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How to Avoid VOCs in Your Home

Are VOCs lurking in your home? You actually use products containing VOCs more often than you think.


What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds that easily become gases or vapors from products or processes. VOCs react with other gases to form other air pollutants. Some VOCs are linked to cancer.

VOCs are released from many consumer products: cleaning products, common solvents, and cigarettes, to name a few. They are also released from burning fuel such as wood, coal, gasoline, or natural gas.

Some of the more familiar VOCs include toluene, benzene, and formaldehyde. Some continue to produce VOCs when they are stored or transported.


Indoor Sources include
  •       Cleaners and disinfectants
  •       Pesticides
  •       Air fresheners
  •       Cosmetics and deodorants
  •       Fuel oil, gasoline
  •       Furniture
  •       Flooring, carpet, wood products
  •       Paint, paint strippers
  •       Varnishes 
  •       Caulks and sealants
  •       Adhesives


  •       Smoking tobacco
  •       Dry-cleaning clothing
  •       Arts and crafts items such as permanent markers, glues etc…
  •       Using wood burning stoves and fireplaces
  •       Use of copiers or printers 
  •       Idling cars


Outdoor Sources 
  •       Gasoline
  •       Diesel fuel emissions
  •       Wood burning
  •       Oil and gas processing
  •       Industrial emissions

VOCs Can Harm Health

VOCs irritate one’s eyes, nose and throat, causing difficulty breathing. They also damage the central nervous system and other organs. Some VOCs even cause cancer. However, not all VOCs have all these health hazards, though many have several environmental consequences. 

Outdoors, VOCs cause similar health effects by reacting with nitrogen oxide to produce outdoor air and ozone pollution. Some emissions include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide to name a few. Burning wood also produces gases known to cause cancer.   

Particle pollution like ash and soot are so tiny they can blow hundreds of miles from the source.


Protecting Yourself from VOCs

Limit the source and use of products with high VOCs.

  •     Use products that are low in VOCs, including cleaning vinegar
  •     Look for “Low VOCs” information on paint labels
  •     Use a different approach to problems such as combining pest 
  •     Control methods to reduce the use of pesticides
  •     Don’t smoke! Don’t allow indoor smoking. Tobacco smoke contains VOCs and other carcinogens.


Ventilation and climate control are key when using products with VOCs indoors.

  •     Open windows, add a fan to pull the indoor air outside while you’re using products with high VOCs. Fresh air in your home helps reduce VOC fumes.
  • ·   Let new carpet and new building products air outside to release VOCs before installing.
  •     Don’t store products with VOCs indoors, including in garages connected to your home.
  •     Make sure your home ventilation methods and systems are working effectively to reduce VOCs produced by printers or copiers.
  •     Don’t idle a car in an attached garage.


Find Healthier Alternatives to Using Products Containing VOCs

Various air filtration systems reduce and remove VOCs from your home. This decreases your exposure to toxic vapors. Choosing safely formulated products, and being an informed consumer, reduce sources of indoor air contaminants. For example, avoid dry cleaners that use hazardous solvents such as perchloroethylene. If they do, make sure to air out such clothing outdoors or in a garage. 


Common VOCs and suggestions for replacements

Terpenes are found in fragrant products such as cosmetics, soaps, and detergents. These are being eliminated by a rising trend in natural oils or citrus-based products.

Butanal is found in burning candles, outdoor camp stoves, cigarettes, and barbecue grill emissions. Enforce “No Smoking” rules around your environment and avoid secondhand smoke. Candles (which can contain many known toxins and carcinogens) should be made of a non-GMO soy-based product or beeswax with a cotton wick. Never use camp stoves or outdoor stoves inside.

Carbon Disulfide is found in chlorinated tap water, so the best way to avoid this VOC is with a charcoal or carbon-filtration system (think Brita).

Ethanol is found in laundry and dishwasher detergents. Remember proper ventilation when using cleaning products indoors. This helps absorb or dissipate the vapors.

Benzene is found in glues, paints, carpet and gasoline combustion emissions. Shop for Benzene-free products and protect yourself from machinery fumes.

Formaldehyde is found in some molded plastics, floor lacquers, and beauty products. Eliminate as much plastic as possible from your daily living and using BPA-free plastics, or glass containers for food storage. Water-based polyurethane finishes are a great alternative to conventional floor finishes. Use certified and organic beauty products.

Toluene is found in paint, so before you add a paint in your home, check its contents. It’s always a good idea to open windows to allow air circulation. Paint any DIY projects outside or in the garage (with the door open). 

Acetone is found in furniture polish, nail polish remover, and wallpaper. Acetone-free nail polish remover is an easy and effective substitute. Water-based substitutes for furniture polish are also available.

Xylene is found in idling cars and traffic emissions. While avoiding xylene when you’re out on the road is impossible, take steps to breathe healthy air by keeping car windows rolled up in traffic. Also, never leave a car idling in a home garage. 


Ways to Protect Your Home

Stores now carry green or VOC-free products. If you have VOC products, store these outside the house in a detached garage or shed. 

Also, look for products with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Safer Choice label.” These products are required to have lower levels of VOCs, reducing impact on indoor air quality. In addition, the EPA screens all ingredients in Safer Choice label products. These products are safer for both your health and the environment. The VOC content has distinct limits for personal care products, cleaning products, adhesives, aerosol paints, and more. Some apps let you scan the ingredients list of many products for sale in stores. 

Indoor air quality is a serious concern. Take safety measures to reduce your risk of personal contamination. One of the simplest things you can do to improve indoor air quality is to choose safer products, deemed lower in VOCs. Many people believe houseplants also filter toxic fumes indoors. Additionally, you can consider a whole house filtration unit to improve the indoor air you breath.

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