What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds, commonly referred to as VOCs, can be found in thousands of products including (but definitely not limited to) furniture, mattresses, car seats, flooring and fragrance. But what exactly are VOCs and how do they affect our health? In this article, we take a closer look at VOCs and share our tips for reducing your exposure.

An image of an air freshener diffusing oils that may contain VOCs

Looking to clear the air (no pun intended) on VOCs?

We can help!

In this article, we’ll go over:

  • What VOCs are
  • Where VOCs are commonly found
  • Why VOCs are dangerous
  • How to avoid and/or lower your exposure to VOCS
  • Low & No VOC product recommendations

Scroll down to learn more!

 

What are VOCs?

‘VOCs’ stands for Volatile Organic Compounds.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs can off gas from certain solid or liquids and pollute both indoor and outdoor air quality. They include a huge list of chemicals and are emitted from a wide range of products numbering in the thousands.

 

Where are VOCs commonly found?

VOCs are commonly found in:

  • Paints
  • Adhesives
  • Furniture
  • Car seats
  • Rugs
  • Vinyl flooring
  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Nail polish
  • Air fresheners
  • Scented candles
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Craft supplies
  • Office equipment
  • Cleaning products
  • Dry-cleaning chemicals
  • Pesticides
  • Tobacco
  • Fuel / Vehicle emmissions
  • Construction materials

 

Why are VOCs dangerous?

VOCs can lead to both short and long term health issues.

Exposure can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and skin problems. Higher concentrations may cause damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system.

VOCs are also a suspected human carcinogen with some being known to cause cancer in both animals and humans.

Common VOCs to avoid:

  • Acetone
  • Benzene
  • Butanal
  • Ethanol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Terpenes
  • Toluene

 

How to avoid and/or lower your exposure to VOCS

 

Rule #1 – If it smells like chemicals, it probably contains some not-so-nice VOCs.

Rule #2 – When in doubt, air it out!

 

To help you create a low-tox family home, we have listed potential VOC emitting products and provided advice for lowering exposure and safer options for each!

 

Avoiding VOCs in Furniture

 

  • When shopping for furniture, look for pieces that are UL Greenguard Gold Certified. This third-party certification means that the product has been screened for over 10,000 chemicals and VOCs known to pollute indoor air.
  • One of the most well-known VOCs is formaldehyde. This chemical can often be found lurking in MDF wood as well as glue. Always ask about a product’s composition and ensure that it is at least TSCA IV  or CARB II compliant.
  • Because some wood products naturally contain VOCs, it’s a good idea to leave the piece of furniture outside (and undercover) to ‘off gas’ for a few days before bringing into your home. Same goes for anything you’ve freshly painted.

 

MDB Foothill Convertible Crib

 

Million Dollar Baby Foothill 4-in-1 Convertible Crib

 

$399

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

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Avoiding VOCs in Mattresses

 

  • Many mainstream mattresses are made with polyurethane, flame retardants, PFAS chemicals, Boric Acid and antimicrobials, which are all potentially VOC-emitting. This is particularly worrisome seeing how close our eyes, nose, mouth and skin get to a mattress. Couple that with the amount of time babies and kids spend sleeping and you’ll see why we are extra cautious when choosing bedding for our families.
  • The best thing to do is look for an organic mattress that is free of the aforementioned chemicals and holds one of the following third-party certifications:
      • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
      • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)
      • Oeko-Tex Standard 100
      • CertiPUR-US: NOTE: This applies only to the polyurethane foam in a mattress. While other standards, such as GOLS, bar this foam altogether, CertiPUR-US prohibits certain substances that are in many foams (such as PDBE, flame retardants) and requires testing for formaldehyde and other chemicals. 
  • If purchasing a new mainstream mattress, try to let it ‘air out’ for as long as possible before sleeping on it.

Newton Baby Crib Mattress Cloud White

Newton Baby Crib Mattress

 

$299.99

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

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Avoiding VOCs in Flooring Products & Rugs

 

  • To offer durability, flooring products can be packed full of chemicals such as Nonylphenols (NPs) and NonylphenolEthoxylates (NPEOs), PFAS chemicals, Phthalates, Heavy Metals, Flame Retardants, Antimicrobials and Formaldehyde.
  • Because babies and kids spend A LOT of time on and/or close to the floor, you’re going to want to be extra mindful about the carpet, flooring and/or rugs you choose.
  • For anything that has to be glued down, ask the supplier/installer to show you the product’s certification showing No Added Formaldehyde (NAF), or “No Added Urea Formaldehyde.”
  • For finishes and sealants, try to choose products that are zero VOC and/or water-based.
  • Just like with furniture, you can look for the UL Greenguard Gold seal that confirms very low VOC emissions.
  • Once installed, it’s still wise to give flooring, especially carpet time to off-gas while you’re not in the home. You can do this by leaving the windows open and running ceiling fans.

Lorena Canals Vintage Map Rug

 

Lorena Canals Machine Washable Vintage Map Rug

 

$325

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Avoiding VOCs in Car Seats

 

  • Many mainstream car seats are made with polyurethane foam and sprayed with flame retardants and/or PFAS chemicals, which means VOCs can be lurking very close to your baby.
  • Try finding a car seat that is flame-retardant and PFAS chemical free. Because car seats must pass all flammability tests, brands like Clek are using innovative materials such as wool to achieve these safety standards without the use of chemicals.

 

 

Clek Liing Thunder

 

Clek 2020 LIING Infant Car Seat & Base

 

$419.99

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

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Avoiding VOCs in Arts & Crafts Supplies

 

  • Due to the fact that materials such as craft glue, paint, play dough and markers need preservatives and dyes, the risk of them containing VOCs is quite high.
  • When shopping for arts & crafts supplies, always opt for water-based inks, vegetable dyes, unscented markers, dustless chalk and boric acid-free doughs. If something is scented, ensure it’s made with non-toxic essential oils, like the play dough from Dough Parlour.
  • The EPA also recommends having increased ventilation when using products like paint.

 

Dough Parlour Parlour Set of 6

 

Dough Parlour – Scented Play Dough Parlour Set

 

$40

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Avoiding VOCs in Makeup & Personal Care Products

 

  • Just like arts & crafts supplies, numerous makeup and personal care products require preservatives and are scented.
  • When shopping for personal care products, ALWAYS read the ingredients list and remember – less is more.
  • Avoid harmful preservatives and additives such as formaldehyde and mineral oil.
  • Never buy anything that has ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ listed in the ingredients list. These are blanket terms for thousands of chemicals known to be endocrine disrupters.

 

Province Apothecary Moisturizing Cleanser

 

Province Apothecary Moisturizing Oil Cleanser & Makeup Remover

 

$44

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More Low VOC & VOC-free Product Recommendations

At The Tot, we never use or recommend anything that hasn’t passed The Tot Safety Test.

This means we’ve examined third-party testing and asked in-depth questions about a product’s composition to ensure it doesn’t contain any of the ingredients that we avoid. 

Scroll down to see just a few of our Tot-Tested and Approved Low/No VOC favorites!

 

 

MDB Linden Power Recliner

 

Million Dollar Baby Classic Linden Power Recliner

 

$699

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Baby Letto Hudson 3-in-1 Convertible Crib Natural AW19

 

Babyletto Hudson 3-in-1 Convertible Crib w/ Conversion Kit

 

$379

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Naturepedic Organic Breathable 2-Stage Baby Crib Mattress

 

Naturepedic Organic Breathable 2-Stage Baby Crib Mattress

 

$379

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Nico & Yeye Lukka Modern 6-Drawer Dresser Maple White

 

Nico & Yeye Lukka Modern 6-Drawer Dresser – Maple

 

$1299

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Lorena Canals machine washable rug - kim

 

Lorena Canals Machine Washable Kim Rug

 

$299

BUY NOW

 

 

Nico & Yeye Kids Craft Table Maple

 

Nico & Yeye Kids Craft Table – Maple

 

$394

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Nico & Yeye Acrylic Back Chair Set of Two - Maple Pink

 

Nico & Yeye Acrylic Back Chair – Maple (Set of 2)

 

$359

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Nuna Rava 2019 in Caviar

 

Nuna Rava Convertible Car Seat

 

$449.95

Available in more colors

UL Greenguard Gold Certified

BUY NOW

 

 

Nook Niche Feeding Pillow in SeaGlass

 

Nook Sleep Systems Niche Organic Feeding Pillow

 

Ranging from $119 to $129

Available in more colors

BUY NOW

 

 

Kid Made Modern Washable Paints Set

Kid Made Modern Washable Paints Set

 

$19.99

BUY NOW

 

 

Kiss Kiss Goodnight Discovery Kit

 

Kiss Kiss Goodnight Discovery Kit

 

$24

EXCLUSIVE

Lotion / Balm / Cleanser

BUY NOW

 

 

Matana Organics Stretch Mark Oil

Matana Stretch Mark Oil

 

$25

EXCLUSIVE

BUY NOW

 

 

Pleni Naturals Berry + Olive Barrier Baby Balm

 

Pleni Naturals Berry + Olive Barrier Balm

 

$15.99

BUY NOW

 

 

#TotTip

According to the EPA, using a portable air cleaner and/or upgrading the air filter in your furnace or central heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system can help to improve indoor air quality.

 

 

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