Your home should be a place of rest and recuperation, an oasis where you can relax and recharge from the hustle of life. Unfortunately, many houses suffer from poor air quality, which can affect residents with a multitude of health issues.
Some of the most common toxic chemicals found in indoor air are volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Many common household products can emit VOCs, damaging your air quality and your health.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to reduce VOC levels in your home.
What Are VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds are unstable organic chemicals emitted as gas from some solids and liquids. They contain carbon and have a low boiling point, which leads to quick emission as gases. Many VOCs exist in nature, and not all of them are harmful.
However, most VOCs come from man-made products such as paint, wood varnish, pesticides, nail polish and cleaning products. Many can be harmful to human health, although it depends on each one’s chemical composition. Some common toxic chemicals found in VOCs include:
- Carbon tetrachloride
- Vinyl chloride
Because VOCs off-gas over time, they can affect air quality over many years. Studies show much higher levels of VOCs indoors than outdoors, likely because they are part of so many construction materials.
Health Hazards of VOCs
Health hazards of VOCs vary depending on the type and length of exposure. They seem to specifically impact brain health, causing headaches, dizziness and memory impairment.
VOCs’ long-term effects can range from eye irritation to liver damage, and some suspect they play a part in causing cancer after extended exposure. A study conducted in 2010 also shows a correlation between VOC exposure and suppression of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for quieting the body and regulating essential functions like digestion.
Although it is generally agreed that VOCs are harmful to health, they are still included in many renovation elements like paint, personal care items and craft products.
Until more regulations are in place, it’s up to you to regulate your environment and promote healthy air for you and your family.
Items That Emit VOCs
Fortunately, there are a few easy steps you can take today to reduce the levels of VOCs in your home. First, take stock of any items that may be off-gassing. Some common things you may have around the house include:
- Paint — cans or freshly painted walls
- Aerosol spray paints
- Paint strippers
- Nail polish and acetone remover
- Cigarette and tobacco smoke
- Dry-cleaned clothes with an odor
- Air fresheners
- Some candles
- Some plastic, including synthetic mattresses
- Furniture varnish
Because VOCs are emitted over time, items you’ve owned for a while are safer for your air quality than new items.
However, some products that emit VOCs can leach through sealed containers, so it’s a good idea not to keep any strong chemicals inside your home.
How to Do a VOC Cleanse
The two steps you can take to reduce VOCs in your home are simple.
First, remove as many unnecessary items as possible. For instance, throw away extra chemicals, toxic air fresheners and old plastic containers. Be thoughtful about what new materials you bring into your home, and switch to nontoxic cleaning products.
Next, use fresh air to reduce the levels of VOCs inside your home. If your house is new or freshly painted, you can “bake” it by cranking the heat and opening the windows to let as many VOCs as possible escape before you move in.
Leaving new furniture outside for a few days can also help reduce VOC emissions.
You may also want to consider soil remuneration to free your property of toxic chemical buildup. Cleaning your soil is especially wise if you’re going to grow a garden near your home. Many hazardous materials from pesticides, mining activity and wastewater can pollute the land, harming plant and animal life.
VOCs are just one element that can damage soil health – it may also be contaminated with heavy metals and chlorinated hydrocarbons.
Breathe the Free Air
The quality of air you breathe is essential to your health. While you may be aware of outdoor pollutants and chemicals in office buildings, don’t forget to check the air quality of your home, too.
Many houses have poor indoor air quality because of VOCs and poor ventilation. You can improve the health of your home simply by reducing toxic chemical exposure and bringing fresh air inside. Your brain and body will benefit, and your home will become the refuge it was supposed to be all along.
I also assume that you can reduce the amount of VOCs in your home by using carbon air filters in your HVAC system. They are designed to filter gases through a bed of activated carbon and are usually used to combat volatile organic compounds released from common household products and other items in our homes.