Critical for our health and safety is maintaining good indoor air quality (IAQ). However, this can be a challenge due to the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our homes. These organic chemicals are substances made up of carbon and other elements and are found in many common household items, such as detergents, cleaning products, cosmetics, polishes, floor finishes, disinfectants and sanitizers. They vaporize or “off-gas” at room temperature. Because of this, concentrations are usually much higher in the home than elsewhere. You may or may not be able to smell them. Certain chemicals emitted by cleaning products can be harmful from direct exposure or can react with other chemicals in the air to form harmful by-products.
Sources of VOCs
Household products, including:
paints, paint strippers and other solvents
cleansers and disinfectants
moth repellents and air fresheners
stored fuels and automotive products
Other products, including:
building materials and furnishings
office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper
graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers and photographic solutions
Health Risks of VOCs
VOC pollution has been shown, or associated, with a range of negative health effects. Common symptoms of exposure to high levels of VOCs include:
Acute/short term exposures
(hours to days)
Eye, nose & throat irritation
Worsening of asthma symptoms
Allergic skin reaction
(years to a lifetime)
Liver & kidney damage
Central nervous system damage
Even though it’s impossible to completely avoid emissions and achieve perfect air quality, it is possible to limit VOC exposure and the health effects, as well as the environmental damage, that comes from chemical emissions. It’s important to learn which are the most common VOCs and how to avoid them so that the indoor air quality can be kept at the highest level possible.
There are numerous VOCs in everyday household products, although this may not always be clear from the ingredient label.
Common examples of VOCs that are possibly present in our daily lives are:
carbon tetrachloride (possible carcinogen)
Rule of thumb is to open windows and provide plenty of fresh air when using products containing VOCs. You can also install an air filtration system in your home. Never mix household care products unless directed on the label.
Unfortunately, VOCs are a part of life, and there are too many of them to list. Know these organic chemicals are prevalent in common substances and limit your exposure by paying attention to what you buy.
Below is a list of eco-friendly, sustainable and safe cleaning products. Some of them have an extra bonus and come in plastic-free or refillable packaging. Two birds with one stone for the environmentally conscious consumer.
List of eco-friendly and safe cleaning products