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Common Sources of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the Home

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a group of chemicals that can vaporize easily and introduce gas pollutants into your home. Often released into the air from synthetic and composite materials, VOCs are usually emitted during home construction, finishing, or cleaning. VOCs can be released from a wide variety of products often found in the home, including cleaning supplies, paints and paint strippers, pesticides, building materials, carpets, caulk, varnishes, and even air fresheners.

Concentrations of VOCs are often up to 10 times higher indoors than they are outdoors, meaning that homeowners should take special care in decreasing the amount of VOCs emitted in the indoor environment. To decrease the amount of VOCs in your home, follow these steps:

  • Increase ventilation when using products that emit VOCs, particularly during and after painting.
  • Use household products, such as cleaning solutions, according to label directions.
  • Avoid storing partially-used or open containers of products containing VOCs. Only buy quantities that you will use immediately.
  • Purchase solid wood items with low-emitting finishes and products and paints that contain low or no VOCs.
  • Try to perform renovations when your house is unoccupied.
  • Keep your home’s temperature and humidity as low as possible, while still being comfortable. Chemicals will release VOCs more readily in warmer, more humid conditions.

The risk of health effects resulting from VOC presence in your home depends on how much is in the air and how often a person breathes it in. Short-term, or acute, health effects after breathing in high levels of VOCs can include eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and worsening of asthma symptoms. It’s estimated that long-term, or chronic, health effects after breathing in high levels of VOCs for a long period of time can include cancer, as well as liver and kidney damage. Those with respiratory problems and asthma may be more susceptible to VOCs-related health effects.

If you have reason to believe your home may contain a high level of VOCs, contact RTS Environmental Services, Inc. RTS Environmental has provided thousands of mold, asbestos, and indoor air quality inspections throughout the Washington DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia region.