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Impact of Volatile Organic Compounds on Air Quality and Health

Woman Using Cleaning Solution on Window

Woman Using Cleaning Solution on Window

Y ou may think that by closing your windows and doors, you protect yourself from air pollution. This is our main instinct, and it is a good one when we are trying to remove the action of dust or smoke that are coming from outside, but the truth is that we can only limit their effects. And this isn’t even our bigger problem as many pollution sources are already found inside our homes, and we deal with them every day without even noticing how harmful they are.

Cleaning products, paint, and even some organic substances can release gases that are either harmful from the start or interact with other gases and become dangerous. We are talking about volatile organic compounds, on which we will concentrate our full attention in this article. So, keep reading to find out how they affect the quality of the air indoors and what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones.

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds are chemical compounds that have low water solubility but elevated vapor pressure. They are usually found in products made by humans but can also result from an industrial process that implies burning or chemical reactions. They can be emitted either by liquid or solid substances and can be easily inhaled, with harmful effects on the organism, which can be provisory or permanent, depending on the degree of exposure.

Woman Using Cleaning Solution on Window

Woman Using Cleaning Solution on Window

Main Sources

If you go through your cleaning supplies, you will easily find at least one product that can release VOCs into the air. They contain tetrachloroethylene, toluene, or formaldehyde, which will spread immediately once you open the bottle. Here are the most common:

  • Renovation materials like paint or adhesives
  • Cleaning solutions, including dust sprays and floor mopping substances
  • Air fresheners and scented candles
  • New carpets and upholstery
  • Smoke released by cigars or wood stoves
  • Hobby materials like glue or paint
  • Fuels, especially gasoline

How do They Affect Air Quality and Health?

Once you start using one of these solutions, the gases will gradually lift into the air and travel around the room. Some of them have a strong smell that lets you know something toxic is being released, like chlorine-based products, but your nose shouldn’t be your own instrument for detecting VOCs. As a matter of fact, many of them don’t smell at all or have a pleasant smell. Remember that air fresheners are among the sources, and the smell is the thing for which we buy them in the first place.

So, you can check the label for information and keep an eye on the following symptoms that may suggest that the air in your home is highly polluted:

  • Your head is hurting
  • You experience dizziness and nausea
  • You feel suddenly or permanently fatigued
  • Your nose and eyes are irritated
  • Your skin is irritated
  • You have problems breathing

Although not all gaseous compounds are dangerous, some of them have been related to cancer or central nervous system illnesses. They can also affect the liver and kidneys if exposed to high quantities. However, it is still not known to which extent they can affect human life. Until now, the studies performed on animals have revealed their potential danger, but the effects on humans are still in a great degree unknown.

Open Window in Room for Air Freshening

Open Window in Room for Air Freshening

What Measures Should You Take?

  • The safest measure is to completely eliminate the source. For example, if you used to smoke in the house, take it outside from now on to protect your family and reduce smoke pollution inside.
  • Open the windows wide when cleaning and use an air circulator to dissipate gaseous compounds. A window fan is the most suitable for smokers, as it can direct the smoke outdoors while keeping the heat inside.
  • Check out the labels before buying the products and try to pick the ones that have more natural ingredients. However, keep in mind that this is no guarantee that the product won’t release VOCs. The environmental condition and the presence of other substances can make it react and release gaseous compounds, some harmful and some not.
  • Run an air purifier with an activated carbon filter. The carbon is treated to absorb gaseous compounds and odors, therefore will not only remove formaldehyde and other harmful substances but will improve the freshness of the air in the room
  • Try not to keep sources of VOCs inside. For example, buy only the quantity of paint you need, so you don’t have to store the rest. Once you have opened the box, it is almost impossible to seal it back and even if you keep it closed, the compounds will find their way out.
  • Perform home renovation only when the house is uninhabited. A home makeover implies jobs like replacing the floors, painting the walls and furniture, installing wallpaper, and all these are followed by a thorough cleaning. These activities will release not only VOCs but a lot of dust, which will eventually end up in your lungs.
Woman with Her Feet on the Air Purifier and Moisturizer Unit

Woman with Her Feet on the Air Purifier and Moisturizer Unit

Is it Worth Buying an Air Purifier for VOCs?

The answer to this question is yes. As a matter of fact, a device specialized in removing gases and odors is the only one that can perform a complete cleaning of the air. Leaving the windows open may work to reduce the number of contaminants but it won’t remove them completely. However, you need to choose wisely, as not all the air cleaners are efficient enough for this task. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • It should include a True HEPA filter – When it comes to filtering technologies, HEPA’s tight weaving makes it the best choice for fighting particles that are as small as 0.3 microns. If the VOCs are released by wildfires, they are probably accompanied by other dangerous substances that need to be contained.
  • The carbon activated filter should be loaded – The quantity of carbon along with the source are highly important. Avoid cheap filters that have only a thin layer of fishy carbon to make sure the contaminants are neutralized. And choose carbon derived from coconuts. It has denser pores and is more efficient.
  • It should be able to cover the whole room – Check CADR ratings to make sure it has the power to provide purification for your space. It isn’t enough to believe what the manufacturer claims. Only reliable measurements and tests can offer the guarantee that it will remove contaminants at an efficient rate

Bottom Line

Pollution has become part of our life, and the truth is that we must learn to live with it. And it is possible, as long as we take the measures to lower its action upon our health. This doesn’t mean we need to turn our homes in fortresses but that we need to ensure that the quality of the air we breathe is up to the standards. As you have seen, VOCs are dangerous, but still not the only contaminants that can affect your health. Daily we are looking for means to remove allergens that cause us to sneeze or deal with unpleasant odors. Luckily, we are living in an era in which almost every problem has a solution that causes another problem, and so on.

Beth Wilhelm
Beth Wilhelm
Beth is the team’s reviewer, her 10-year experience selling air purifiers in her home town making her the go-to for everything related to the topic. Beth has been battling allergies for most of her life, relying on air purification tools for home and office use to atone symptoms, so her content is often based on personal experience. Just like the rest of the team, she values content quality and takes the needed time when writing articles to make sure readers receive the information they seek.

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