How often do you clean your home? What if cleaning your home was a health hazard? Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) are present in many household cleaning formulations. These compounds could present a risk to your health.
This post unpacks everything you need to know about household cleaners and VOCs. We'll also recommend a strategy to help you avoid overexposure to these toxic chemicals.
Keeping your home clean is an essential practice to ward off disease and mold from entering your home. However, cleaning products aren't all happy faces and smiles. Some of them have a severely toxic effect on the human body.
Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) are compounds that evaporate from a liquid to a gaseous state quickly. Several VOCs are in household cleaning products, and many of them have a toxic effect on the body.
Prolonged exposure to VOCs can cause the following issues in people with sensitivity or allergies to the chemicals.
The use of household cleaners also has links to the development of adverse health events in some people. For example, research from the U.S. National Library of Medicine shows that people with existing respiratory problems are at a higher risk of adverse events occurring following exposure to VOCs.
Some of the other symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include the following.
Skin and eye irritation.
An increase in the intensity and frequency of allergic reactions.
Itchy or sore throat.
Vomiting and nausea.
Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
The onset of an asthma attack.
Fatigue and malaise.
A decrease in cognitive function.
Long-term exposure to VOCs also creates severe adverse health events in people. For example, individuals may experience lung damage or extreme respiratory conditions. Individuals may also lose cognitive abilities like coordination and motor skills. There is also a high risk for the development of damage to the organs and nervous system and the development of some types of cancer.
It might surprise you to learn that several household cleaning products can harm your health. The VOCs emitted by these offending cleaners can cause respiratory distress and a slew of other side effects in people.
The American Lung Association (ALA) recommends that homeowners check the labels of all cleaning products before making their purchase.
We recommend avoiding the use of the following high-VOC cleaning products around the home.
Clorox and other chlorine-based bleaches are popular cleaning products. Bleach helps sanitize and sterilize surfaces around the home, and it's a vital cleaning chemical for any homeowner. However, bleach isn't an all-purpose cleaner, and homeowners often combine it with other cleaning products to enhance its efficacy. Bleach also occurs in different combination cleaning compounds produced by manufacturers.
All chlorine bleach cleaning products contain the VOCs methyl chloroform and chloroform. Both VOCs gas off during the drying process. And that's the strong bleach smell you get in the kitchen after washing the floor.
Chlorine bleach also contains hazardous byproducts like gaseous ammonia, chloramines, and hypochlorous acid. Therefore, the homeowner must never mix chlorine bleach with acid-based or ammonia-based cleaners.
Do you use Pledge or Windex around the home? These two products come loaded with VOCs. However, when you're using spray cleaners, you also have the risk of breathing in some of the vapor as it enters the air column.
Some of the dangerous VOCs found in these cleaners include 2-butoxyethanol, toluene, ethylbenzene, camphene, limonene, and tetrachloroethylene; some furniture cleaners like pledge also contain VOCs like formaldehyde.
How many times have you sprayed some air freshener before leaving the bathroom? Chances are you never thought about the VOCs contained in the product. Unfortunately, many fragrances contain harmful VOCs, and some of them have them present in the formula in large quantities.
The ALA recommends that consumers avoid the use of air fresheners in their homes entirely. In a survey covering the formulation of 25 consumer household air fresheners, the results of testing identified 133 VOCs, of which 24 compounds had a toxic classification.
If you use carpet cleaning powder or sprays, there is the risk of respiratory problems arising from the VOCs found in these products.
Many carpet cleaner formulations contain particulate matter that can get into the air column and sit there suspended for hours. You'll breathe in these particles, irritating the throat and lungs.
Some carpet cleaner formulations include toxic chemicals like toluene, glycol ethers, xylene, ethylbenzene, and many other VOCs that are harmful to your health.
Some of the other cleaning products containing high levels of VOCs include the following.
Toilet bowl cleaner.
Laundry and dishwasher detergents.
Dry cleaning chemicals.
Make sure you check the labels on these products before buying them in the store. Look for low VOC options, most of them clean as well as the ones loaded with VOCs.
Choosing the right cleaning products for your home can dramatically reduce VOC levels during the cleaning process. If you've ever smelt a bleached floor, then you'll understand the power of VOCs and how they can influence your health.
Washing the kitchen and bathroom floors with a light bleach solution is important to kill off biological contaminants like fungi and bacteria. However, you'll need to leave the doors and windows open after cleaning the floor.
The air movement helps to dry the bleach, and you'll notice a pungent bleach odor in the air as it evaporates. However, standing around in the room with the doors closed is a very different experience. You could end up passing out or experiencing respiratory distress from overexposure to the bleach fumes.
It's the same with air freshener products containing VOCs. A single squirt into the air as you leave the bathroom isn't going to do you any harm. However, if you sit in the bathroom with the door closed and empty half the can into the air, it's going to cause a bad reaction.
Look for products that feature labeling using the EPAs "Safer Choice standard." The standard designates ingredients with the lowest hazard for each product type.
Cleaning products with the EPAs Safer Choice label are effective, with minimal; harmful ingredients included in the product formulation. The EPA website has a wealth of information on products that meet the Safer Choice standard.
The "Green Seal" is another excellent safety standard for household cleaning products. For a product to receive Green Seal certification, it requires compatibility and compliance with several safety standards. The standard includes toxicity limits, its effect on indoor air quality, and the manufacturing processes, along with the waste guidelines.
The Green Seal is a non-profit organization, and you can find a list of the approved cleaning products that meet the Green Seal standard on its official website.
When cleaning your home, you can follow a list of best practices to ensure you minimize exposure to any contaminants or VOCs in the air.
Always ensure the workspace or room is well-ventilated with good airflow.
Open the windows and doors in your home when working with cleaning products containing VOCs.
Use products containing VOCs outdoors where possible.
Turn on fans in the house after using cleaning products to help the fumes dissipate faster.
Avoid the use of cleaning products in small places with low levels of ventilation.
Keep products containing high VOCs in a secure space out of the way when not in use.
Keep cleaning chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
Install an air purifier in your home to assist with removing particles and VOCs from the air.
Before you toss those cleaning products into your cart at the grocery store, take a second to check the label. Many cleaning products, such as air fresheners, and personal care items like hairspray, contain VOCs.
However, in recent years, manufacturers responded to the need for lower VOCs in their products. As a result, many consumer goods that contain VOCs come in low-VOC versions, and they advertise it on the label. Choose the options that are the safest for your home and your cleaning schedule.
MI&T offers homeowners an inspection of the air quality in their homes. Our team utilizes the latest in air inspection technology, checking the air for mold spores and VOCs. Then, we issue you with a full report on our findings, giving you an accurate snapshot of the air quality inside your home.
We can make recommendations on the next steps involved with mold removal or air remediation in affected rooms. However, MI&T doesn't offer mold removal services. By adopting this strategy, we can give you an unbiased review of the air quality in your home that you can trust.