You’re finally ready for some change in your home. You’ve been to the home improvement store and after an hour of indecisiveness you think you’ve narrowed down your choices to four options. You head to the paint desk and request samples of the paint to test them out before you commit. After arriving home, you take out your paint brushes and line up your options like tally marks on the wall. You’re immediately able to eliminate two of the options, but the other two are too close to decide. You decide to wait a week before rushing into a decision.
The week has flown by and you’ve finally decided on a paint color. You return to the store and after informing the clerk of your choice, you’re handed a brochure on Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). The clerk smiles cheerily and tells you your paint will be ready in 15 minutes. You nod mechanically and wonder how you’ll fill the time.
Customers bustle from one place to another and you glance around for a bench to sit and wait. The slick brochure slips out of your hands and you bend over, glancing at the facts and figures splashed across its pages. Whoa. You pick up the brochure and begin to learn more about VOCs.
The more you read, the more worried you become. It’s alarming to realize toxic gases may be floating around in your home and you may not even be aware of them.
What exactly are VOCs?
They’re a form of toxic gases that typically come from a large group of carbon-based chemicals. These gases are found in many household items and easily evaporate at room temperature. It’s important to note, some VOCs may smell whereas other won’t have any odor at all. The level of potential damage caused by VOCs is not related to the amount of odor released. Most fall in the category of “silent but deadly.” Pretty scary stuff.
Some everyday materials in our homes release VOCs. Here’s a list of items you may have in your home that are currently emitting toxic fumes.
- Air Fresheners
- Moth Balls
- Carpets & Adhesives
- Sealing Caulks
- Upholstery Fabrics
It’s somewhat intense realizing all of these items are potentially releasing VOCs into your home. Recent studies have shown the level of VOCs found in homes is generally two to five times higher than the level of VOCs found outdoors. Our homes are supposed to be a safe haven, which makes it all the more scary to know they’re not as safe as we’ve always believed.
Who is more at risk when it comes to VOCs exposure?
Individuals with breathing problems may be more susceptible to VOCs than others. Those who suffer from asthma are especially at risk for being more susceptible to illness or irritation from VOCs. Young children and elderly may also be more likely to develop sensitivities to VOCs.
What effects will VOCs have on my family’s health?
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “the risk of health effects from inhaling any chemical depends on how much is in the air, how long and how often a person breathes it in.” VOCs are part of a group of chemicals, which means “each chemical has its own toxicity and potential for causing different health effects.”
Short-Term (Acute) to high levels of VOCs
- Eye, Nose and Throat Irritation
- Worsening of Asthma Symptoms
Long-Term (Chronic) to high levels of VOCs
Increased risk of:
- Liver Damage
- Kidney Damage
- Central Nervous System Damage
What are some ways I can limit the amount of VOCs in my home?
The easiest way to limit exposure is to remove items that release VOCs. For example, common household cleaners are often placed under the kitchen sink. Yet, most of these items release VOCs when used and stored. You can minimize your exposure to these toxic gases by storing these products according to the manufacturers’ instructions. Better yet, make your own household cleaners and avoid VOCs altogether. Learn how to make your own natural cleaners here!
You’ll be relieved to know most items emitting “VOCs will off-gas within a short period of time, although some will continue to give off VOCs for a longer period of time.” Try to purchase environmentally friendly products that contain low VOCs or even better no VOCs when purchasing new items for your home.
Increasing ventilation is another simple way to reduce your exposure to VOCs. You can do this by using fans and opening doors or windows. The main goal is to maximize the amount of air entering your home from outside. You’re literally “airing out” your home.