The Dangers of VOCs in Your Home’s Air

The air in your home may not be as clean as you think it is. In fact, indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than the air outside, thanks to pollutants lurking in common products and construction materials. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are found in everything from cleaning products and paint to pesticides, furnishings, and aerosol sprays. According to the EPA, concentrations of VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors. Exposure to high amounts of certain VOCs can negatively impact your health, causing symptoms such as:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Allergic skin reactions
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

While some VOCs can be dangerous, there are steps you can take to reduce their prevalence in your home. We’ve put together this guide to educate you on the most common types of VOCs, and what you can do to safely improve your home’s air quality.

Most common household VOCs

To reduce the levels of VOCs in your home, the first step is to conduct a thorough inspection for the most common sources of VOCs. If you have unused chemicals like paint, solvents, adhesives  or varnishes, these are a good place to start. Take a good look at the label and keep an eye out for ingredients that are VOCs. The most common household VOCs include:


Acetone is commonly found in furniture polish, wallpaper, and nail polish remover. Fortunately, acetone-free versions of these products are readily available.


Butanal is found in cigarettes, stoves, barbecues and burning candles. You can reduce your exposure to butanal by only smoking outdoors and never using outdoor cooking appliances (like camping stoves) in the home. For candle enthusiasts, try burning beeswax or soy candles instead. These candles contain little to no butanal for a safer burning experience.


Molded plastics, floor lacquers, some fabrics and manufactured wood products are common sources of formaldehyde. Higher formaldehyde levels are found in homes that were recently constructed, or in homes with lots of new furniture. Tobacco smoke is also a major source of formaldehyde in the home. Keeping your home smoke free and well ventilated can reduce your formaldehyde exposure.


Heavily fragranced products like laundry detergents, soaps, and air fresheners often contain terpenes. To avoid skin irritation, opt for natural products without added fragrance.


Glass cleaners and dishwashing detergents often contain ethanol. When using a cleaning product that contains ethanol, it’s best to keep fresh air flowing in your home by opening a window.

This is only a short list of potential VOCs in the home—for more information, the EPA maintains information about other common VOCs.

How you can improve air quality

There are no federal or state standards for VOC levels in the home but eliminating products that contain VOCs can help negate their effects. Here are simple steps you can take to improve the air quality in your home.

Improve ventilation

Increasing the amount of fresh outdoor air that enters your home can counter the effects of poor indoor air quality. This is especially important when it comes to activities that generate potential air pollutants—such as using paint or cleaners with ingredients like bleach or ammonia. A window or a door is an easy way to improve ventilation when the weather is nice. When it is not, you can rely on the fans and ventilation systems in your bathroom and kitchen to get the job done.

Change your filters regularly

When’s the last time you changed your filters? A filter’s efficiency is impacted by how clean it is. If you don’t change your filters often enough, they will begin to fail. With the filter unable to do its job, dust and contaminants will be able to escape, polluting your system and impacting indoor air quality.

We recommend replacing your filters every month. Outside of your normal replacement schedule, it’s helpful to visually inspect filters to see if you may need to swap them out sooner. Look for a visual coating of dust or dirt to indicate that your filters need to be replaced.

Keep up with cleaning

When you clean your home, you are cleaning the air as well. Instead of using cleaners containing VOCS or harsh ingredients like ammonia and bleach, try using milder cleaning solutions. For example, a 50/50 mix of water and vinegar can clean windows, countertops, and more. Additionally, keeping up with tasks like laundry and dusting on a regular basis can greatly reduce the amount of dust and debris in your home’s air.

Vacuuming regularly is another simple and easy way to cut down on airborne particles in your home. This is especially important if your home has carpet, which can hold more contaminants than hard flooring. Certain vacuums also contain HEPA filters, which can provide an extra layer of protection against dust and other airborne contaminants. HEPA filters are specially constructed to filter out 99.97% of particles in the air, including mold spores, bacteria, and more.

Add some greenery

Houseplants aren’t just for home décor. They can also improve the air quality in your home by removing common air pollutants that are produced by carpet, cleaning products, and paint. A study conducted by NASA in conjunction with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America revealed that placing one house plant every 50 feet can effectively remove VOCs that pollute the air. Thus, significantly improving indoor air quality.

Plants that can add a hint of greenery and freshen the air in your home include:

  • Bamboo Palm
  • English Ivy
  • Gerbera Daisy
  • Peace Lily

Schedule HVAC maintenance

Regular maintenance helps your HVAC system continually operate at peak performance. The tests and inspections that come standard with our exclusive 26-point maintenance plan can help keep the air in your home as clean as possible. For example, we check the air filter size to make sure it is not too big or too small. Improperly sized filters can allow more contaminants to circulate throughout your home. For the most thorough inspection of your system, look no further than Chas Roberts.

Air quality questions? Ask Chas Roberts

Your HVAC system plays a vital role in keeping clean air circulating throughout your home. From maintaining your current system to helping you shop for a new one, we’re here to help you breathe easy. Contact us for questions, concerns, and expertise on all things HVAC.