Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

paintVolatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that evaporate easily at room temperature from certain solids or liquids. While the presence of VOCs is often associated with an odor, sometimes there is no odor and both types can be harmful. VOC levels are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.



  • Paints
  • Wood preservatives
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleansers
  • Disinfectants
  • Moth balls
  • Air fresheners
  • Gasoline

These are just to name a few; VOCs are emitted by a wide range of products numbering in the thousands. Other examples include pesticides, building materials, copiers, printers, permanent markers, glues and adhesives.

Health Effects
If there are VOCs in a product, they can off gas into the air and create a danger to human health. The risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air, and how long a person breathes it in.

Short-Term Symptoms

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea/Vomitting
  • Dizziness
  • Worsening of asthma symptoms

Long-Term Symptoms

  • Cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage

Steps to reduce exposure

  1. Reduce the use of products with formaldehyde, one of the most common VOCs. Sources of formaldehyde in the home include building materials, smoking, household products, and the use of un-vented fuel burning applications.
  2. Remove or reduce the number of products in your home that will give off VOCs. Only purchase the amount you know you will use.
  3. Purchase solid wood items with low emitting finishes.
  4. Use an air purifier to dilute and reduce VOC levels. An air purifier with a carbon activated filter is the most absorbent filter available to capture chemical fumes and gases. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters do not work to remove such fine contaminants. Activated carbon filters are rarely used alone to purify air, and are often used in conjunction with other filters because they do not remove dust and other allergens.

The most effective way to limit VOCs indoors is to reduce the potential sources of VOCs. Increasing the amount of fresh air into a space can also reduce VOC levels.

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