Does your home have these top household airborne chemicals?
Photo via iStock
Do cleaning products and disinfectants lead to a healthier home? Some families say yes, but what many don't realize is that airborne chemicals from a range of household products—soaps, detergents, perfumes, cleaning supplies, and even building materials like paint and varnishes—can linger in the home.
These chemicals emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In fact, there may be up to 300 different VOCs found in indoor air. The makers of Honeywell Air Purifiers have partnered with a team of environmental health scientists to release a list of the top 10 most common VOCs found in American households along with an online checklist to help with remediation.
"Human exposure to VOCs occurs predominately through inhalation of contaminated air, particularly indoor air—and this exposure is often increased from the use of household cleaning and personal care products. Newer homes designed to be more energy efficient often exacerbate this issue by restricting airflow with outside air and trapping airborne chemicals indoors," said Dr. Ted Myatt, ScD. "Many household VOCs have known toxicities and can be associated with headaches and irritation of the eye, nose and throat."
What products should homeowners be most wary of? Below is a list of the top ten most common VOCs and the household products that they are associated with:
Formaldehyde – Released by various off-gassing sources such as wood-based building materials including particleboard, fiberboard, floor lacquers and certain molded plastics as well as some latex paints, varnishes, wallpapers, cardboard and paper products.
Terpenes (pinene and limonene) – Released by consumer products with fragrance such as cleaning products, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, hand sanitizers, personal care products, baby shampoo, and soaps.
Ethanol– Released by household cleaning agents such as glass cleaners, dishwashing and laundry detergent, disinfectants, fabric softeners, and deodorizers.
Dichlorobenzene – Released by deodorizers and mothballs. Like terpenes, Dichlorobenzene is rarely found in outdoor air samples, indicating the source is predominantly from indoor consumer goods.
Benzene – Released by gasoline combustion and some paints. Indoor levels can be impacted by an attached garage and outdoor sources such as traffic, coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources. The EPA has classified benzene as a known human carcinogen.
Toluene – Released by paints or gasoline solvents. Indoor levels are associated with attached garages and emissions from idling vehicles.
Acetone - Released from nail polish remover, oil paint, furniture polish, wallpaper and carpet glues.
Carbon disulfide– Released by chlorinated tap water for drinking, washing dishes, clothing or showering. Use of chlorinated water and bleach containing products also result in increased levels of chloroform.
Butanal – Released by tobacco smoking and other indoor combustion sources such as cooking stoves, candle burning, and barbeques using charcoal or wood.
Xylene – Released by vehicles, either traffic emissions or vehicles idling in an attached garage or nearby.
There are a number of simple steps that can be taken to help reduce VOCs in the home, including
- Choose products that release fewer VOCs (organic)
- Use a portable air purifier that includes a carbon filter as part of the filtration process, helping to adsorb VOCs
- Increase ventilation, particularly when products containing chemicals are used.
Read more about indoor air quality.