VOCs and Green Cleaning: What’s the Big Deal?

VOCs and Green Cleaning: What’s the Big Deal?

Reducing our environmental impact is essential, and there are dozens of small and large ways to be kind to our planet. When you think about green cleaning, images of essential oils, microfiber cloths, and reusable bottles are probably some of the first things to pop into your head. However, the type of product is just as important as its ingredients.

Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, cause air and water pollution, and chances are you have a handful of these products in your home right now – maybe even more. So, let’s do a deep dive into what these compounds are, if VOCs exist in natural cleaning products, and how you can use safe cleaning methods or a green cleaning service to reduce your environmental impact.

What Are VOCs? 

Non-toxic cleaning suppliesVolatile organic compounds are found everywhere, from agriculture and industrial uses to transportation and home cleaning products – even some natural cleaning products. From chlorine bleach and automobile gas to dry cleaning and some perfumes, VOCs are a common additive in these products and more.

Some of the most common VOCs in cleaning products are:

  • Ethanol
  • Acetone
  • Naphthalene
  • Formaldehyde
  • TCE
  • Benzene

Volatile organic compounds are released into the air from products such as nail polish remover, paint, glue, laundry detergents, degreasers, flooring, mothballs, and even cosmetics. Due to the concentration of products typically found inside homes, studies by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Total Exposure Assessment Methodology (TEAM) found that VOC levels can be up to five times higher inside than in outdoor air.

How Bad is VOC Exposure? 

As with any substance, the danger from exposure to VOCs depends on the concentration, duration, and frequency of exposure – or how many VOCs are in the air, how long you are exposed to it, and how often that exposure occurs. For example, a healthy person who is exposed to VOCs for an hour will experience a different effect than someone who has a compromised immune system during the same period, and both will be different from someone who works around VOCs as part of their job.

Woman cleans butcher block counter topExposure to VOCs can be broken into short-term and chronic exposure. 

Short-term exposure, such as a few hours or several days, can cause symptoms such as:

  • Irritation of your nose, eyes, throat, and skin
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Worsening asthma
  • Dizziness

Chronic or long-term exposure, such as for months, years, or a lifetime, can cause:

  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Cancer

VOCs and Green Cleaning

Greenwashing refers to companies that portray themselves as more environmentally friendly than they actually are. For customers looking to purchase green cleaning products, finding companies that are offering entirely safe cleaning products isn’t as easy as it should be because of unclear and undefined terminology.

Unfortunately for consumers, there is no standard for all green cleaning products. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has a Design for the Environment (DfE) Certification for antimicrobial products, it’s not as comprehensive as it could be. Less than 25 DfE-certified disinfectants for home use are listed in the registry.

Terms such as hypoallergenic, natural, sensitive skin, and green aren’t good determinants of whether or not you’re purchasing safe cleaning products. Also, be aware that mixing substances, even if they are two green cleaning products, can cause a reaction that produces VOCs. Never mix cleaning products together.

How to Find Low-VOC Natural Cleaning Products

Person sprays air freshenerThe first step in removing VOCs from your home is to understand what is producing them. Some types of carpet, flooring, and furniture are known to emit VOCs, so removing those items is an excellent first step in increasing the air quality and environmental impact of your home.

According to the safe cleaning blog Ode to Clean, the top 3 most harmful category types are:

  • Air freshener sprays
  • Wet wipes
  • Insect pesticides

In terms of products, it found that these released the most milligrams of VOCs with each use:

  • Wet Ones wipes
  • Mrs. Meyer’s air freshener spray
  • Lysol wipes
  • Febreeze One
  • Raid Ant & Roach

The product that may shock some people and demonstrates that VOCs are in everything – even natural cleaning products? Cetaphil makeup remover was ranked tenth on the list for VOCs released per use.

When purchasing green cleaning products, cosmetics, and furniture, look for indications of the item’s VOC content. Many companies will advertise the levels of VOCs on their safe cleaning products to appeal to consumers, so look for “Low VOCs” or “Zero VOC” on the label. If you don’t see an indication of the VOC level on the label, a quick internet search with the brand, product name, and “VOC” should provide helpful information.

Safe Cleaning with VOCs

Person holds bag of cleaning suppliesPeople who are already at risk or experience breathing problems, those very young or elderly, and those with higher sensitivity to chemicals may experience more problems when exposed to VOCs. However, regardless of our level of sensitivity, everyone can benefit from a focus on safe cleaning and a switch from chemicals to natural cleaning products.

One of the most important areas to reduce exposure to VOCs is by using natural products to clean the kitchen. Using soap with a higher VOC concentration means that our dishes, utensils, and preparation and serving items are all exposed to VOCs in the soap before touching the food we eat or the liquids we drink. In addition, for families with small children, nearly anything that you clean can potentially be licked or put in your child’s mouth, so using safe cleaning products is critical.

Another area that you should think about when reducing your exposure to VOCs is by switching to a safe cleaning laundry detergent. Our clothing, towels, pillowcases and sheets, blankets, and more are things we touch or wear all the time. If they’re covered in chemicals, those VOCs are constantly transferred to our bodies. Thankfully, with some research, you can find stain removers, laundry detergent, fabric softener, and even non-toxic bleach that is much safer than traditional options.

Should I Replace My Cleaners with Natural Cleaning Products?

One of the most challenging questions is whether or not you should trash your current cleaners and start over with safe cleaning products or wait until you need more to switch to green cleaners. Unless a cleaning product is more than three years old – in which case, toss it – use the remainder of the bottle before switching.

Whether you’re shopping for new green cleaning products, looking for a recommendation on a green cleaning service for Seattle, Kirkland, or Bellevue, or researching the difference between deep cleaning and speed cleaning, don’t forget to keep VOC levels in mind! Pure House Cleaning offers residential services such as deep spring cleaning, monthly and weekly scheduled cleaning, construction clean-ups, and more. For a sparkling home with natural cleaning products, you can trust Pure House Cleaning.