What Are Volatile Organic Compounds?


What are VOCs? VOC stands for volatile organic compound, which are compounds that quickly become gases at room temperature (a process known as off-gassing). These are almost always present in air, and many are manmade.

VOCs are found in solvents, cleaning chemicals, paint and paint thinner, petroleum fuels, building materials and furnishings, office equipment, some types of ink, cosmetics, and thousands of other common products which release them into the air over time. Auto exhaust and cigarette smoke are other common sources. Most chemicals with a scent are a source of VOCs, but not all VOCs have a scent, and scent alone is not a reliable indicator of VOC levels. 

Activities like burning wood in a fireplace or wood stove, cooking, dry cleaning and even craft hobbies can also release VOCs into the air.  

Exposure to high levels of VOCs can cause both short and long-term health problems. Within hours to days of exposure, symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, headaches and nose, throat or eye irritation. Asthma or COPD sufferers may have an increase in symptoms.  Long-term exposure to high levels of VOCs has been linked to cancer as well as liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage.  

Although VOCs are almost always in the air around us, the levels are often more concentrated indoors. According to EPA studies, EOC’s can be found indoors in concentrations of two to five times greater than outdoor levels. This is true in urban, suburban and rural settings.  

There are ways you can reduce the number of VOCs in your home. You can buy VOC-free cleaning supplies, paints and other products. There are VOC-free choices in many types of everyday items like soaps, lotions and cosmetics.  

Removing products like furniture and rugs from packaging outside and unrolling or unfolding and airing them out for a few hours before bringing them into the home, allowing some VOCs to dissipate in the outdoor air. Solid wood furniture emits fewer VOCs than pressed wood. You can also consider buying a floor model that has already dissipated many of its VOCs in the showroom. 

If possible, store chemicals in a garage or shed that’s not attached to your home, especially if they have been opened. Only buy the amount you need for a project to avoid storing extra, and dispose of unused chemicals correctly (most cities and towns have a collection site for common chemicals) 

The right ventilation system can reduce VOCs indoors by continuously removing stale air and replacing it with fresh, filtered air-check out how a Zehnder system can keep your home air clean and request a quote today!