You know that new home smell? Or the smell of a new car? A lot of us love it. But you may not like to hear that what we're really smelling are VOCs — and they can be harmful.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemical by-products found in many building supplies and products. Treated wood, insulation, carpeting, paints and cabinets all contain VOCs that will evaporate or off-gas into your indoor air, according to Leader-Post.
You can usually smell VOCs the strongest in varnishes and some paints.
They're also in cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes, air fresheners, furnishings and plastics.
It's almost like we've been programmed to like the smell of VOCs because we normally smell them when we get something new, like a gadget or even a new home or renovation. But VOCs have been known to cause headaches, dizziness, and can be toxic in some cases.
New homes have higher levels of VOCs. The same goes for renovations. VOC levels will decrease over time due to off-gassing. But how long they off-gas depends on the material.
For example, adhesives and caulking are among the worst for off-gassing and VOCs. That's why you're supposed to stay out of bathrooms for at least a couple of days after caulking. Whereas VOCs in spray foam will be gone or non-detectable within a few days. But pressed wood cabinets will off-gas for weeks — sometimes even months. In fact, cabinets are huge VOC contributors.
Part of the reason is because of the adhesives and varnishes some cabinets contain. These are cabinets usually made from pressed wood, particleboard or MDF (medium-density fibreboard). But a lot of it has to do with just the number of cabinets in a house.
Think about it: Most homes have cabinets in the kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms and bathrooms. This will all add up and increase the amount of VOCs in the air inside your home.