What Are VOCs and How Do They Get Into Your Home?


VOCs are volatile organic compounds, which are chemicals that enter the air as gases and come from solids or liquids. VOCs can be found in most settings but may become concentrated when trapped in buildings. There are many different types of VOCs, which can be brought into homes in many ways. VOCs may impact the health of home occupants, especially if high concentrations of extremely toxic chemicals are brought into a home or are allowed to build up due to poor ventilation.

VOCs from Building Materials

In many cases, VOCs don’t even need to be introduced into homes, they are already there. Products such as glues, paints, sealants, and stains all emit VOCs into the air. Even sheetrock and plaster walls may continually emit VOCs. The levels of VOCs that are emitted from these materials is generally highest when they are first applied or introduced, gradually decreasing as time goes on. Low VOC emission products and items are available and can help to reduce VOC concentration in newly built homes.

VOCs from Furnishings

Furniture, flooring, and other home fixtures may emit VOCs. Carpet is known to emit especially high levels of VOCs, particularly when first unrolled. To reduce the level of VOCs introduced into a home environment by new carpet, carpets may be unrolled outside of a home first or occupants may leave the home and allow the air to circulate in order to decrease the concentration of VOCs. Furnishings may be unwrapped outside of a home and the same concept may be applied. Low VOC emitting furnishings may also be available.

VOCs from Occupants’ Habits and Behaviors

VOCs may be introduced into a home by occupant habits and behaviors. Most products that emit fragrances, including mothballs, hairspray, household cleaners, air fresheners, and nail polish all emit VOCs. VOCs may also be introduced by burning candles, burning incense, smoking cigarettes, and cooking. To reduce the level of VOC concentration from these products and activities, home occupants may opt for “greener” products and may attempt to limit activities such as smoking and burning candles while in the home.

Reducing VOC Exposure

The most effective way to reduce exposure to VOCs in a home is to ensure that the home has adequate ventilation. It is not possible to eliminate all VOCs from a home environment, and new VOCs can always be inadvertently introduced, so make sure that indoor air is vented out and fresh air is introduced regularly can help to limit concentrations. It is also important to ensure that instructions are followed when using products with highly toxic emissions and that these products are only used in well-ventilated areas.

Limit Quantities of Harmful Chemicals Purchased

Chemicals such as paints, paint strippers, and chlorine can emit VOCs into the air, even from closed containers. Limiting the quantity of these products that are purchased to what will be used at one time can help to limit home occupants’ exposure to these chemicals. Safely discarding remaining quantities can also help to keep home occupants safe from continued exposure to these VOCs.