Proprietor’s Guide

How to be MCS Accessible

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a complex illness. There is no one standard accommodation solution that will work for all. However varying levels of preparation can be undertaken so it is easier for a person with MCS to stay.

I refer to an existing property, rather than a property built specifically suitable for an MCS sufferer. I am using my knowledge of UK builds but basic points should apply abroad. There will be variations depending on your locality.  

It is better to say that a place is MCS aware rather than suitable for an MCS sufferer. A potential guest will then know a host is approachable and has looked into lessening the property’s chemical load.  

You may find you can make more changes in some areas than others. Requirements will differ from person to person. With information a sufferer can decide whether they can cope.  

The following is a working guide which I will update over time:

MCS Awareness Guide

1. Approachability, Understanding

2. Ventilation, Air Purifiers, AC

3. Cleaning, Laundry Products

4. Toiletries, Air Fresheners, Candles

5. Paints, Flooring, Furnishings

6. Welcome Food & Drink, Organic / Free-From, Deliveries

7. House Design, Building Materials

8. Outdoor Air Quality, Surrounding Environment

(Info) = Collate property information

(Basic) = Basic MCS preparations

(Advanced) = Advanced MCS preparations

1. Approachability, Understanding 

  • (Basic) Clear two-way communications help. Prior to booking a sufferer needs to ask questions about the property, cleaning and washing products, DIY materials etc. It is important a host is willing to give (or find out) honest and thorough answers.
  •  (Info) Start to collate information on your property for enquiries.

2. Ventilation, Air Purifiers, AC 

  •  (Info) A well ventilated property is key. Make a note of how your building is ventilated – natural and / or mechanical ventilation, air conditioning (AC) in warmer climates. Older properties tend to have more draughts and can have a better air flow than modern buildings constructed to conserve energy.
  •  A good air flow is needed so rooms can be aired prior to and during a visit. Also so any outgassing* and / or chemicals from previous guests can be easily eliminated.  
  •  (Advanced) If air flow is poor, invest in fans and a small portable air purifier (one that deals with chemicals) for a guest to use in which ever room they wish. Healthy House (Air Purifiers) has a good range. 
  •  (Info) A damp free indoor environment is essential as mould is problematic. Note if a property suffers with damp / condensation. Also if and when any damp treatments applied.
  •  (Basic) Airing the property as much as possible beforehand helps. Small bowls of bicarbonate of soda in room corners may aid odour absorption. 
  •  (Info) Avoid pesticides and fumigants (I know some climates need to use them). When unavoidable, regularly ventilate and be honest with a prospective guest what has been done and when. Or you may be able to find a natural pest control method.

3. Cleaning, Laundry Products 

  •  Product suitability varies from person to person. Some Eco brands on the market can be acceptable. However, not all products within a range are safe for sufferers. (e.g. I find the majority of Ecover products suitable but their recent Washing Gel is problematic for me).
  •  (Basic) Unscented washing powders / liquids can be best. There are a number on the market. Healthy House (Laundry) has a few, plus Ecover’s Zero Range. Natural scented products can vary in suitability, but definitely avoid parfum. 
  • A sufferer may suggest sending you a packet of their preferred washing product to use for their visit.
  •  (Basic) Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals. It is best to use Eco products where possible. Some guests may request cleaning using only water and natural kitchen staples (vinegar, bicarbonate of soda etc) for their visit.
  •  (Basic) Investigate allergy friendly ways of cleaning floors and upholstery. Steaming is safe for sufferers and is anti-bacterial and non-chemical. When chemicals are required, make a note of when, where and what.
  •  (Advanced) It helps to switch completely to using MCS acceptable cleaning and laundry solutions where possible. As residue from previous cleans and washes can often adversely affect a sufferer. However, it can work for some guests if suitable cleaning and washing products are used for their visit only. 
  • Some sufferers may bring their own bed linen. It depends on their level of MCS.

4. Toiletries, Candles, Air Fresheners 

  •  (Basic) Use unscented candles (Advanced) and 100% beeswax or soy candles which are non petroleum based.
  •  (Basic) Remove all chemical air fresheners or sprays and pot pourri for a stay. Some essential oils can be okay for some sufferers but not others. Best to check beforehand.

5. Paints, Flooring, Furnishings

  •  (Info) If a property has been decorated, had DIY or refurbishment, note what was done and when. Chemicals can outgas for up to a year (it can be a longer or shorter time). If a property is well ventilated outgassing can occur faster.
  •  The amount of time needed before sufferers can visit after DIY can vary from person to person. But the minimum is a few months (less with Eco paints).
  •  (Advanced) Be mindful of materials used in paints, decorating and furnishings – use low VOC, Eco, natural products where possible. When chemicals are used, ventilate daily until outgassing is eliminated.
  •  I understand the best flooring to have for MCS is tiling, stone or concrete as there are no glues, stain or fire retardants. Natural wood can also be a safer option.  
  •  (Info) Difficulties are with laminates, engineered woods and synthetic carpets. From chemicals (formaldehyde etc) in the flooring or glues, fire retardants, pesticide and stain remover treatments. Where these floorings are used, note when it was installed and how well ventilated since.
  •  (Info) New furniture (mainly mdf, chipboard, plastics) and upholstery can be problematic due to the same treatments above. A period of outgassing is necessary before a sufferer can visit. So take note of when and where any new furniture was last installed. Natural materials like wood cotton and wool are safer. Or secondhand furniture.

6. Welcome Food & Drink, Organic / Free-From, Deliveries

  •  Many sufferers have food intolerances or allergies. (eg. for years I had a wheat intolerance. Although I can be less strict now I still need to follow mainly a wheat free diet). Other sufferers need to be completely strict with their diet. Intolerances can include: dairy, gluten, wheat.
  •  (Basic) Clarify beforehand if a guest has any food intolerances and source alternatives where able. It makes a difference if a sufferer can join in with any welcome food / drink.
  •  (Info) A note of nearby organic or free-from food sources is helpful. Again sufferers often eat organic to avoid pesticides. Also if any supermarkets  / farms do home deliveries.

7. House Design, Building Materials 

  •  (Info) What type of building do you have ? An older renovated building or newer build? If recently renovated or built, outgassing from building materials can be an issue. Collating information about what was used and when helps.
  •  Some sufferers may struggle in self contained flats with front windows only, as air flow can be more restricted. But it depends on access to the back of the flat (i.e. a door at the back may open outside, or enough air flow may enter through a front balcony door, or the flat may be part of a larger home which has windows all the way around). 
  •  If it is a multi occupational building (i.e. individual flats) others use of extract fans, gas or fire appliances, smoking and washing powders cannot be regulated. Also if a ventilation system is shared, smells can circulate between homes. This can be difficult for sufferers.
  • (Info) Note where extract ducts are situated. It is best if they are away from windows in sitting or sleeping areas.

8. Outdoor Air, Surrounding Environment 

  • (Info) What is your outdoor air quality? Any significant pollution? Are you near a busy road? Or farmland where chemical pesticides are used? Or works emitting smoke, chemicals or dust? Is the area prone to seasonal smog? Also, good air quality is worth stressing. I know outdoor air quality is not within your control but having information to hand is helpful.
  •  (Basic) A no smoking policy inside a property is essential. UK laws are strict with this but I am aware it varies abroad.

*Outgassing = when chemicals release from new building materials, furnishings, floorings, paints, DIY etc. Occurs over a period of time: anything from 3 months to years, depending on product type and ventilation.

Article Links

EI Resource: The Housing Challenge In Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Dr Myhill: Moving House: Things To Look For If You Suffer From MCS

MCS Aware: An Allergy Free Bedroom

Websites / Forums

EI Resource (Chemical Sensitivity Forum under Support)

MCS Aware (Chemical Sensitivity Forum under Forum)

Allergy UK: Chemical Sensitivity Forum

USA

Fragrance Stinks