Volatile Organic Compounds

Volatile organic compounds, found in paint, caulk, cleaning supplies, carpet and wood, can be damaging to your health.
Ceramic is Low VOC

Ceramic is Low VOC

Ceramic tile

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in paint, caulk, cleaning supplies, carpet, wood, even items from the grocery store -- and they can be damaging to your health. You can't entirely eliminate these compounds from your daily life, but you can minimize the amount.

Volatile organic compounds are gases released as materials age and degrade over time. There are hundreds of VOCs -- from formaldehyde and ethanol to vinyl, adhesives and varnishes. Even felt-tip pens are a source. The smell in a new car is perhaps one of the most noticeable examples of VOCs, as the interior plastics emit gases.

VOCs can cause allergic reactions such as asthma, headaches, upper respiratory infections, rashesm even cancer.

Wallcoverings and VOCs

  • Read labels to find low-VOC products and purchase nontoxic paint.
  • Use water-based polyurethane that emits fewer gases than oil-based products. For the same reason, natural or low-VOC stains, sealants and varnishes are also healthier choices.
  • Avoid vinyl wall covering, as well as vinyl upholstery and flooring. Vinyl is a chemical radical emitting various gases.
  • Tightly rolled wallpaper can trap gases, so unroll outdoors to allow gases to dissipate before hanging indoors.

Low-VOC Flooring Alternatives

  • Vinyl and synthetic carpets are high in VOCs. Instead, look for natural fibers such as wool, sisal and cotton.
  • Although hardwood floors are easy to clean and might seem like a good solution, hardwoods include formaldehydes, and all finishes emit VOCs. A good alternative is presealed hardwood, or hardwood sealed with water-based polyurethane.
  • Ceramic tile is inert, emitting no gases. Linoleum is clinically nontoxic. Other allergy-friendly flooring includes bamboo, cork or recycled glass.
  • To minimize the VOCs found in adhesives, select low-VOC or water-based products.
  • Carpet should include a low-emission level (indicated by a Carpet and Rug Institute tag). Select carpet that's free of chemicals with a low nap. Avoid installation in damp areas (bath and kitchen). Install with tack strips, rather than adhesive, and make sure a moisture barrier is in place before the carpet is installed.
Keep Reading

Next Up

Natural Cork Flooring

Installing and caring for natural cork flooring is simple with these tips.

How to Keep Laminate Floors Clean and Shiny

Check out these quick tips on how to maintain laminate floors and keep them looking new.

Tips for Cleaning Tile, Wood and Vinyl Floors

Get expert tips, techniques and recipes for cleaning all types of floors, from ceramic tile to hardwood.

How to Clean Cork Floors

Learn how to safely clean and seal a cork floor with these simple tips from DIY experts.

How to Clean Vinyl Floors

Remove dirt, scuffs and stains from vinyl floors with these easy cleaning and maintenance tips from DIY experts.

How to Clean Concrete Floors

Cleaning outdoor concrete flooring is very different from indoor concrete flooring. Here's how to remove dirt and mildew without damaging your concrete floors.

How to Clean Ceramic Tile Floors

Make your ceramic tile look like new with these easy cleaning tips from DIY experts.

How to Care for Hardwood Flooring

Learning about hardwood flooring is crucial to caring for it properly. Our DIY experts explain the basics.

How to Clean Hardwood Floors

Learn how to care for hardwood floors by using these natural cleaners and following these simple tips.

How to Clean a Tile Floor

Cleaning a tile floor is easy with these tips from DIY experts.

On TV

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.