Measuring Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) graphic with a skull, crossbones, and a picture that says poison.
Measuring Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) can help you clean up your toxic home.

Have you ever walked into a freshly painted room and felt lightheaded or had a headache? If so, you’re not alone. These symptoms could be caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present in the air.

Understanding VOCs is crucial for homeowners, environmental enthusiasts, and health-conscious individuals.

At Senergy360, we care about the air you breathe. By learning about VOCs and their impact, you can take steps to ensure a healthier indoor environment.

This guide will walk you through what VOCs are, why they matter, and how to measure and manage them effectively.

What Are VOCs?

Organic chemical compounds, known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), are chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. They are commonly found in a variety of household products, such as paints, cleaning supplies, building materials, and even furniture.

While they have low concentrations and may not be immediately noticeable, these compounds can significantly affect indoor air quality and pose health risks.

Health Risks of Poor Indoor Air Quality

VOCs can cause a range of health problems, from minor irritations to more severe conditions. Short-term exposure can lead to headaches, dizziness, and eye or respiratory tract irritation, contributing to asthma symptoms due to indoor air pollution.

Long-term exposure may contribute to more serious issues such as liver or kidney damage and even cancer. For those with pre-existing health conditions, children, and the elderly, the risks are even higher.

Common Sources of VOCs in Homes

VOCs can originate from numerous sources within your home. Some of the most common include:

  • Paints and varnishes
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Building materials such as plywood and particleboard
  • New furniture
  • Adhesives and sealants
  • Organic solvents

Importance of Measuring VOCs

Monitoring indoor volatile organic compounds (VOCs) levels in your home is essential for maintaining good indoor air quality. High levels of VOCs can compromise your health and well-being.

You can identify problem areas by measuring VOC levels and take corrective actions to reduce exposure.

How to Measure Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs

There are several methods available for measuring VOCs in your home. Each method has its own set of advantages and limitations. Here are the most common approaches:

Measuring very volatile organic compounds (VVOCs) presents additional challenges due to their low boiling points and gaseous state, making them difficult to detect and quantify.

VOC Sensors and Monitors

These devices provide real-time readings of VOC levels in your indoor environment. They are user-friendly and perfect for ongoing monitoring, especially in areas where VOC-emitting materials are frequently used.

Photoionization Detectors (PIDs)

PIDs are specialized instruments often used by professionals. They can detect a wide range of VOCs and provide precise measurements, making them ideal for more detailed assessments.

Air Quality Testing Kits

Air quality testing kits allow you to collect air samples, which are then sent to a laboratory for analysis. This method provides detailed information about the types and concentrations of VOCs in your home.

Infrared Spectroscopy

Typically used in industrial settings, infrared spectroscopy analyzes the absorption of infrared light by air samples to identify and quantify VOCs.

This advanced method is highly precise but generally more expensive and complex. It can also measure semivolatile organic compounds, substances with a higher molecular weight and boiling point than VOCs found in products like pesticides, fire retardants, and plasticizers.

Benefits of Low-VOC Materials

Choosing low-VOC content products can significantly improve indoor air quality by reducing indoor VOCs.

Low-VOC paints, finishes, and cleaning supplies emit fewer harmful chemicals, reducing exposure. This simple change can make a big difference in creating a healthier living environment.

Real-Life Examples of Volatile Organic Compound Issues

Consider these case studies to understand the real-world impact of VOCs:

Reducing the concentration of VOCs indoors is important to ensure a healthier living environment.

Case Study 1

A family in a newly constructed home experienced unexplained health issues, including headaches, dizziness, and eye and throat irritation. An air quality test revealed high levels of VOCs from the freshly painted walls and new furniture. By increasing ventilation and using low-VOC alternatives, they significantly improved their indoor air quality.

Case Study 2

An office space renovation project unknowingly used high-VOC adhesives and carpeting, leading to a noticeable “new carpet smell” that persisted for weeks.

Employees reported similar health effects as in the previous case, prompting a thorough assessment and changing materials to improve indoor air quality.

Case Study 3

A homeowner undergoing a kitchen renovation opted for traditional solvent-based paints and finishes, not realizing the high VOC content.

An infrared spectroscopy analysis post-renovation showed elevated levels of VOCs from these products, requiring additional air filtration and the use of low-VOC alternatives.

Expert Insights on VOCs

Experts agree that managing VOC levels is crucial for creating healthier living spaces.

Our very own Brian Johnson, a Building Biology Consultant, states, “VOCs can significantly impact indoor air quality, affecting our health and well-being.

Understanding and managing these compounds is crucial for creating healthy living spaces.” Reactive organic gases (ROG) also play a significant role in indoor air quality, and it is important to consider their impact alongside VOCs.

Similarly, an Indoor Air Quality Researcher, Prof. Alex Smith, highlights, “The proliferation of VOC-emitting products in our homes underscores the need for effective monitoring and awareness. Incorporating low-VOC materials can make a significant difference.”

Michael Johnson, a technology expert, adds, “Technology has given us tools to measure and combat VOCs, offering a proactive approach to indoor air quality. Continual innovation in this field is key to protecting public health.”

Practical Tips for Reducing VOCs

Here are some actionable steps you can take to reduce VOC levels in your home:

Consider using air purifiers with activated carbon filters to capture VOCs. Ensure proper ventilation by opening windows and using exhaust fans, especially when using products that emit VOCs.

Opt for low-VOC or VOC-free products, such as paints, cleaning supplies, and building materials. Regularly maintain your HVAC system to ensure it effectively filters out air pollutants.

Additionally, nitrogen oxides can impact indoor air quality by reacting with VOCs and ozone to produce new oxidation products and secondary aerosols.

Increase Ventilation

Proper ventilation is crucial for reducing VOC concentrations. To improve air circulation, open windows, use exhaust fans and consider installing an air purification system.

Choose Low-VOC Products

Opt for low-VOC or VOC-free paints, finishes, and cleaning supplies. These products are widely available and can significantly improve indoor air quality.

Store Chemicals Properly

Store household chemicals and cleaning supplies in a well-ventilated area, away from living spaces. Ensure that all containers are tightly sealed to prevent VOCs from escaping.

The Role of Technology in VOC Management

Technological advancements have made monitoring and managing VOC levels easier than ever. Modern sensors and smart home systems can provide real-time data and alerts, helping you maintain a healthier indoor environment.

It is important to note that carbon dioxide is excluded from the definition of VOCs, as it does not participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions.

Building a Healthier Home

Creating a VOC-free home might not be entirely possible, but reducing levels of organic chemicals, including VOCs, is achievable with the right strategies.

By being mindful of the products and organic chemicals you bring into your home and using technology to monitor air quality, you can create a safer, healthier living space.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are VOCs, and why are they harmful?

VOCs encompass a range of chemicals, some with potential short- and long-term health impacts. Indoor concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher (up to ten times) than those outdoors.

What are examples of VOCs?

Common VOCs found in everyday life include benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene, and 1,3-butadiene.

These substances can significantly impact our surroundings and health.

What are volatile organic compounds VOCs refer to?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals with high vapor pressure and low water solubility, commonly found in paints, pharmaceuticals, and refrigerants.

Many VOCs are synthetic substances used in manufacturing processes.

What causes high VOC in homes?

Significant sources of VOCs encompass cleaning products, tobacco smoke, cooking, heating appliances, VOC outgassing (from furniture, floor and wall coverings, and other building products), paints, glues, polishes, waxes, pesticides, personal care items, and emissions migration from attached garages.

How to get rid of VOCs in a house?

The steps provided offer valuable insights and practical solutions for enhancing indoor air quality. Each step is crucial in creating a healthier living environment, from ventilating to using air cleaners and central air VOC scrubbers.

Addressing issues like radon and getting air ducts cleaned is essential for ensuring a space that promotes well-being and sustainability.

Emphasizing these steps can significantly impact the overall quality of indoor air and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

What happens if you breathe VOCs?

Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and dizziness.

Prolonged or repeated exposure to high VOC levels could lead to more severe health issues, particularly for those with pre-existing lung conditions.

This highlights the importance of minimizing exposure to volatile organic compounds for overall well-being.

Can air purifiers remove VOCs?

To effectively eliminate VOCs, consider utilizing an air purifier to help cleanse these gases from the air. This method can aid in improving indoor air quality and promoting a healthier living environment.

How long do VOCs stay in your system?

A statement by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes that VOCs do not linger in the body for extended periods. However, repeated exposure could lead to their accumulation, potentially reaching levels that pose health risks.

How long do VOCs last in a room?

When paint is used indoors, the concentration of VOCs can be significantly higher than outdoors.

While VOCs from paint decrease over time as the paint dries, this process can be gradual. Most dissipate within the initial six months post-application.

Do VOCs make you tired?

If someone at home is frequently experiencing headaches and fatigue, it could be due to exposure to methylene chloride. This VOC is commonly present in adhesive removers, paint strippers, and aerosol spray paints.


Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are more than just a technical term; they are a significant factor in the quality of the air we breathe inside our homes.

Understanding VOCs, their sources, and their health impacts is crucial for homeowners, environmental enthusiasts, and health-conscious individuals. By taking proactive steps to measure and reduce VOC levels, you can ensure a healthier indoor environment for yourself and your loved ones.

If you’re concerned about VOCs in your home, it’s time to take action.

Get a healthy home assessment today and start your journey toward better indoor and outdoor air quality. Evaluate your living space and make informed choices that will benefit your health and well-being in the long run.