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What Are Volatile Organic Compounds?

Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are gases emitted into the atmosphere from processes or products. Some of these gases are harmful on their own, while others react with air to form other pollutants. VOCs are found outdoors and indoors, although they are prevalent indoors.

Most households rely on organic chemicals such as wax, paints, cosmetics, cleaning, and disinfecting products. Unfortunately, these products release organic compounds when used or stored in our homes. Therefore, following specific measures can keep you and your family away from potential health hazards associated with these products.

Sources of Volatile Organic Compounds

There are different sources of VOCs among them:


1. Home and personal care products

    • Gasoline
    •  Fuel oil
    • Cleaning products
    • Cosmetic products
    • Air fresheners 
    • Aerosol sprays 

2. Building materials

    • Composite
    • Wood products
    • Paint Adhesives
    • Varnishes
    • Caulk 
    • Carpet and vinyl flooring
    • Upholstery and foam
    • Wood preservatives

3. Activities

    • Smoking
    • Cooking and certain hobbies
    • Burning charcoal
    • Dry cleaning
    • Photocopying

As a result of the health problems VOCs cause, it is recommended to avoid them altogether. However, since some are a necessity, they are used at home now and then. The prudent thing is to know these products to avoid or minimize their use. Here are commonly used products with high levels of VOCs:

Carbon Disulfide
: The chemical is found in chlorinated tap water. Consider using a carbon/charcoal filtration system or buying bottled drinking water to avoid Carbon Disulfide exposure.

Ethanol: This is challenging to avoid because it’s found in alcoholic beverages, glass cleaners, laundry & dishwasher detergents. You can open doors and windows when using these products to reduce ethanol levels in your home.

Acetone: Mainly found in nail polish removers, wallpaper, and furniture polish. With water-based furniture polishes and acetone-free nail polish removers, it is easy to avoid acetone.

Butanal:  Burning candles, cigarettes, barbecues, and stoves produce Butanal. To reduce Butanal exposure, avoid smoking and always barbecue or use stoves outside.

Terpenes: They are present in laundry detergents and soaps, making it a challenge for most people to avoid them. Using natural-based products or limiting your daily exposure are good remedies.

Toluene: Although not all paints contain Toluene, most do. Check the label before buying, especially for DIYs. Alternatively, use a nose mask and open windows and doors when painting your home.

Methylene Chloride: Found in aerosol solvents, paint removers, chemical fire extinguishers, manufactured antibiotics/steroids/vitamins, Methylene Chloride can cause severe health effects. Always check the ingredients before buying any of the products for your safety.

Health Effects of Volatile Organic Compound Exposure

The health risk of inhaling any chemical depends on three factors; how often the person inhales the chemical, how much chemical is in the air, and how long the person inhales the chemical. For example, inhaling low VOC levels for long periods can predispose some people to long-term effects.

According to recent studies, people with respiratory problems, for example, asthma, the elderly, children, and those sensitive to chemicals, may be more susceptible to illness and irritation from exposure to VOCs. However, it is crucial to understand that VOC refers to a group of chemicals and each of the substances has its side effects and the potential of causing these health problems.

Exposure to high levels of VOCs can have the following side effects:

Acute symptoms – caused by short term exposure, i.e., a few hours to days 

  • Worsening of asthma symptoms 
  • Dizziness 
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dyspnea
  • Epistaxis
  • Allergic skin reaction
  • Reduction in serum cholinesterase levels
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation

Chronic exposure, i.e., years of exposure to lifetime 

  • Kidney and liver damage 
  • Central nervous system (CNS) damage 
  • Cancer 
  • Death

Steps to Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds at Home 

Although it is impossible to avoid VOCs altogether, you can reduce the levels and degree of exposure to air pollutants. Studies show that VOC levels are 2 – 5 times higher indoors than outdoors! Therefore, following the measures to reduce your VOC exposure, whether inside or outside your home, is highly recommended.

To get started, you must inspect your home thoroughly for any sources of VOCs. Some of the things you should look out for include unused chemicals such as adhesives, caulks, paints, varnishes, and solvents. Also, it is essential to check household furnishings like upholstered furniture, carpets, and other items made from composite wood (especially if they are new) because they tend to produce VOCs that affect air quality. After carefully inspecting and identifying any sources of VOCs in your home, follow these steps:


1. Source Control – You need to reduce or remove entirely any products that give off VOCs in your home. How can you achieve this? Here are some tips:

    • Dispose of any unused chemicals stored in your home or garage. Remember, checking with local authorities is crucial to avoid breaching any laws. 
    • Avoid buying surplus chemicals. When shopping for paints, solvents, adhesives, and caulks, it is essential to buy what you need. This will help you avoid storing chemicals you don’t need or use in your home. Remember, these chemicals can leak, thus releasing VOCs in your home. 
    • When buying paints and furnishing, opt for those with low VOC levels.
    • If you are buying new items, opt for the entities allowed to off-gas in the store. For example, solid wood items emit low VOC levels compared to composite wood items. 
    • If you have surplus chemicals, consider storing them in your garage or shed where you and your family members spend less time. 
    • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 
    • Keep out of reach of pets and children. 
    •  Never mix household chemicals unless directed by the manufacturer on the label.
2. Ventilation control - Improving ventilation in your home reduces the concentration of VOCs in your home. Here are some tips to follow:
    • Keep relative humidity and temperature as low as possible. High temperatures and humidity levels increase the production of gases. 
    • Increase ventilation by opening the windows, doors and using a fan. 
    • Renovate your home when the house is unoccupied. Alternatively, choose to renovate your home when you can open the doors and windows to increase airflow.

3. Use VOC Air Purifiers

As a certified Indoor Air Quality Expert, Think Air Purifiers is ready to help you find the right VOC air purifier for your concerns. For example, we highly recommend the following product which packs HEPA and an impressive special Activated Carbon blend specifically designed to address VOC concerns:

Model & Concerns Activated Carbon Filter Type

Airpura C600 DLX Air Purifier

Shop Airpura C600DLX

Chemicals and VOCs
Acetone, Toluene, etc.
Asthma & Allergies

Great for Salons

3.0 inches thick, 26 lbs.

Standard: Blend of Potassium Iodide + Coconut Shell Carbon



HEPA Barrier

(95% at .1 microns)


To learn more about air purifiers and related topics, we invite you to check out our Blog.

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