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What are VOC's?

Recently as I was explaining the benefits of our odor removal products I commented that they are bio-degradable, non-toxic and contain no VOC's. Someone asked me what a VOC is and I replied with only that it is a Volatile Organic Compound.

In retrospect, that was pretty lousy answer so let me give a more complete answer as it relates to indoor air quality. VOC's are organic (carbon based) and are emitted as gases from a variety of products. Also called hydrocarbons, VOC's vaporize due to sufficiently high vapor pressures.

The common indoor sources of VOC's are paint, carpeting, copiers/printers, laminated furniture, wood preservatives, paint thinner, glues, permanent markers, cosmetics and certain aerosols and plastics. If there is not sufficient ventilation with the outdoor air and VOC's are present, the indoor pollution levels can be up to 10 times higher than the outdoor air according to the EPA. And that includes urban areas.

One solution (source control) is to simply remove the sources of VOC vapors although this is not always possible. At a minimum, any lid should be closed. Another is to increase the ventilation with outdoor air. Today's houses are built relatively air tight to save on energy costs, however this creates a huge problem with respect to ventilation. Residential AC and heating systems do not pull in air from the outside as commercial units do, so if VOC's are present they are just being circulated around the house. The only effective way around this is to open windows and doors to circulate in "fresh" air. While this will help with the VOC concentration, it can introduce allergens or pollution since this air is not being filtered.

The key is to maintain a balance of outdoor air to get the bad stuff out and at the same time to filter the indoor air with advanced HEPA filtration to keep the indoor air clean. Furnace filters help in collecting large dust particles but they are not effective in removing the smallest particles which are the one's most likely to cause respiratory or allergen issues.