do this. And they will help you… )

 

You’ll also need a roll of foil tape. Here’s some available in AUS, some in Germany, and some in the US.  Another dynamically useful product that I’ll share with you! You’ll either need a pair of gloves, or to be extra careful: the tape has sharp edges that cut similar to a paper-cut but much deeper.

 

(Note: if you are a renter, and/or you don’t want to create any damage, then you also need a roll of painter’s masking tape to stick under any areas where you will stick the foil tape: it leaves behind an unsightly glue residue. The masking tape does not, so this will protect any areas where you want them to be left clean when it’s time to remove this temporary ‘renovation’.)

Follow these steps (or create your own from this template):

Measure the area and make sure you have enough materials.

Clean the area, and let it dry. The concrete floor that was sealed here, never got to dry, because the nature of this concrete is that it’s not sealed correctly around the edges of the slab: shoddy workmanship. Through research, I’ve found that a slab needs to be sealed correctly or it creates honeycomb like pockets, which draw in moisture. And this process will happen:

Natural soluble mineral salts are commonly found in soil. When rising damp occurs, nitrates, chlorides and efflorescent salts migrate through the masonry in solution and accumulate on the wall surface as a white powder.

These salts are hygroscopic and attract moisture from the atmosphere, particularly during periods of high humidity, and give the effect of persistent dampness and associated damp smells.

(Source)

The same thing has happened here:

Oh, so it’s not really fairy dust… It’s salt of the Earth

But come winter, autumn and summer rains, there is this:

And then came the rain. Again. And again…

(An eco-builder said the best solution would be for the landlord to have the gardens dug out, away from around the house, and then have tar poured into place against the edge of the slab. That’s a great idea; however, only if I’m not renting, and living here. (It was at my request that the carpet in this room was pulled up. Can anyone imagine what would happen to the carpet if left on top of this? Answer: more mould. Even a person without sensitivities to chemicals can be made ill by living around this.) There are other solutions to the problem. A temporary one was to paint the floor with concrete sealer, and then lay flooring over the top. Still not ideal, as it doesn’t solve the dampness, and the paint may peel. And can’t it be done unless the floor is dry. And, if solvent based paints are to be used, I can’t be living here, or have any of my belongings in the house because solvents are the number one chemical that I need to avoid. When I recovered, a few years back, this was the only chemical left that effected me.)

Next step: the damp patch was sealed with foil adhesive tape. (I know, from a building-biology type of perspective, it’s so wrong! Theoretically, this should cause the dampness to rise up the wall, if it hasn’t already. Nothing would surprise me with this house.) And, I had the owner’s permission to do this; it’s only a temporary measure!

A Building Biologist’s Nightmare

Note: don’t forget that the adhesive on this tape really sticks and it leaves that yucky-gummy residue behind that’s always a pain under the nails to scrape off, so you don’t want to put it someplace where it needs to be removed later and still look clean and nice. (Especially if you are renting.) Put painters masking tape over the surface first, then put the foil tape over that. (Painter’s tape is designed not to leave yucky gunk behind, or pull off paint and other surface coatings when it is removed. That’s why painters use it around windows and mirrors.)

Next: (This step is optional) Lay a down a layer of foil underlay with the foil side facing down (we used one from here, called Lamilay). The foam on the top is a type of plastic foam: polyurethane, which is also treated with an antibacterial and anti-fungal. I didn’t worry about this at all; as you can see, it’s about to be sealed in. And I had a mask on, of course! This product is designed to stop moulds from affecting the floorboards, which are supposed to go over the top of it. This was done so that the landlord of the property can lay floorboards straight over the top when I move out (chipboard floorboards! *Nice*.).

Next step: cut the Insulbreak to fit. A Stanley knife will be handy at this point. Then, tape it in place using the foil tape, while being careful not to cut your fingers on the edges if it.

Remember, covering anything with foil is usually a temporary solution. Foil wears away; it flakes off and it tears. Just ask my dog about that.

The good things is: you can slap another piece of foil tape over the top of any tears. (I know, it’s a weird life!)

Warning: don't let dogs do 360's on the floor, or you will need to do this!

Warning: don’t let dogs do 360’s on the floor, or you will need to do this!

Another thing I like: it’s actually really soft to walk on, and it reminds me of what it’s like to have carpet: it’s warm; my feet are comfortable touching it in winter; and it’s not achingly stone cold, like tiles can be (just for breathing difficulties, I’d still prefer tiles any day!).

Update 12 Feb 2013 (9 months later)

Know this: it all turned to shit little pieces of foil, flaking about my house. Everywhere. This is awful for a person who bases the order of their world on the tidiness of their house! But, for future reference, I’d love to know how other people have dealt with having foil on the floor while still using it to walk on it. Please share your ideas with us… on the use of foil, or anything really.

Useful options I can think of:
  • A wool, jute or cotton rug(s) over the top (I did buy a large wool rug, which–nine months later–is still outside airing);
  • Tyvek? This could be slippery though

And that’s as far as my imagination could stretch. If I were to stay living in this house, I’d probably just layer another layer of Kingspan Insulbreak over the top. Kind of like an insane version of floor lasagne, which instead of it being a lasagne that gets eaten, it’s actually a specially-self-designed-floor that stops my health from being swallowed up whole by the Toxic Mould Goblin, himself! So yeh, it’s a lasagne for a goblin! Made with foil.

My Big News

And, here’s my big news: I’ve moved out. Not officially, I’m still doing a mould decontamination protocol of all my stuff, but I have found, signed the lease, and taken the keys, for a property near the sea! Hooray for me. See, there is something good about mould after mould after mould exposure. Who woulda thunk? I will blog more about this miraculous journey that I’m on, but know this: I’m on my way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities. Now I can officially say goodbye to 2012; and finally, I can leave the hell of it all behind.

Peering back through my retrospectorscope at the foil renovation situation, I can now see that it was an awesome, if not such a weird thing to do. It stopped the damp coming up through the concrete when it rained (but it didn’t stop it coming from the roof, or the laundry, or from out in the closed in driveway/slash fernery), so the room where I kept my clothes had no visible mould growing in it during the last nine months of my stay. Before that, it was on the windows and the walls.

Also, through the retrospectorscope: it was a great thing for my landlord, now he is free to do what he wants, which is lay down floating floor boards to match the rest of the house. (I’ve blogged before about how these are made from compressed wood, sealed with glue that contains formaldehyde and monkey knows what else!) If I had my way, it would have been tiles! A sure thing for anyone sensitive to chemicals cause those tiles will surely put out!

So long as your landlord/real estate agent agrees, this is a win/win awesome, yet temporary resolution for any area that’s outgassing chemicals that are effecting someone’s health. More on this solution from renowned environmental sensitivity expert Pamela Reed Gibson:

“The person should inquire about the pesticide history of a potential home by questioning the landlords, builders, or neighbors. Formaldehyde impregnated building materials such as particle board emit considerable formaldehyde particularly in their first year and continue to outgas for ten or more years. Better construction materials include exterior grade plywood, as it contains a lesser amount and a less toxic type of formaldehyde (phenol formaldehyde rather than urea formaldehyde). Interior grade plywood may outgas formaldehyde as much as the particleboard. Cupboards and other visible particleboard products can be sealed with less toxic products designed to prevent outgassing of fumes. However, people who have tried this suggest that it might be safer to simply replace particleboard or other composite board cupboards with old-fashioned metal or glass shelves and cupboards or to cover the particleboard with aluminum or steel foil, whatever is tolerated best.”

You can read more about Understanding and Accommodating People with MCS, here

More information on mould
Australia

Mould Fact Sheet

The US

Mould Myths

Allegictolifemybattle: a mold surviver’s blog

New York City Department of Health and Hygiene 

Europe

WHO/Europe: Biological Indoor Air Pollutant – Dampness and Mould

More Information of Formaldehyde

Doctor Jekyll and Mr Formaldehyde 

~

Posts coming up next:

My Hammock Review ~ and sleeping in the great outdoors…

Video Vlog: Nasal Filters

How to Find a Suitable Rental Property

Healing the Gut II

And: Acceptance of My Wonderful, Gratefully Received Blog Awards :) 

Michellina Van Loder is a Professional Writer, Journalist and Blogger. This is where she shares her tales about trail blazing her way out of the Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities and Mould. This is also where you will find the latest Research on related topics.

Information, products and views presented by guest bloggers @The Labyrinth are not necessarily the same as those held by this blog's author, Michellina van Loder. Reviews are my own personal opinions (unless stated otherwise); and satire is used throughout personal posts. Any health topics discussed are not to be taken as medical advice. Seek out medical attention if needed and do your own research; however, you're welcome to use mine as a start.
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