VOCs: The Dangerous Chemicals Lurking In Your Home (& How to Reduce Your Exposure)

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Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be found just about everywhere in your home – and they can be very dangerous to your health. Here are some tips to help minimize your exposure…

Would you be surprised to learn that your household cleaners may be contributing more pollution to the environment than your car? In fact, recent research has found that emissions from automobiles have declined in recent decades, while chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are found in household cleaners, personal care products, perfumes, and similar products have increased and now make up about half of today’s air pollution.

VOCs include a wide range of different chemicals that can be hazardous to your health, including formaldehyde, toluene and acetone. They can be found in everything from perfumes, hairspray and nail polish, to home cleaners and air fresheners, particle board, glues, sealers, and finishes, to carpets and fiberglass.

These chemicals can irritate your skin, eyes, and respiratory system, and may even cause long-term liver damage, central nervous system damage, and cancer. Some of them contain tiny particles that can lodge deep in the lungs, triggering asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.

The European Union has banned or restricted many of these chemicals for use in personal care products, but here in the U.S., there are few if any regulations to protect you from their harmful effects.

This means it’s up to you to protect yourself – and others in your immediate environment – from the damaging impact of VOCs. Here are a few ways to minimize your exposure at home, according to the Environmental Working Group:

  • Do your best to avoid products with VOCs. Some products, such as paint, are available with low or no VOCs. Look for Green Seal-11 certified paint, wood stains and finishes. (Or utilize EWG’s free product safety database to find safer products.)
  • If you absolutely must use products that contain VOCs, be sure to properly ventilate the area. Open windows and the door if you can. Point a fan out the window to get VOCs cycling out of the room, or turn on an exhaust fan. Follow the instructions for safe use. If the packaging of a product tells you not to use it without proper ventilation, don’t.
  • Only buy products known to release VOCs in small quantities, keep them tightly closed and use them as quickly as possible.
  • A mixture of vinegar and baking soda is a good alternative cleaner. And, when possible, you can swap cleaning sprays and liquids for water-dampened sponges, or microfiber or cotton cloths.
  • Use water-based adhesives when possible.


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