What Are VOCs? Here Is How To Avoid Them

What are VOCs? Here's what you need to know about this popular topic, and how to avoid them. Read on for more information

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May 16, 2020
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Modern life has changed the way we spend our time. According to the EPA, the average American spends 90% of their time indoors, from the office during the day to home at night. As a result, interior air quality has become an essential metric to consider when you’re investigating how healthy your home or business is.

One of the biggest threats to interior air quality are VOCs. What are VOCs, and what can you do to avoid them?

What Are VOCs?

VOC is an acronym for volatile organic compounds. Certain liquids and solids emit gasses into the atmosphere. Outdoors, these VOCs can dissipate. In an enclosed environment, however, they can concentrate and reach dangerous levels quickly.

According to the EPA, VOC concentrations are consistently up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors. Even common pollutants tend to be two to five times more potent indoors than out. Nevertheless, VOCs are often more dangerous because people typically use them in enclosed spaces.

Where Do VOCs Come From?

If you’ve ever looked at a label that instructs you to use a product in a well-ventilated area, you’ve likely come across a product that contains VOCs. These compounds can originate from anything, from cleaners and disinfectants to fuel, air fresheners, pesticides and dry-cleaned clothing. Hair spray, nail polish, acetone in nail polish remover, etc. — if it has a strong smell, the chances are high that it leaves behind VOCs.

Are you a fan of the smell of a new car? That odor is probably one of the most recognizable VOCs around, caused by the newly molded plastics in the interior emitting gas. Many of the products we use daily emit VOCs — even when packaged — and encountering these compounds can cause several different health problems, from headaches to upper respiratory infections.

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How to Avoid VOCs

Now that you know what they are, what can you do to avoid VOCs? Start by determining the source of the compounds in your home or business. This step might take a little bit of research because, while products that don’t emit VOCs will say so on the label, those that do prefer not to advertise it. When you’re purchasing new products, make sure you opt for those that don’t emit VOCs or emit low levels.

Paint, for example, is one of the biggest culprits when you’re worried about VOCs in the home. Standard paint VOCs take 14 days to dissipate while low-VOC paint takes less than half that time.

If you have to use products that emit VOCs, make sure you’re using them in a well-ventilated area. Keep the air flowing to prevent them from concentrating in one spot. If you purchase new furniture or carpeting, which can also be a source of VOCs, let them off-gas for a few days outdoors or in the garage to prevent bringing chemicals into your home.

There are testing tools available to detect the amount of VOCs in an area. However, unless you are extremely sensitive to one type of VOC, these aren’t necessary for the average homeowner. You can make a difference just by reducing the number of VOC-emitting products in your house and being aware of their presence.

Be Aware and Stay Safe

How much time do you spend each day indoors? No matter your routine, making small changes — such as getting rid of products that contain high levels of VOCs and using necessary ones in well-ventilated areas — can make an enormous difference in the interior air quality of your home or business. Keeping the air clean will keep everyone healthy, too.