What are Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs?
VOCs are compounds that have a high vapor pressure and low water solubility. They are emitted as gasses from certain solids or liquids. A lot of volatile organic compounds are human-made chemicals that are used and produced in the manufacture of paints, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants. Many are industrial solvents, or by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, like chloroform. VOCs are common ground water contaminants, and they are commonly found in things like petroleum, hydraulic fluids, and paint thinner. In short, VOCs are nasty.
VOCs include a wide variety of chemicals. Some of these chemicals may have short to long term negative health effects. VOCs are emitted by a number of household products and are consistently found in higher quantities indoors than outdoors.
Are these items in your home?
Sources of VOCs include common household items like:
- Aerosol sprays
- Surface cleaners
- Moth repellents
- Air fresheners
- Dry-cleaned clothing
- Copiers and printers
They are also found in cosmetics, gasoline and more. Studies indicate that while people are using products containing volatile organic chemicals, they can expose themselves and others to very high pollutant levels and elevated concentrations can be found in the air long after the product is no longer being used. Some studies suggest that exposure to VOCs may make symptoms worse for people with asthma or even increase the risk of developing asthma for children.
In addition to the long-term effects, VOCs can irritate the eyes nose and throat or cause a person to have difficulty breathing and nausea. Though not all VOCs have these health effects, many have several.
Here are some steps to reduce exposure:
- Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs.
- Use household products according to manufacturer’s directions.
- Make sure you provide plenty of fresh air when using these products.
- Throw away unused or seldom-used containers safely; buy in quantities that you will use soon.
- Keep out of reach of children and pets.
- Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
- Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques to reduce the need for pesticides. Common IPM techniques include pest trapping instead of poisoning and using low-risk or non-chemical pesticides. Whenever possible, use products with low or no VOCs.
The EPA says on their website that “taking steps to minimize your exposure to this chemical is prudent.”
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If you are curious about the chemicals in your cleaning supplies, or if you want to learn more about volatile organic compounds, the EPA website has a wealth of information on their indoor air quality page including links to additional resources like the Carpet and Rug Institute’s Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) info page. Soap Free Procyon is IAQ approved and Green Seal certified, and curious cleaners can see their certifications on their webpage. If you’re ready to jump into the world of green cleaning head first and learn tips, tricks, and stories about safe, earth-friendly cleaning, try listening to the Soap Free Podcast which explores the hidden side of cleaning for everyone from professionals to DIY-ers and at-home cleaners.