Limiting Volatile Organic Compounds in the Home

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Some of the products we use in and around our homes are not always the best for our health. When it comes to using products that contain VOC's, or Volatile Organic Compounds, we are placing ourselves at risk of illness.

Volatile Organic Compounds are carbon-based chemicals from which gases are emitted. They evaporate largely but not exclusively at room temperature and are commonly found in things such as paints, adhesives, solvents, caulks, cleaning agents, carpet, varnishes, certain types of shelving, and even types of upholstery and furniture. The process through which they are released is known as 'off-gassing' and it is while this occurs that you are most able to breathe in VOC's.
While some Volatile Organic Compounds have an obvious odor, not all of them do, which means being able to identify them by name is the only true way to avoid them. Some examples of VOC's in chemical form include but are not limited to 1,3-butadiene, Acetone, Benzene, Ethylene Glycol, Formaldehyde, Methylene Chloride, Perchloroethylene, Toluene, and Xylene. As we are exposed to and inhale these chemicals, our health is impacted based on the chemicals we inhale and the frequency of exposure, be it high levels of VOC's over a short period of time or low levels over a long period of time.

Some of the acute conditions you may experience are headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, worsened asthma, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. Chronic conditions include risk of cancer as well as damage to liver, kidneys, and the central nervous system.


Unfortunately when it comes to preventing VOC's from entering our homes, it is up to us to ensure they do not gain entry as products containing them are readily available for sale. Once in our home, they can compromise our health and living space in that confined space where VOC's can be found at 2-5 times the amount they exist outdoors. To reduce or eliminate the presence of VOC's in your home, using them in a well-ventilated area is helpful. Opening windows and allowing a source of fresh air will also help disperse VOC's.

The best method, however, is avoiding them entirely, such as through the purchasing of products without VOC's in them. This can be done by knowing the most common VOC's and reading labels to identify their presence or by simply purchasing items that plainly state they do not contain VOC's. While it is more costly, it is also well worth it for the health benefits you gain.


Remember, too, that VOC's can be found in unexpected places. Air fresheners, cosmetics, moth balls, dry cleaning, and even newspaper also contain VOC's. In the end, your goal should be to limit volatile organic compounds in your home by eliminating the source of them. The fewer VOC's in your home, the better off the health of yourself and your family will be.

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