Evan Matzen, Manager, Sustainability

Have you encountered the term “VOC” and wondered what it means or how it affects you? Or have you seen products touting to be no or low-VOC? Let’s take a look at what VOCs are, why they are bad for you and your staff, and the agencies that test for them.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids found in products including paints, lacquers, paint strippers, and cleaning chemicals, building materials, furnishings, and carpeting. Reducing VOCs is important to improving a building’s indoor environmental quality to have a positive effect on the health, comfort, and performance of its occupants.

Health Effects

Inhaling a large amount of VOCs can have a wide range of effects on humans, including eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, and nausea; and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some VOCs are even suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to VOCs include eye irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, nose bleeding, fatigue, and dizziness.

Exposure to the following chemicals should be kept to a minimum:

  • Methylene chloride – This chemical is known for causing cancer in animals and can be found in paint strippers, adhesive removers, and aerosol spray paints.

  • Benzene – This carcinogen is found in tobacco smoke, stored fuels, paint supplies, and automobile emissions in garages.

  • Perchloroethylene – This chemical is widely used in dry cleaning. Laboratory studies have shown it can cause cancer in animals.



There are currently few regulations limiting exposure to VOCs in nonindustrial settings. TheOccupational Safety & Heath Administration (OSHA) regulates formaldehyde, one of the few measurable VOCs, as a carcinogen. OSHA has adopted a Permissible Exposure Level (the legal limit in the U.S. for employee exposure to a chemical) of .75 parts per million (ppm), while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has established a maximum level of .4 ppm for mobile homes. It is advisable to mitigate formaldehyde that is present at levels higher than .1 ppm.

Keeping Residents, Guests, and Employees Safe

Whenever possible, use products that contain no VOCs, Low VOC Paintare low-VOC, or help to improve indoor air quality. HD Supply carries a selection of environmentally preferable products, including low-VOC paints and cleaning chemicals, air filters , HEPA filter vacuum cleaners, and floor tiles.

One of the best ways to protect people from VOC exposure is to provide an ample source of fresh air when using chemicals containing VOCs indoors. Always use products according to manufacturers’ directions and never mix household care products unless directed on the label. Be sure to properly dispose of containers with unused or partially used contents so that people, children, and pets do not come in contact with chemicals.

Many products carry independent third-party certifications that verify a product’s claim to improve indoor environmental quality. Some common certifications include:

  • Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) – A nonprofit trade association representing the manufacturers of more than 95 percent of all carpet made in the United States, as well as their suppliers and service providers. It coordinates with other segments of the industry, such as distributors, retailers and installers, to help increase consumers’ satisfaction with carpet and to show them how carpet creates a better environment.

  • Green Seal – A nonprofit organization that uses science-based programs to empower consumers, purchasers, and companies to create a more sustainable world.


Do you currently use no or low-VOC products? If you do not use these products, how will you improve your indoor environmental quality?


Enjoy this article? Share it on social! For questions, comments, or post suggestions, please contact us!

There are no comments so far

Leave a Comment

Don't worry. We never use your email for spam.

Don't worry. We never use your email for spam.