4 Ways to Reduce Harmful VOC Levels in Your Home

published Feb 23, 2023
2 min read

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can wreak havoc on your health. Unfortunately, these compounds are in many products you use every day. Learn how to reduce the VOCs in your home to keep you and your family healthy all year round.

A Refresher on VOCs

Volatile organic compounds are chemicals found in thousands of household products and building materials, such as furniture or paint. Some VOCs — also known as BVOCs (biogenic volatile organic compounds) — naturally occur, as they’re produced by animals, plants and microorganisms.

However, when VOCs turn to vapor or gas, they can significantly impact the indoor air quality (IAQ) of your home. Extended exposure to VOCs in your home can harm your and your family’s health. For example, VOC exposure can lead to headaches or lightheadedness, fatigue, eye, nose and throat irritation, and respiratory issues. Some VOCs can cause cancer or other health symptoms such as nausea or damage to the central nervous system.

Common VOC Sources in Homes

You may know about VOCs and how they harm your health, but do you know which materials are the most common sources of VOCs? See a list of common VOC sources below, according to the American Lung Association.

Indoor Sources

Some building materials in your home that emit VOCs include:

  • Paint, paint strippers and other solvents
  • Varnishes and finishes
  • Adhesives
  • Flooring
  • Caulks and sealants
  • Carpet
  • Pressed wood products

Here are some everyday household products that are VOC sources:

  • Cleaning products and disinfectants
  • Pesticides
  • Furniture
  • Air fresheners (including plug-ins)
  • Cosmetic products and deodorants
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Wood burning stoves
  • Printers and copiers
  • Glues, permanent markers, and other arts and crafts products

Outdoor Sources

In addition to indoor sources, VOCs can originate from outside sources, such as:

  • Wood burning
  • Industrial emissions
  • Diesel emissions
  • Gasoline
  • Oil and gas extraction processing

According to the EPA, VOC levels average two to five times higher inside than outside, meaning VOCs can heavily impact your home’s IAQ.

4 Ways to Reduce VOCs in Your Home

Because exposure to VOCs can have dangerous health effects on you and your family, it’s important to reduce VOC levels in your home as much as possible. Aside from not using products with high levels of VOCs, there are some ways to keep VOC levels in your home low to improve your IAQ.

1. Use Low or No VOC Products

When possible, try using products with low- or no-VOC labels on them. For example, some brands make paints with little or no VOCs, allowing you to paint the walls of your home without worrying about your family’s health. Products may also receive certifications to help consumers decide which ones are non-toxic.

Carpets and rugs can receive Green Label Plus and Green Seal certifications that apply to products that have passed a strict set of standards. Green Seals can be found on certain paints, adhesives, laundry care, personal care and floor care items. If possible, search for these labels while you shop.

2. Follow Label Instructions

It’s always a good idea to follow the manufacturer’s instructions or guidance when using products that contain VOCs. That could mean wearing an N-95 mask while spraying products from aerosol cans or taking extra precautions while spraying pesticides near your home. When you follow these instructions, you’re keeping yourself and your family safe from exposure to VOCs.

3. Ventilate Your Home

Another good way to reduce exposure to VOCs is to ventilate your home occasionally. Bringing in fresh air from outside is a best practice for any homeowner, regardless of if they use products with VOCs. Ventilation is a great way to circulate the air within your home, improving IAQ and keeping your home free of toxins. An added benefit of ventilating your home is removing any bad smells, as fresh air can deodorize the air.

4. Keep Temperature and Humidity Low

Try your best to set your home’s thermostat to a low temperature as much as possible. The goal is to keep a cooler temperature and humidity because products containing VOCs will release them more quickly in warm, humid environments.

Keeping your thermostat set to low can also lower your energy bills and help you save money in the long run. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, try and set your thermostat to 68° Fahrenheit for most of the day.

Reducing VOCs to Keep Your Home and Family Healthy

There are no federal guidelines on VOCs, but you can still follow the tips above to reduce the VOC levels in your home. Ventilate your home regularly, keep your home cool, try to find products with little or no VOCs, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on all the items you use.

Emily J. Newton

Emily Newton is a manufacturing journalist who regularly covers the industry trends. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. Subscribe to read more from Emily.