VOCs are often chemicals that have become part of the manufacturing processes in a variety of industries. But are they good for our health and our environment?

Volatile organic compounds, often referred to as VOCs, are often human-made chemicals that have become part of the manufacturing processes in a variety of industries.

These chemicals evaporate at room temperature and have low water solubility and high vapor pressure. VOCs are harmful to our health and our environment because they emit gases from particular liquids and solids.

Let’s take a look at the effects these harmful chemicals can have on our health and our environment, and how we can protect ourselves from them.

What Products Or Materials Could Emit VOCs?

VOCs have higher concentrations indoors compared to outside, so they can be harmful to the indoor air quality within a home. Products that emit VOCs can include:

  • Pesticides
  • Cleaning liquids and sprays
  • Air fresheners
  • Building materials, such as plywood, glue, paint, and paint strippers
  • Drapes and fabrics in a home or building
  • Printing and copying machines
  • Burning of fuels, such as tobacco and kerosene products, gas, and wood
  • Diesel emissions
  • Personal care and toiletry products, such as hair spray and perfume

Health Concerns Associated With VOCs

There are both short and long-term health effects that humans can experience from exposure to VOCs. Short-term, VOCs can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Throat, eye, and nose irritation

Long-term effects include damage to the kidneys, central nervous system, liver, and/or lungs as well as visual impairment or memory loss.

Individuals with asthma can have more severe health complications from VOCs, especially if their exposure has been long-term.

However, many people who are exposed to low concentrations for short periods of time may not experience or notice any health effects.

The length of exposure and the concentration of these chemicals determine the harmful health effects humans can experience, and individuals who are exposed to low concentrations for long periods of time can be affected without their knowledge.

Mother holding an asthma inhaler for her child

Research continues to be performed on the health effects of VOCs, but as of now, it is best to take precautions to avoid these harmful health effects.

Taking Precautions In Your Home

When it comes to protecting your home and family from the harmful effects of VOCs, you need to be aware of which products contain these harmful chemicals.

Hire a professional to inspect your home’s exterior and interior to be sure the structure was built and sealed with safe, VOC-free products. Check your household products and perform research on the products and materials in your home to ensure they are free of these chemicals.

VOCs have higher concentrations indoors compared to outside, so they can be harmful to the indoor air quality within a home.

Being cautious may mean making some changes in and around your home. Do not allow anyone to smoke in or directly outside of your house. When you buy new furniture, try to store it for a few weeks before setting it up in your home for long-term use.

Additionally, avoid storing paints, solvents, and cleaning products in your home.

Ventilation is essential within the home. When you bring in new materials such as carpets or furniture or apply a fresh coat of paint to the interior of your home, keeping the windows open and allowing your home to air out is best.

Be especially careful with household and cleaning products that require highly ventilated areas to be opened.

Environmental Concerns

Not only can VOCs affect human health, but the chemicals also negatively affect our environment.

Environmental effects of VOCs include the formation of acid rain and ground-level ozone. [1] Acid rain occurs when acidic particles fall through the atmosphere, and when it does rain, the acidic compounds can significantly harm animals, trees, and human-built structures.

Trees dying in a field

Both aquatic and terrestrial animals can catch a disease and/or starve, soil can be contaminated, and bridges and buildings can become contaminated and in need of replacement.

Ground-level ozone can also result from the combination of VOCs and nitrogen oxides. This can severely impact plants and trees in that they’d be unable to protect themselves from disease and other sources of harm.

Consequently, even outdoor air quality can decline as a result of the formation of ground-level ozone.

Protecting Our Environment

Protecting our environment is essential to the survival of the human species. To reduce VOCs and protect our planet, there are a number of actions you and your family can take.

Environmental effects of VOCs include the formation of acid rain and ground-level ozone.

Think ahead and limit how often you drive, try to carpool or walk to a destination when you can, do not smoke tobacco products, hold outdoor fires in open and widespread areas, properly dispose of products that emit VOCs and other chemicals, protect plants that remove gaseous pollutants from our environment, and minimize the usage of household products that contain VOCs within and around your home.

Final Thoughts

Exposure to VOCs can not only cause you to suffer enormous health consequences, but our planet can also be harmed. By doing your part, you can help protect your family, your community, and our environment.

Make smart decisions and take the necessary precautions to prevent exposure to VOCs as much as possible.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7044178/

James Kao is the founder/CEO of GreenCitizen, which provides products and services that help make every day Earth Day. He's passionate about data and sustainability, with a deep background in launching, funding, and managing successful tech companies. James enjoys spending quality time with his family, hiking, traveling, watching well-made documentaries, and eating good healthy food. read more »

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