Air pollution is a very real environmental concern. Although we often associate air pollution with what’s happening outside, the air inside of your home can very well be polluted too. Whereas outdoor air pollution is driven by burning fossil fuels and emissions from the animal agriculture industry, as well as other, indoor air pollution is largely due to the chemicals in the household products we use.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCS) are one of the most prevalent groups of chemicals used as ingredients in household products in homes today. These chemicals evaporate at room temperature and are emitted into the air as gases. Many chemicals that fall under this category pose a threat to human health.

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Exposure to low levels of VOCs for short periods of time can lead to an increase in respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, headaches and in some cases cause allergic reactions. Long term or chronic exposure to volatile organic compounds can lead to an increased risk of kidney damage, liver damage and cancer. Two of the known volatile organic compounds, benzene and formaldehyde, are considered human carcinogens. Despite the dangers, Benzene is considered one of the top twenty most widely used chemicals in the United States.

It’s important to mention that those the elderly or young and those with compromised immune systems are the most at risk from this chemicals. Studies show that people who suffer from asthma can have increased symptoms, even when exposed to low-levels of VOCs.

Homes today are built to be efficient, ultimately leaving the pollutants with no escape. Without proper ventilation while using products containing VOCs the air quality outside of the home can wind up superior to the air quality inside. In fact, the EPA has performed studies that show households with low levels of VOCs indoors can still be two to five times higher than the VOCs outside.

VOCs show up as the main ingredient in a wide variety of every day products, making it imperative to be mindful and always check the list of ingredients of whatever you may be purchasing.

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Some of the most common volatile organic compounds found in household products are: Acetone, Benzene, Ethylene glycol, Formaldehyde, Methylene chloride, Perchloroethylene, Toluene, Xylene and 1,3-butadiene.

So what kind of household products should you be on the look out for that might contain these chemicals?

1. Aerosol Sprays

Although modern day aerosol sprays are CFC-free, they still emit VOCs into the air. VOCs are often mixed in with liquids to speed up the drying process and to increase cover.

2. Paint

Paint thinner, lacquer thinner and oil based stains all may contain VOCs. For a list of what ingredients to look for check here. Be mindful that even paints that read zero or low VOCs can still contain low-levels of these chemicals according to industry standard. The best way to go is to look for a non-toxic paint.

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 3. Beauty Supplies

Nail polish, nail polish remover, cologne, perfume and hair spray all usually contain some level of Acetone, a common volatile organic compound.

 4. Air Fresheners

Air fresheners and other scented products contain levels of VOCs. Always be sure to check the ingredient list and look for products that contain low levels of VOC, if any at all.

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5. Bleach and Detergent

Both bleach and detergent can contain varying levels of VOCs. (Not to mention the combination of bleach with other household products, like ammonia, can have devastating effects on its own.) Look for VOC-free alternatives whenever possible.

6. Wood Polish and Upholstery Cleaner

Building materials, including floors, and new rugs and couches contain VOCs and can release chemicals slowly over long periods of time, this process is called off-gassing. VOCs evaporate into the air at different rates. You might smell a new carpet or wood varnish, but you are also getting doused with an array of chemicals. Over the counter products used to ensure the quality of these items, like wood polish and upholstery cleaner, can also contain VOCs.

Finding an Alternative

Although these chemicals often exist in small amounts, using products containing VOCs daily over a long period of time has been known to have a negative influence on one’s health. When VOCs are released into the atmosphere, they react chemically and create ground-level ozone. This is the building block of smog and it is also highly dangerous to human health. The easiest way to protect yourself from these risks is to limit your exposure to VOCs by minimizing the amount of products you use that contain them. This small step is beneficial for the health of you, your loved ones and the planet as well.

So now that you know about VOCs and what to look out for, check out some awesome non-toxic housecleaning ideas here.

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Image source: Healthy Homes Coalition