Volatile Organic Compounds in Commonly Used Products

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in air that can affect your health. People can take steps to reduce their exposure to VOCs in indoor air.

  • picture of can of gasoline
  • picture of household cleaners
  • picture of nail polish

VOCs come from many commonly used products and indoor furnishings including:

  • Gasoline, fuels and solvents
  • Paints, stains, strippers and finishes
  • Pesticides
  • Personal care products
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleaners and room deodorizers
  • New cabinets, furniture and beds
  • New carpets, rugs and wood floors

How do VOCs get into indoor air?

Some VOCs are gases that come inside from outdoor air, but many VOCs are gases given off by solids and liquids inside buildings. Many products release VOCs when they are used. You might notice an odor when using these products. Many different VOCs are present in the air of most indoor settings.

What are the health effects of VOCs?

Short-term exposure to high levels of some VOCs can cause headaches, dizziness, light-headedness, drowsiness, nausea, and eye and respiratory irritation. These effects usually go away after the exposure stops. In laboratory animals, long-term exposure to high levels of some VOCs has caused cancer and affected the liver, kidney and nervous system.

How can I reduce the levels of VOCs indoors?

Use and purchase low VOC products. The levels of certain VOCs in many products are being reduced by many manufacturers to comply with regulations. Some products also have industry certifications for low VOC labeling, such as GreenGuard, Green Seal, and Eurofins. However, this labeling relates to the chemical’s ozone producing potential, not necessarily its likelihood to affect health.

Indoor levels of VOCs increase when you use or bring products containing VOCs inside. Levels of VOCs from household products will decrease if you ventilate the area. To ventilate, open windows or doors to bring in fresh air, and use exhaust fans to remove odors. Dispose of unneeded products that contain VOCs. Some products are considered household hazardous wastes. Information about disposing of these products can be found by contacting your town, or by visiting visit New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Household Hazardous Waste website.

Some building materials and furnishings, such as new carpets or furniture, may release VOCs over time. Ventilate rooms containing new carpeting or furniture. VOC levels can increase again after the ventilation stops. If possible, air out new carpets and furniture outside your home (in a shed or detached garage) before bringing them inside.

If VOC containing products are used outdoors near your home, you may want to close windows and nearby vents to prevent chemicals from coming inside. VOCs can also get into indoor air from contaminated soils and groundwater under buildings. The chemicals enter buildings through cracks and openings in basements or slabs. When nearby soil or groundwater is contaminated, you might be asked for permission to investigate indoor air at your property. More information can be found on the Soil Vapor Intrusion webpage.

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