What are Volatile Organic Compounds? (What Does VOC Mean?)

What does VOC mean?

And what causes VOCs?

If you’re wondering what are Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs), this post is for you.

Below, we’ll uncover everything you need to know about these compounds, including the sources, causes, and why are VOCs dangerous.

Let’s get started.

What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs) are gaseous substances that are released by certain solids and liquids.

VOCs come from thousands of different products and this “off-gassing” process can last as little as a few days up to years before it’s complete.

For example, VOCs that are released from an aerosol spray paint can might off-gas quickly and only linger around for a day or two in an indoor environment. Paint that’s put on a wall might off-gas VOCs at a slower rate and emit them into indoor air for several years.

Volatile Organic Compounds are invisible, which makes them hard to detect. So, you may be exposed to them for long periods of time without even knowing it.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) Study discovered that a number of common organic pollutants to be 2 to 5 times higher inside homes than the outdoors.

What Causes VOCs?

There are a number of products that can release Volatile Organic Compounds while you’re using them, and, to some degree, when they’re stored.

The most common household products include:

  • Building materials
  • Furnishings
  • Carpeting
  • Paints
  • Paint strippers
  • Solvents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Degreasers
  • Cleansers and disinfectants
  • Air fresheners
  • Stored fuels
  • Automotive products
  • Hobby supplies
  • Cosmetics
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Pesticides

The most common products in office buildings include:

  • Building materials
  • Furnishings
  • Carpeting
  • Copiers
  • Printers
  • Glues
  • Adhesives

Why are VOCs Dangerous?

Volatile Organic Compounds are dangerous because they can affect your health in many ways.

As with other pollutants, the extent of the negative health effects will depend on the level of exposure and length of time exposed.

Health effects may include, but are not limited to:

  • Eye irritation
  • Nose irritation
  • Throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Damage to liver
  • Damage to kidneys
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Conjunctival irritation
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Dyspnea
  • Emesis
  • Epistaxis
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Visual disorders
  • Memory impairment

How to Protect Yourself Against VOCs

The following tips can help you reduce your exposure to indoor Volatile Organic Compounds.

  • Increase ventilation when using any products that emit VOCs (i.e. open windows and run fans)
  • Add an air purifier to your home. This device will strip VOCs out of the air and leave the air around you clean.
  • Only use natural cleaning agents indoors. Stop using cleaners that contain VOCs.
  • Don’t store open containers of paints, varnishes, strippers, or similar materials indoors. Put them in an outdoor shed or garage.
  • Throw away partially used containers that emit VOCs. Only store what you’ll use soon.
  • Lower the use of pesticides. Try to use integrated pest management techniques instead.

We can’t stress the importance of using an air purifier enough. Air purifiers are machines that draw air into the device, filter out the pollutants, and push clean air back into the room.

By running an air purifier in your home, you can better protect yourself from invisible Volatile Organic Compounds.

To find out more about how these devices work, and to find a good deal on one, check out these other posts on our site.

You can find a list of the best affordable air purifiers here.

Our most popular top rated air purifier guide.

And recommendations on how to find the best small room air purifier here.

Having an air purifier will also strip other common household pollutants out of the air you breathe, such as dust, allergens, mold spores, bacteria, pet dander, and more.

So, give those pages a quick look to find out more about what you can expect out of air purifier machines.