What’s Going On Here?

Household products like nail varnish, air freshener and detergents could pollute just as much—if not MORE—than vehicles.

What Does This Mean?

We’re talking about VOCs. As some chemistry buffs may already know, this is not some new millennial slang, but stands for Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs have a high vapour pressure at room temperature, meaning they release “off-gas” in our homes; basically products that “coat” things will contain VOCs. The list of products containing VOCs is extensive; from cosmetics to upholstery to paints to perfumes to carpets, so it is very likely that your lungs are familiar with VOCs, even if you aren’t.

Volatile = easily evaporates at normal temperatures
Organic compound = any chemical compound that contains carbon

New research published in Science shows that these volatile chemical products now contribute one-half of emitted VOCs in 33 industrialised cities (that were tested) with vehicles making up the other half.

Why Should We Care?

Some studies suggest that indoor air is seven times more polluted than what we breathe outside. So how bad is this for our health and the health of the planet? The levels of perfume chemicals are regulated inside products, but what we then do with those products is entirely up to us and overuse of a combination of them could pose a health risk and reduce air quality.The research was conducted in Los Angeles but is believed to reflect a general global trend and showed that the compounds break down into particles known as PM2.5, which contributes to 29,000 deaths in the UK each year due to respiratory problems.

It’s also bad news for outdoor air quality. Many of the VOCs in these products are reactive once in the atmosphere and can contribute to the formation of two major air pollutants, ozone and fine particles – a large fraction of which are eventually released into the atmosphere, polluting the air much like vehicles do.

Be Curious!

So what can you do to better regulate the air quality in your home (and outside)? 

  • A good start is to use natural and organic beauty products that don’t use harsh chemicals. Brands like Bulldog, Balance Me and Faith in Nature are widely available.
  • Ecover and American company Puracy sells cleaning products that are free from chemicals –  you could also make your own!
  • House plants can also be great VOC absorbers: the best are English ivy, geraniums and lavender (and they smell great too!).