How VOCs Affect Our Health


Whether you’re aware of it or not, the products in your home and workplace emit chemical gasses. These gasses, known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs, have a high vapor pressure at room temperature. In other words, they evaporate and get into the air quickly. Many VOCs aren’t harmful. For example, VOCs are how the scent from perfume gets into the air. However, it’s also how pollutants become airborne. Once they enter the lungs, that’s when VOCs affect our health.

What Are the Sources of VOCs?

VOCs exist in products we use every day in both solid and liquid forms. For example, household cleaners, room deodorizers, cosmetics, and personal care products release them. Paints, varnishes, stains, and finishes do as well. New furnishings such as upholstered furniture, cabinets, bedding, carpets, and rugs emit VOCs.

Common VOCs in the home come from:

  • Wood preservatives
  • Pesticides
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Air fresheners
  • Cleaners and disinfectants
  • Hobby and craft supplies
  • Dry-cleaned clothing

Common VOCs in the workplace come from:

  • Building materials
  • Furnishings
  • Copiers and printers
  • Correction fluids
  • Carbonless copy paper
  • Glues, adhesives, and permanent markers.

These chemicals also enter the home from outside sources such as lawn mowers and passing cars. In short, they’re hard to avoid.

How VOCs Affect Our Health

Several health risks come from prolonged exposure to volatile organic chemicals. For instance, VOCs in an office setting could lead to a condition known as Sick Building Syndrome. SBS is the result of poor indoor air quality. It leads to symptoms of fatigue, headaches, coughing, and shortness of breath. Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat is a common symptom as well. The condition disappears once the person leaves the building. SBS causes employees to miss work and to be less productive while at work. VOCs in the home also lead to these symptoms.

VOCs can trigger asthma symptoms and aggravate existing lung diseases such as bronchitis. The risks may prove fatal for people suffering from these conditions as well as those with heart disease. Long-term exposure may damage kidneys, liver, and central nervous system, and may be carcinogenic too.

Limiting VOCs to Improve Health

What can you do to limit the ways VOCs affect our health? 

Choose the Right Products 

Buy low or zero VOCs products and store them safely. For example, store opened containers in the garage, basement, or closed-off storage area. Always store these products out of the reach of children and dispose of the ones you don’t use anymore. Buying used furniture also reduces the risk of VOCs used in the manufacturing process.  

Identify the Source

A VOC screening kit helps determine the presence of vapors and compounds in the home or office. Collect samples over a 24-hour period using the Bio-Badge included with the kit. This sample collector absorbs air from areas up to 2,800 square feet. Return the kit to the environmental diagnostic laboratory in the prepaid envelope and get results within 7-10 business days. Once identified, the removal of the source of these pollutants must follow.

air purifier wall mount Aeramax professional iv
The Aeramax PRO AM 4 air purifier with ionizer removes VOCs from the air.

Use Portable Air Purifiers

Purchase a portable air purifier with a True HEPA filter. For example, an MA-125 Air Purifier is a model that traps up to 99.99% of particles as small as 0.1 microns. These machines feature high-efficiency True HEPA filters that work along with carbon filters that remove odors too. 

For offices, waiting rooms, and classrooms, a device like the AeraMax PRO AM 4 PC Air Purifier is a good choice. This model features a VOC/odor level display and cleans the air in rooms up to 1,400 square feet. VOCs affect our health, but so do other pollutants such as mold, pollen, dust, bacteria, and smoke. Air purifiers remove these particles from the air which helps everyone breathe easier indoors.

Improve Ventilation 

Increasing the airflow indoors dilutes VOCs. Therefore, it is recommended that you replace air filters as needed with HEPA filters. Also, keep up with HVAC maintenance and inspections and keep air vents clean. For commercial buildings, an HVAC hygiene assessment identifies ventilation problems and includes a plan for improvement.

Stop VOCs from Affecting Your Health Today

VOCs are hard to avoid, but it’s important to take steps to limit your exposure. To learn more about different ways to protect your home or workspace from pollutants, call us today at 727-572-4550.