What Are Volatile Organic Compounds and How Can You Reduce Them in Your Home?
Still smelling the cleaning products that you used to freshen up your bathroom over an hour ago? You may not know it, but you are actually inhaling chemical matter. Conventional cleaning products can be full of nasty chemicals, and as these chemicals evaporate, they create fumes. Just as water converts to steam under the right conditions, chemical compounds can also convert to gas. But unlike water, many chemicals don’t require extreme conditions to transform. In fact, many chemicals can easily convert into noxious gases in a comfortable, everyday environment, such as your bathroom or kitchen. These chemicals are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Unfortunately, these chemicals don’t just come from low-quality or unsafe products; they can be found in everything from your bathroom cleaner and cosmetics to your furniture and even the paint on your walls. Even items like bedding and clothing can harbor VOCs, usually leftover from the manufacturing process. These fume-emitting toxins dissipate with time, but it’s a slow process that can often take years and be harmful to the people and animals breathing them in. Some VOCs can continue to off-gas for the entire lifespan of the product – and may not always cause odors. These gases are often carcinogenic in themselves or react with other common air components to form known carcinogens. While VOCs are actively off-gassing, they degrade indoor air quality, which can make you and your family sick. Those with respiratory conditions, young children, and individuals with compromised immune systems are at particular risk, making a VOC-free environment a growing priority for many people.
When inhaled, VOC molecules can enter the lungs, bloodstream, and tissue within the body. Many different health effects are associated with VOC exposure, ranging from short-term irritation to long-term severe health problems. Symptoms of VOC exposure can include: irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat, headaches, difficulty breathing, nausea, allergic skin reactions, dizziness, fatigue, and more. Breathing in VOCs can also damage the central nervous system as well as other organs. Some VOCs can even cause cancer. Not all VOCs have all these health effects, though many have several. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.
Wondering how to reduce your family’s exposure to chemical off-gassing? Here are a few ways you may be experiencing VOCs, and how to reduce your risk of exposure.
PAINT, VARNISH, & WAX
Paint, varnish, and wax are all substances that cover the surfaces inside of your home, from your walls and ceilings to cutting boards and furniture, and many of these may contain harmful VOCs. Chief among them is formaldehyde, a preservative commonly found in paints and coatings (as well as in cleaning products, textiles, personal care products, and more). According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), formaldehyde can cause “eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation, coughing, wheezing, and allergic reactions.” Additionally, “long-term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde has been associated with cancer in humans and laboratory animals.”
Fresh paint, in particular, releases VOCs at an increasing pace. If you plan to do some painting around your home, consider looking for low-VOC or Zero-VOC paint.
FURNITURE & FLOORING
Even when furniture isn’t treated with VOC-containing paint or varnish, the resins used to manufacture furniture often contain VOCs. For example, formaldehyde is off-gassed from resins used in manufacturing a wide range of wood products, including pressed wood, particleboard, and laminate wood flooring.
Before furniture shopping, take the time to research the products you plan to buy to determine whether they could be VOC sources. Avoid purchasing furniture made with urea-formaldehyde glues or labeled as “UF.” Any furniture item made with pressed-wood products should meet the requirements for ultra-low emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) or NAF (no added formaldehyde). The products may also be labeled as low-VOC or Zero-VOC. Natural wood products (especially those made in the USA) do not off-gas nearly as much as synthetic wood products. Alternatively, buying pre-loved furniture can be an excellent option for you and the environment.
Do you remember how we mentioned that when you smell products lingering long after you’ve cleaned your bathroom, that you’re actually inhaling chemical matter? The same goes for your laundry. If you’re wearing a shirt that still smells like a “spring meadow” or a “mountain breeze” three days after washing it – you’re definitely inhaling VOCs. Alarmingly, these VOCs may even be seeping into your bloodstream. Synthetically scented products contain an extremely high number of VOCs. A study led by researchers at the University of Washington detected over 133 different types of VOCs in standard household products, including laundry products (specifically, detergent, softener, and dryer sheets), and found that each product off-gassed between one and eight toxic substances.
When it’s laundry day, reach for a detergent that’s free from synthetic fragrances, optical brighteners, and other harsh chemicals – and try swapping VOC-loaded softeners and dryer sheets for all-natural wool dryer balls instead.
CLEANING PRODUCTS & DISINFECTANTS
You clean your home to help keep your family healthy, but what if the products you’re using to clean are doing more harm than good? Conventional cleaning products and disinfectants are often loaded with harsh, VOC-producing chemicals. These can come from the same sources as they do in laundry products: synthetic fragrance. Air fresheners, cleaning sprays, and other aerosols are of particular concern since they are literally designed to release tiny droplets of chemicals into the environment. However, fragrance chemicals aren’t the only source of VOCs commonly used in cleaning products. For instance, chlorine bleach contains the VOCs chloroform and methyl chloroform that can be off-gassed during use. VOCs found in ammonia-based cleaners can include 2-butoxyethanol, camphene, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, and limonene. Furniture and floor-cleaning sprays can contain formaldehyde, ethylbenzene, tetrachloroethylene, and toluene. Exposure to these VOCs can pollute the air inside of your home and cause a laundry list of adverse health effects.
THERE IS A BETTER WAY!
Say goodbye to harsh, VOC-loaded cleaners and disinfectants. At Vital Oxide, we believe that cleaning shouldn’t be a hazard. Vital Oxide will replace your current household cleaners, sanitizers, and disinfectants with one product designed to enhance your environment. Vital Oxide is bleach-free, fragrance-free, dye-free, and VOC-free.
Vital Oxide can be used on most hard and soft surfaces; use it to clean and disinfect your bathroom, kitchen, and more. This all-in-one product can be used to kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria (including SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19), to eliminate common allergens (pet dander, dust mites, and more), eradicate mold and mildew (with up to 7 months residual effects), neutralize tough odors, sanitize food-contact surfaces (no rinsing required), clean HVAC systems and air ducts, and sanitize carpets and soft surfaces. And it does all this without any harsh fumes or harmful residues. Our passion is providing you with a product that keeps your environment clean and fresh without harsh chemicals.