Healthy Living

What You Need to Know to Avoid VOCs

woman's hands applying VOC free nail polish removerA lot of people are worried about volatile organic compounds, better known as VOCs. These compounds can cause health issues like allergies and asthma—some have even been linked to cancer. Yet because you often can’t see or smell them, it’s difficult to know when your air has been compromised. Especially now that most new homes are built airtight for energy efficiency, VOCs are often trapped inside. Learn how to identify and avoid VOCs found in most American homes.

Often, you can’t see or smell them, so it’s hard to identify VOCs, linked to allergies, asthma and even cancer. Learn how to find and eliminate VOCs! Because of VOCs, the air inside our homes can be more polluted than the air outside. One study showed as many as 300 VOCs inside a closed room—and two outside the window.

“Human exposure to VOCs occurs predominately through inhalation of contaminated air, particularly indoor air—and this exposure is often increased from the use of household cleaning and personal care products. Newer homes designed to be more energy efficient often exacerbate this issue by restricting airflow with outside air and trapping airborne chemicals indoors,” said Dr. Ted Myatt, an environmental health scientist who participated in a study to determine the 10 most common VOCs in American homes today. “Many household VOCs have known toxicities and can be associated with headaches and irritation of the eye, nose and throat.”

The study, which was produced in conjunction with Honeywell air purifiers, identified these top 10 VOC offenders:


Found in “wood” materials like particleboard and fiberboard, some molded plastics, floor lacquers and varnishes, many latex paints, as well as some wallpapers, cardboard and paper products.

terpenes (pinene and limonene)

Released by many fragranced cleaning products, laundry detergents and fabric softeners, hand sanitizers, personal care products, baby shampoo and soaps. These VOCs are rarely found in outdoor air—meaning their source is primarily household products and goods used indoors.


Found in cleaning products like glass cleaners and disinfectants, dishwashing and laundry detergent, fabric softeners and deodorizers.


This VOC is released by deodorizers and mothballs, and rarely found in outdoor air.


Found in gasoline combustion—indoors, this could be a result of running a car in an attached garage—as well as some paints, benzene is also a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and has been classified by the EPA as a known human carcinogen.


This VOC is released by nail polish, paint and solvents, especially those found in gasoline; often, higher indoor air levels are associated with attached garages.


Released from nail polish remover, oil paint, furniture polish, wallpaper and carpet glues.

carbon disulfide

Found in chlorinated tap water and bleach.


Cigarette smoke, cooking stoves, burning candles and barbecues that use charcoal or wood all release butanal.


Found in vehicle emissions, indoor levels of xylene can be higher when cars idle in attached garages.

What can you do?

Follow these tips:

1. Read labels before buying products to avoid VOCs; as much as possible, choose natural products from companies that clearly disclose their ingredients.

2. Especially in bedrooms, use an air purifier that includes a carbon filter, which can help filter out VOCs.

3. Increase the number of indoor plants in your home; these naturally filter out air pollutants and VOCs. (Click here for NASA’s list of the best air filtering plants.)

4. Open your windows daily to increase ventilation; if possible, step outside or turn up your air purifier when you’re using a product—like nail polish or remover—that contains VOCs. The photo above is from Wikihow’s 3 Ways to Remove Nail Polish Without Using Remover, one of which recommends using alcohol–this seems like a great way to avoid VOCs to me!

This post was sponsored by Honeywell and meets the standards I’ve established to endorse a brand as “Mommy Greenest Approved.” Click here for more about Editorial Standards. 


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