Over the past several decades, there has been a nationwide increase in immune system disorders, neurological problems, multiple chemical sensitivities, allergies and hormonal disturbances that have largely been attributed to indoor environmental pollution. One of the most notorious sources of poor indoor air quality is high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. Many of today’s manufacturing processes, conventional cleaning supplies, building materials and even furnishings attribute to the problem.
What is a VOC (Volatile Organic Compound)?
VOCs are chemicals that easily enter the air as gases from some solids or liquids. They are released from products into the home both during use and while stored. Over 200 VOCs have been identified in carpeting alone, and the air inside a typical home is 2x to 5x more polluted than the air outdoors, primarily due to toxic household cleaning products.
Common Sources of VOCs
- Personal care products: nail polish, nail polish remover, colognes, perfumes, rubbing alcohol, hair spray
- Dry cleaned clothes, spot removers, fabric/leather cleaners
- Pine oil cleaners and solvents
- Paint stripper, adhesive (glue) removers
- Degreasers, aerosol penetrating oils, brake cleaner, carburetor cleaner, commercial solvents, electronics cleaners, spray lubricants
- Moth balls, deodorizers, air fresheners
- Refrigerant from air conditioners, freezers, refrigerators, dehumidifiers
- Aerosol spray products from some paints, cosmetics, automotive products, leather treatments, pesticides
- Upholstered furniture, carpets, plywoods, pressed wood products
- Paint thinner; furniture polishes
Common Symptoms of Exposure to High Levels of VOCs
Short-Term Exposure (hours to days)
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Worsening of asthma symptoms
Chronic Exposure (years to a lifetime)
- Liver & kidney damage
- Central nervous system damage
Steps to Reduce Your Exposure to VOCs
- Purchase new home and office products that contain low or no VOCs (look for Environmentally Preferable Purchasing).
- Use products containing VOCs in well-ventilated areas or outdoors. Open windows and doors or use an exhaust fan to increase ventilation. Repeated or prolonged ventilation may be necessary for reducing levels from building materials (new carpeting or furniture) that release VOCs slowly over time.
- Use only natural cleaning supplies in your home, as they do not contain toxic ingredients. We’re biased here, but we love Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegars for cleaning the bathroom, kitchen and beyond. 🙂
- Watch the temperature and humidity: as these increase, so will the off-gassing of chemicals.
- Filter your home’s air with a high-quality air filter.
- Dispose of partially used chemicals. Vapors can leak even from closed containers. When you purchase chemicals, purchase only the amount you will use right away. Contact your city or county for proper disposal of household hazardous wastes.
- Choose an environmentally friendly dry cleaner. Perchloroethylene, the chemical most widely used in dry cleaning, is a VOC known to cause cancer in animals. Studies have found that people do breathe in low levels of this chemical while wearing dry-cleaned clothing and in homes where the clothing is stored.
No federally enforceable standards have been set for VOCs in non-industrial settings (aka your home). Because of this lack of regulation, the quality of your indoor air is in your hands. Give our tips a try and breathe a bit easier tonight!