VOCs and Indoor Air Quality
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are a major concern for indoor air pollution.
The EPA estimates levels of some common pollutants to be 2-5 times
higher inside homes than out. If you've ever shopped for an
purifier, you've probably heard of these chemicals. But do you know
what they are? This article is going
to tell you a little bit about VOCs: what they are, where they come
from, and how to get rid of them.
What is a VOC, anyway?
VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. The "organic" part means
they contain carbon, and "volatile" means they evaporate easily at
room temperature. VOCs are chemicals like benzene, toluene,
methylene, chloride, formaldehyde, and many others. According to the
EPA, exposure to VOCs can cause symptoms like nose and throat
discomfort, allergic skin reactions, headaches, asthma attacks, and
nausea. In high enough exposures, they can cause more serious health
Where do VOCs come from?
VOCs are found in a wide variety of household products. Just look
under the kitchen or bathroom sink and you will probably find many
substances which emit some kind of VOC. VOCs are found in products
as ubiquitous as paints, varnishes, cleaning supplies, new carpets
and furniture, fragrances and air fresheners, glues and adhesives,
disinfectants, and other sources. Now you can see why VOCs are
found in such greater concentrations inside the house.
So how can VOCs be avoided?
Obviously, VOCs cannot be removed from the home completely - they
are simply a part of modern life. However, there are several steps
you can take to reduce your exposure to safer and healthier levels.
To cut down on VOCs:
- Limit your use of air fresheners, fabric conditioners, window
cleaning fluids, sprays and aerosols, and dry cleaning.
- Avoid using pesticides inside the house.
- Look for products without fragrances or dyes, or products for
- When painting, look for paints that are labeled "low-VOC", and try
to use water-based paints and sealants.
- Don't mix
household care or cleaning products unless directed on the
- Ventilate well while using paint or paint strippers, harsh cleaners,
and anything else "smelly". Briefly throwing open a window while
using the product can keep concentrations from building up.
- If you have unused containers of these products sitting around,
throw them away - even closed containers can leak gases. Make sure
you dispose of them safely; you can check with your city or county
for household hazardous waste collection sites.
- For products you only use occasionally or seasonally, buy in a small
quantity that you will use right away.
- Let new furniture or furnishings air out for a while before bringing
them into the home, or ensure that the room they will be in is
- Removing dust can help reduce exposure, as dust is a great absorbent
for VOCs. Use a pleated filter in your furnace, or run an air
- Run an air purifier which removes VOCs like the