What Are VOCs & Are They Harmful?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature, altering air quality and posing multiple health risks. Many household items such as paints, polishes, and cleaners emit VOCs, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects.

Common Sources of VOCs

Common office and household products containing VOCs include:

  • Cleansers and disinfectants
  • Moth repellents and air fresheners
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Paints, paint strippers and other solvents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Stored fuels and automotive products
  • Hobby supplies
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Pesticides

As with most pollutants, the extent of the health effect will depend on many factors including exposure level and exposure duration.

Are VOCs Harmful?

Different VOCs have different effects on our health, and exposure duration is commonly a critical factor in determining how harmful they can be. Although many VOCs can be found naturally in the environment, there are different VOCs with different levels of toxicity ranging from ‘no known effects’ to highly toxic – even carcinogenic. Inhaling VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and may also cause difficulty breathing.

Indoor concentrations of VOCs can be up to ten times higher than outdoors. Therefore, even breathing low levels of VOCs for a prolonged period has been shown to cause issues in some individuals – most notably those with asthma.

As today (the first Tuesday of May) is World Asthma Day, we feel it is our duty here at Agar to bring attention to such an alarming condition afflicting so many Australians every day.

VOCs & Asthma

Asthma is a condition where the individual may have difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, coughs, and/or wheezing. When people with asthma are exposed to VOCs, their symptoms can be made worse and cause them to flare up. 

If you (like me) don’t suffer from asthma, it can be hard to imagine the daily struggle asthmatics face with an automated process we take for granted.

To help paint a picture, here is how many sufferers describe the daily symptoms of asthma:

  • Having constantly itchy lungs
  • Trying to breathe through a straw stuffed with cotton
  • Either a dull ache or a sharp stabbing in the chest
  • Like someone sitting on your chest and not getting up

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2022 there were approximately 2,800,000 Australians who had asthma. This is approximately 1 in 9 Australians.

There were also 467 asthma-related deaths in 2022 – that is more than one person’s life lost every day of the year.

Worse, these deaths are up more than 30% from 2021 (see infographic).

How To Minimise Risk?

With VOCs prevalent in so many different products and everyday items, it can be a challenging task to limit exposure to these harmful toxins. And considering we spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and 48+ weeks a year at work – it’s a conversation that is too important to neglect. But don’t panic! By understanding VOCs and making informed choices, you can significantly improve indoor air quality for yourself and those around you.

Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Prioritise Ventilation
    Ensure adequate ventilation in all areas, especially when cleaning. Open windows, use fans, and maintain ventilation systems.
  • Scrutinise Materials
    When possible, opt for low-VOC emitting materials for construction and interior updates.
  • Choose Wisely
    Understand the impact of product choices on indoor air quality, especially choosing those that minimise VOC emissions.

Risks of indoor air pollution can be lowered by adequate ventilation and by using environmentally preferable building materials, common house/office items, and cleaning products. This brings us to the importance of choosing your cleaning products wisely. Your best option to see immediate results is to replace the products in your office’s arsenal with those formulated with low VOCs.

Many of our products are specially formulated from raw materials chosen for their low-VOC emitting properties, drastically improving indoor air quality when cleaning. This makes the entire cleaning process safer for the inhabitants of the building, and the cleaners themselves.

Whether you’re a cleaning company looking to add extra value to your service, or a worker looking to improve the general health and well-being of the office, raise the attention of your supervisor and get the conversation started. Trust me, your lungs will thank you.

Safer Cleaning for People, Property & the Planet

For those seeking cleaning solutions that thoroughly minimise VOCs and maximise indoor air quality, Agar offers a complete green cleaning range. Independently certified by Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), these products meet rigorous standards designed to protect the health of cleaners and building occupants. By choosing GECA-certified products, you take a significant step towards creating healthier, more sustainable indoor environments.

However, we also understand that choosing the right cleaning products can be overwhelming. So here are two standout options from our GECA-certified range to get you started: 

  • Bellevue Glass Cleaner: This powerful yet gentle formula leaves glass sparkling clean with minimal VOC emissions, contributing to better indoor air quality.
  • Spruce All-Purpose Cleaner:  A versatile and biodegradable cleaner designed for floors and multiple hard surfaces. Spruce’s low-VOC formulation makes it a safer choice for creating healthier spaces. 

To learn more about Agar’s commitment to healthier cleaning solutions and improved IAQ, check out the resources on our green cleaning page

If you prefer to speak directly with one of our sales team, contact Agar at 1800 301 302 or sales@agar.com.au.

Sources & References:

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