What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

Learn about what volatile organic compounds really are and how they negatively affect indoor air quality along with tips on what you can do to mitigate their effects.

What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

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Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that have high vapour pressure at normal room temperature. These compounds are made up of carbon and other elements like hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and even sulphur.

As we know, indoor air quality (IAQ) is a crucial aspect of our overall well-being, and one common factor that significantly affects IAQ is the presence of pollutants, mainly volatile organic compounds commonly known as VOCs. These chemicals are commonly found in various household products, building materials and even common activities such as cooking.

Other common indoor air pollutants are particulate matter which are tiny particles that float in the air with the most common types being PM2.5 and PM10. The numbers 2.5 and 10 indicate the size of the particles in microns

In this blog post, we’ll be uncovering the truth behind VOCs, exploring their sources, their effects on indoor air quality and our health, and how we can mitigate them.

By understanding where VOCs come from and how they impact our health, we can make informed decisions to create a healthier indoor environment for ourselves and our loved ones.

What are common VOC sources?

Common VOC sources include cleaning products, paint, building materials and more. They can also originate from bushfires or other combustible materials like cooking on a traditional stove.

VOCs can be emitted from both natural and man-made sources. Natural sources include certain plants and trees, while man-made sources encompass more processes and products, i.e. combustion, cooking, cleaning materials and more.

Man-made sources

  1. Household cleaning products: Many cleaning agents, disinfectants and air fresheners contain VOCs that can be released into the air during use.
  2. Paints and coatings: VOCs are also very common in paints, varnishes and sealants that emit VOCs which contribute to indoor air pollution.
  3. Building materials: Construction materials such as pressed wood products (which can also be from new furniture) and adhesives emit VOCs when used in indoor spaces.
  4. Personal care products: Perfumes, hair sprays, and even deodorants contain VOCs that can be released into the air, causing indoor air pollution.
  5. Vehicle emissions: Automobile exhaust which are gasoline vapours, contribute to VOC levels in both outdoor environments and can also make their way indoors if houses are near highways or if a vehicle is left running in the garage.

Natural sources

  1. Trees and plants: Certain plants, like peace lilies and snake plants, have been found to contain volatile compounds. Sometimes, VOCs are not released by the plant itself but by microorganisms living in the soil.
  2. Bushfires: As mentioned, combustion activities, including bushfires and wildfires, can release large amounts of VOCs into the air. Like vehicle emissions, they can affect both outdoor and indoor air quality.

What happens when you inhale VOCs?

When you inhale VOCs, you could suffer from various conditions ranging from respiratory issues to potential neurological effects (in extreme cases). The severity of health effects depends on a number of factors, such as the duration and level of exposure and individual sensitivity.

When inhaled, they can irritate your respiratory tract, worsen preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma and allergies, and cause irritation to the skin as some VOCs cn penetrate the skin.

Common symptoms of excessive VOC exposure include:

  1. Respiratory issues: VOC exposure can irritate the respiratory system, which can cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. Prolonged exposure to high levels of VOCs may contribute to the development and exacerbation of asthma, bronchitis and allergies.
  2. ENT irritation: Since these pesky chemicals are inhaled, they will also have a negative effect on one’s throat, eyes and nose. These symptoms include discomfort, itching, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
  3. Skin problems: Some VOCs used in personal care products have the ability to penetrate the skin and cause irritation, redness and itching.
  4. Potential carcinogenicity: Certain chemicals in these compounds are known to be carcinogenic, meaning that they have the potential to cause cancer in humans.
  5. Neurological effects: Benzene and formaldehyde are known VOCs that have been associated with neurological symptoms, including confusion and difficulty concentrating

What are some ways to reduce VOCs?

Some ways to reduce VOCs include increasing ventilation, using low-VOC or VOC-free products and other initiatives that will be explained in this blog post.

With all the dangers that are associated with VOC exposure, it is, without a doubt, essential to employ them in your home to reduce the concentration of pollutants in your living space.

  1. Use low VOC products: opt for paints, adhesives and cleaning agents labelled as low VOC or VOC-free. These products emit fewer chemicals into the air.
  2. Increase ventilation: proper ventilation is crucial not just to the minimisation of VOCs but for overall indoor air quality improvement. Opening up windows and doors or using HVAC systems promotes a healthy change of outdoor and indoor air. Getting rid of allergens and literally bringing in a breath of fresh air.
  3. Use an air purifier: Ionmax air purifiers improve indoor air quality by removing up to 99.97% of allergens from the air, including VOCs. HEPA filters are equipped in all Ionmax models designed to provide you with cleaner air throughout your living space.
  4. Keep indoor humidity levels in check: High humidity levels can increase the release of VOCs from certain materials. Using dehumidifiers are important to maintain optimal humidity levels and prevent excess moisture. Dehumidifiers also help prevent the cultivation and spread of mould.
  5. Store chemicals safely: Although completely eliminating chemicals and cleaning agents from your home is not a practical solution, the next best step would be to keep these products, including pesticides, in sealed containers and store them in well-ventilated areas or outdoors to minimise the emission of these chemicals into your indoor environment.

Reducing VOC exposure is a gradual process. Implementing these measures will help contribute to creating and maintaining a healthier and safer environment for you and your loved ones.


VOCs are present in various household products, building materials and everyday items and they come from a variety of sources that are both man-made and natural. Man-made sources include paints, adhesives, and cleaning products.

To mitigate VOC exposure, the tips discussed include using low-VOC or VOC-free products, increasing ventilation, minimising the use of harsh chemicals, and employing air purifiers in your living space.

By implementing these strategies, we can effectively reduce VOC concentrations in our homes and workplaces, leading to improved indoor air quality for your home. Through awareness and affirmative action, we can create a healthier and more sustainable living space for ourselves and future generations.

Browse through Ionmax’s extensive range of air treatment appliances to find the right air purifier, dehumidifier or humidifier for your air treatment needs.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for general reference only. Please seek advice from professionals according to your needs.

Ionmax Australia

Ionmax Australia

Founded in 2003, Ionmax Australia has received numerous awards and accolades for its innovative products and commitment to customer satisfaction. Ionmax dehumidifiers and air purifiers have been recognised for their effectiveness in reducing indoor air pollutants and improving air quality. The company is committed to researching and developing new and improved products that meet the needs and expectations of its customers, making it a trusted name in households across Australia and beyond.

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