What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?
VOCs are chemicals that have a very low boiling point, which means they are readily released as vapours or gases from the products containing them. They can be both man-made and natural, some harmless to our health and others are known to be toxic
They are commonly found in products around the home, from building materials to cleaning products to personal care products. They are also components of outdoor air pollution, but levels indoors are higher by an average of 2 – 5 times that of outdoor levels.
Examples of VOCs include formaldehyde, solvents in paints, benzene, perchloroethyene (used in drycleaning processes), and chemicals in fragrance. Many products used in construction and home furnishings emit VOCs, contributing to poor indoor air quality. These include sealants, adhesives, paints, etc.
Health Effects of VOCs
Some VOCs are known carcinogens at high levels, while others cause health concerns at levels commonly found indoors. These include breathing problems; headaches; and/or eye, nose and throat irritation. Those with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity tend to be more sensitive to VOCs.
How to Reduce Your Exposure
Choosing more natural, less toxic products inside your home can go a long way towards reducing your exposure to VOCs. Opting for an all-natural mattress made with organic cotton over synthetic foam, for example. Choosing low-VOC construction materials will also help reduce your exposure; however, this requires some careful research and label-reading.
It’s important to note that while products may contain “zero VOC” or “low VOC” on labels, there isn’t a legal definition of these claims. One commonly referenced standard is the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), which offers a range of guidelines for maximum VOC concentrations of various products. This is the standard referenced by the most common green building standard, LEED.
VOC contents may be found in product technical data sheets or material safety data sheets (MSDSs). You can use these to compare the VOC content in g/L to the limits set by SCAQMD when researching products. It is important to note that VOC measurements often exclude certain VOCs and are typically taken before colour is added to products like paint. So it’s a decent way to compare products, but just because it says zero- or low-VOC doesn’t mean it’s VOC free.
We’ve vetted each product to be low VOC according to LEED criteria, saving you time so you can focus on what matters most.
So check out our Reduce your indoor pollution collection of caulks, sealants, and adhesives for your next home project.