Hazardous volatile organic compounds. Do you have them at home?

Hazardous volatile organic compounds. Do you have them at home?

Do you suffer from headaches or respiratory irritation during your stay indoors? The cause of these problems may be sick building syndrome caused by elevated levels of volatile organic compounds. Read about how VOCs get into the air, what health effects they can have, and what helps fight them.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gaseous substances that evaporate very quickly into the air, hence their name. It is a group of about 200 substances with different properties that often have very negative consequences for our body.

VOCs arise from very different sources. These are either of natural origin or man-made. Natural resources are, for example, products of material exchange, rotting and decomposition processes of natural materials such as wood or oil. Biogenic volatile organic compounds are most often emitted by plants, animals or microorganisms and are very diverse.

Anthropogenic VOCs, i.e. those created by human activity, are contained in many everyday objects such as furniture and decorative materials, hobby products and cleaning products. In addition, VOCs are produced during incomplete combustion or as a by-product of industrial processes. Synthetic sources are, for example, vapors from building materials (varnishes, paints, carpets, insulating materials), solvents or cleaning agents or cosmetics.

Natural cleaning agents are much more suitable than chemical ones

How do VOCs get into the air?

Volatile organic compounds react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight. This process creates hazardous substances that are potentially dangerous to human health or the ozone layer in the atmosphere. Even at room temperatures, VOCs turn to gas and are released into the room air. This occurs when solvents or liquid fuels evaporate, or when liquid or pasty products dry out. Easier to identify is a leak from products such as glue or paint. More problematic are the so-called material emissions, which are constantly released by some plastics. Typical examples are various plasticizers, solvents, antioxidants or fragrances and flame retardants.

Health Effects of VOCs

As we Central Europeans spend most of our time indoors, elevated VOC levels are of greater health concern. Especially since indoors, the distance to VOC sources is usually smaller. Particularly high levels of VOC pollution occur immediately after construction or extensive renovation, when release rates are strongest.

New synthetic materials are one of the largest sources of VOCs


An increased concentration of VOCs manifests itself as a bothersome smell. This can cause a change in the perception of smell and taste as well as irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes. Other common effects are exhaustion, lack of concentration, dry skin, eczema or headaches.

With long-term exposure to VOCs, it is very likely that you will suffer chronic effects, to a great extent. Cancer growth, mutations in the genotype or problems with fertility can be the result. Infants and young children, who have not yet developed a sufficiently strong defense system, are particularly susceptible to VOCs.

What helps against excessive VOC values?

  •     Buy used furniture instead of new because used products emit almost no chemicals.
  •     Buy only what you need when it comes to paints, solvents, adhesives and sealants. Unused chemicals stored in the home can sometimes release VOCs into the air. So store them in a garage or shed where people don't spend much time.
  •     Solid wood products with low emission finishes will contain less VOCs than composite wood products.
  •     Increasing the amount of fresh air in your home will help reduce indoor VOC concentrations. Increase ventilation by opening doors and windows.
  •     Keep both temperature and relative humidity as low as possible. At high temperatures and humidity, chemicals are released more. Try to do home renovations when the house is unoccupied or during seasons that allow you to open doors and windows to increase ventilation.
  •     Buy wall paints with the "EU Ecolabel", this seal indicates specially tested products with a higher quality standard.
  •     Use an air purifier that has a top quality activated carbon filter. This material is the most suitable and most effective for filtering out VOCs.

The Airbi SPRING WiFi air purifier quickly rids you of dangerous VOCs

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