a volatile organic compound label on the back of a paint can

Volatile Organic Compound (VOC)

Originally contributed by • last updated 3/5/2021

Elemental Green
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Elemental Green

Volatile organic compounds, which are commonly referred to as VOCs, may sound intimidating and scary at first, until you realize they are found almost everywhere and many of them are quite harmless. However, there are some that can be toxic, including ones found throughout homes in things such as flooring, paint, and even furniture. That’s why, these days, many companies are introducing measures to reduce or eliminate hazardous VOCs from all sorts of household products, as worries grow over their potential dangers.

Definition

The term volatile organic compound (VOC) refers to both man-made and naturally occurring organic chemical compounds that easily evaporate into the air due to their low boiling points, a process known as off-gassing. More commonly, VOCs are found in various chemical products in and around our homes, such as the glues that hold composite wood together and the paints and finishes on our walls and furniture. Some volatile organic compounds are harmless, while others can be extremely dangerous to people, animals, and the environment, especially in high concentrations.

What Makes An Organic Compound Volatile?

Organic compounds are everywhere around us and they make up many of the familiar scents and smells we encounter everyday. Certain organic compounds are considered volatile because they have relatively low boiling points and evaporate into the air when they’re exposed to average room temperatures. There are certain things you can do if you’d like to reduce your exposure to VOCs around the home. Here are just a few tips:

  • Volatile organic compounds are typically released from solids and liquids as gases. When things such as paints, adhesives, and other materials are exposed to certain environmental conditions, certain organic compounds are emitted into the air as vapors. Some, but not all, of these gases can be hazardous in large quantities.
  • Potentially hazardous volatile organic compounds can be found in many common household items and supplies so it’s important to inspect your home for potential sources of VOCs. Ensure old paint cans, adhesives, and other chemicals are stored properly or disposed of when not being used.
  • When purchasing new products and supplies for the home, look for items that contain low or zero amounts of VOCs. Nowadays, there are many green products available that are designed to be safer for people, animals, and the environment.