Since wallpaper covers a lot more surface area than you think, it can have a big negative affect on your indoor air quality. Unknowingly, we buy what we think looks good rather than what’s safe. First and foremost, avoid vinyl (or PVC) wallpaper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PVC is a known human carcinogen and is considered to be so toxic that it is banned in some parts of Europe.

PVC contains volatile organic compounds or VOCs, airborne chemicals or gases like formaldehyde, zylene and toluene. Breathing these fumes especially impacts those with weakened immune systems or chemical sensitivities, asthmatics, young children and the elderly. Plus, if you use vinyl wallpaper in high-moisture areas in your home, it can create a vapor barrier that traps moisture in the wall, and encourages mold growth.

There are natural alternatives to vinyl such as paper-based wallpaper, with recycled and biodegradable being the best choices. Other natural fibers to look for include linen, cotton, silk, sisal (extracted from leaves of agave plants), cork, rice paper, grasscloth, jute (finely-split bamboo) and cellulose (wood pulp). Check the materials list before you buy because some manufacturers blend natural fibers with vinyl or PVC. Also, be aware that using traditional wallpaper paste is preferable to using self-stick wall coverings, due to the high levels of VOC content in the adhesive.

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Beth Greer, aka Super Natural Mom®, is an award-winning journalist, green holistic health educator, healthy home expert and impassioned champion of toxin-free living. She’s also a radio talk show host, and trusted consumer advocate, who is leading a movement of awareness and responsibility about healthy homes, schools and work environments. Connect with Beth on Facebook and Twitter.