You may have heard of volatile organic compounds and the fact that they’re found in most homes and are considered unhealthy for people and pets.

A feature image for a blog post about volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the home.

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

According to the Government of Canada:

“Volatile organic compounds are a family of organic compounds that contain one or more carbon atoms and have high vapour pressures so that they evaporate readily into the atmosphere. While there are thousands of compounds that meet this definition, the VOCs under our management are those that participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions and thus are harmful to human health and the environment. These VOCs are defined under Schedule 1 (item 65) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), which exclude photo-chemically low-reactive compounds such as methane, ethane and the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).”

In Plain English

The above quote may cause you to scratch your head and still wonder what exactly VOCs are. So, in plain English, they’re basically dangerous gases emitted from different solids and liquids.

For example, paints, adhesive material, dry-cleaned clothing, and some cleaning products may contain VOCs, which can make you sick when breathed in.

Where are VOCs in Your Home?

Around your home, volatile organic compounds may be emitted from products such as:

  • Paints
  • Paint strippers
  • Solvents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleansers and disinfectants
  • Moth repellents
  • Air fresheners
  • Petroleum fuels
  • Hydraulic fluids
  • Hobby supplies
  • Dry-cleaned clothing

These are the types of common solids and liquids that you may have around your home that have the potential to make you, your family, or your pet sick.

The problem with VOCs is that they can continue to be emitted into the air of your home long after the initial exposure to them is over.

Example: Painting a Room

For example, you may decide to paint a room with a paint product that emits VOCs. You’ll have exposure to them when you first apply the paint to the walls from the open can. However, some paint products continue to emit VOCs for years after it is applied to the walls.

This presents the obvious problem of being exposed to these harmful gases continuously daily. And, during Canadian winters, when your home is sealed tighter, it can be a serious problem.

How Do VOCs Make You Sick?

So, at this point, you may be wondering what volatile organic compounds can do to your health. Well, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), VOCs can cause:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system
  • Respiratory distress
  • Cancer

Many factors influence how easily VOCs can make you sick, including the length of exposure, the specific chemical, and your sensitivity.

However, it is well-documented that the level of volatile organic compounds indoors is far greater than outdoors. It would help if you took action to reduce the amount in your home, especially during winters when homes get less ventilation.

How to Reduce VOCs in the Home

It’s a good idea to reduce the amount of volatile organic compounds in your home as much as possible. And to use additional measures to ventilate your space adequately.

Things you can do include:

  • Making sure your home has proper ventilation.
  • Freshening the air in natural ways.
  • Following the instructions for products used inside the home.
  • Buying low- or no-VOC products.
  • Not storing open containers of paints or similar materials in your home.
  • Disposing of unused materials in a safe way.
  • Keeping products with VOCs out of the reach of pets and children.
  • Using more eco-friendly ways to do the required job.

Becoming conscious of potential sources of volatile organic compounds in and around your home is a good first step to reducing their presence and impact on your health and the environment.

VOCs are one of the most dangerous contaminants for people in their living space. They have the potential to cause some serious health issues. The best route is always to avoid products that contain them. Choose eco-friendly alternatives for your health and the health of the planet.

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