VOC’s In The Home, Why They Matter!

indoor air quality

“Dear Lord please do not take away my scented candles!” was one of the first things I said when I dove into the world of understanding just what these things called VOCs are.  “They smell so good!”, “But how can I have a holiday without them?”, and “Really, what about the ambiance?”, were just some of the thoughts that followed until I truly learned how harmful VOCs are.  VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds are everywhere, in almost everything to some extent, and are one of the least thoughts of indoor pollutants. Mold, yup everyone knows about that, lead and asbestos, we all have heard of or dealt with it, but VOC’s, most just ignore them as they know little to nothing about VOCs.  While after reading this article it is not my wish that you run and raid your candle cabinet, rather that you are simply aware of the potential harm of VOCs and are slightly more educated. Truth be told, while I seldom still use candles, I do light one for brief periods on special occasions as there is nothing more relaxing or elegant.

Now I have talked about VOCs in terms of candles, but what else are they in?  Well, with over 10,000 individual VOCs, the answer is A LOT. If it has a smell and you didn’t bake it, it is probably a VOC.   While there is no strict definition for Volatile Organic Compounds, a widely used definition is that they are compounds that easily become gases or vapors at any indoor given condition.  While the word volatile itself may seem scary, this simply refers to the ability of the compound to vaporize spontaneously given the correct conditions. Some compounds have a high vapor pressure which means the compound will escape easily and therefore are very volatile, and some have a low vapor pressure meaning they will not escape as easily and therefore are not as volatile.  A compounds volatility is important in assessing VOCs in the home as one product may contain more VOCs than another, but if it is not at volatile it will not affect the environment as much. Still confused, simply put a VOC is the off-gassing of a material that enters your indoor environment. 

If you can now envision that candle burning and the chemicals being released as it sends smoke into the air, let’s move on to how what is being released effects you as that is the most important aspect right?  From causing cancer to giving headaches, nose and throat irritation, and fatigue, you can see that VOCs are no joke. Have you ever had that friend that wears cologne or perfume that is just so strong it almost makes you sick to your stomach?  Think of the VOCs in your home in the same way, only most of the time it is not an all at once hit of odor that you are noticing, but more of a background odor or smell that you have become so accustomed to that you barely even notice. There have been countless studies done on the levels of VOCs inside the home and while some statistics found levels to be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoors, others have noted them to be almost 10 times higher than outdoors.  In my opinion, I will air on the side of 10 times the exterior levels as homes are now being built more “airtight” and “energy-efficient”. To compound this we, unfortunately, live in a society of buy buy buy which means we are constantly adding new items to our homes that off-gas. Lastly in addition to all of the above, once again great marketing has held us hostage. Did you know that in most cases when you buy that low VOC paint, as soon as you add a tint to get that perfect color you bump the levels right back up or higher?  Yup, you tired, but in reality simply opening your windows and providing accurate ventilation would have been your best bet and probably saved you money in the long run. 

I know that I have hammered on candles a lot, and now paint, but where else might VOC’s be found.  Think of anything that smells. From your cleaning products to your personal care products, they all most likely have them unless they are natural or organic.  Acetone, Benzene, Butanal, Carbon Disulfide, Dichlorobenzene, Ethanol, Terpenes, Toluene and Formaldehyde are some of the top VOCs that are found in the home. Do some of those sound scary?  Good, as hopefully, it will make you think twice. Now broken down you know what most of the above are, but I am going for shock effect here to simply get you thinking. Acetone we all know from nail polish, and furniture polish, but I urge you to look into the more rare things such as Dichlorobenzene that is commonly found in mothballs and deodorizers.  Can’t pronounce it, that is fine as neither can I before a cup of coffee, however, I do know that it can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation. Fun right! Now let’s move on to Ethanol which I am sure we have all heard of, but did you know that it can be found in glass cleaners, dishwasher detergent, and laundry detergent? Yes, you heard me right, Ethanol can be in your laundry detergent. 

If all the above has scared you, I apologize, however, I want to get you to start thinking.  Yes, you have to be human and enjoy life which means that you cannot avoid all VOC’s, but you can be aware of them and make better choices to reduce the overall load of contamination in your home.  Simple practices can be done on a daily basis such as opening those windows and doors and letting your home breathe! If you have a stockpile of paint in your garage that you have never thrown away, go ahead and get rid of the extra chemicals that are just sitting there, and if you have cleaners that are not being used, dispose of those as well. Use your exhaust fans when cooking with oils, and rather than burning candles around the clock actually save them for special occasions and holidays.  While there are products that you can buy such as gas-phase air cleaners, which physically remove the VOC molecules, as you can see a great deal can be removed naturally at no cost directly to you. 

In closing, I hope that I have made you think.  Your home is supposed to be the place that you come and relax, and recharge at the end of the day so that you can start fresh the next.  We often notice mold, water damage, and things that are so to speak in our face, but I would like you to start looking at the larger picture at some of the hidden dangers that are simple to avoid or fix such as VOCs levels.  If would like your home inspected, tested, or assessed for VOC’s call The Mold Girl at 843-765-2812.