February 18, 2020

What are VOCs? And How You Can Protect Yourself From Them


There’s always lots of talk about outdoor air pollution. However, various studies have shown that indoor air can be much worse; and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are common contributors.

mother kissing her baby on couch

Here’s what you need to know about these pollutants.

What is a volatile organic compound (VOC)?

A volatile organic compound is a chemical containing carbon that becomes a gas at room temperature. These chemicals are found in plastics, personal care products, paints and solvents. Newer items off-gas, or emit VOCs at a higher rate. For example, this is why your brand new car might have that “new car” smell or when you get a new piece of furniture it can take a few days to air out.

Common VOCs and risks

Because VOCs are emitted slowly and can cause health issues from long term exposure, research is ongoing. The list is long, but here are three VOCs that we know about, and their health impacts.

Benzene has a sweet odor and is very flammable. It occurs in nature and is commonly used in the manufacturing processes of plastics, resins, fibers, lubricants, rubber, detergents and dyes. Due to its expansive use, it is one of the highest produced chemicals in the US. Unfortunately, benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and it can affect the immune and nervous systems.

Formaldehyde is a pungent chemical and is used for fertilizers, paper production, some resins and as a preservative in cosmetics, certain foods, antiseptics and medication. It is also produced in small amounts by the human body. Too much exposure can lead to cancer. In addition, it affects the lungs, skin, immune system and digestive system.

Acetone is present in the environment and is produced from manufactured processes. It is used for plastic, fibers, and to dissolve substances. It’s ability to dissolve various materials makes it useful as a nail polish remover, which is one common use. It occurs in the breakdown of body fat but excess exposure affects the blood and nervous systems.

How to minimize exposure

The best way to reduce exposure is through increased ventilation which removes contaminated air and replaces it with fresh outside air. Opening windows more frequently in mild weather is one way to reduce VOC buildup. Your HVAC system should be optimized to provide enough ventilation through exhaust and fresh air supply that is filtered and conditioned. Without this, you can end up with a buildup of VOCs in your home.

If you’re concerned about VOCs and want to improve the air quality in your home, give us a call and we can help!

Call  303-328-3060