Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a significant concern for indoor air quality, as they can lead to various health issues, including respiratory problems, headaches, and even long-term chronic conditions. Store-bought cleaning products are common sources of VOCs in homes. By understanding typical compounds found in these products, identifying what to look for on labels, and choosing alternatives, homeowners can significantly reduce VOC emissions in their homes.

Typical VOCs in Store-Bought Cleaners

  1. Formaldehyde: Often used as a preservative in cleaners and disinfectants. It is a known carcinogen and can cause respiratory irritation.
  2. Benzene: Found in some degreasers and detergents. Long-term exposure can lead to serious health issues, including cancer.
  3. Toluene: Used in stain removers and disinfectants. It can cause neurological damage and respiratory problems.
  4. Ethanol: Common in glass cleaners and surface cleaners. While less harmful, it can still contribute to indoor air pollution.
  5. Dichloromethane: Found in some heavy-duty cleaners and paint strippers. It is a potential carcinogen and can cause respiratory issues.
  6. Limonene: Often used for its citrus scent in air fresheners and cleaners. It can react with ozone to form formaldehyde.

What to Look for on Labels

When selecting cleaning products, homeowners should carefully read labels for the following indicators of VOC content:

  1. Ingredient List: Look for the specific VOCs mentioned above. If a product lists chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, or benzene, consider avoiding it.
  2. VOC-Free Claims: Some products are marketed as “VOC-free” or “low-VOC.” These are preferable options.
  3. Green Certifications: Look for certifications from organizations like Green Seal or EcoLogo, which indicate that a product has met certain environmental and health standards. https://www.ul.com/resources/ecologo-certification-program
  4. Natural Ingredients: Products that list natural ingredients such as vinegar, baking soda, or essential oils are generally safer choices.

Alternatives to Reduce VOC Emissions

  1. Homemade Cleaners: Using simple ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can be effective for many cleaning tasks. These substances do not emit harmful VOCs and are safe for most household surfaces.
    • All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix equal parts of water and vinegar in a spray bottle. Add a few drops of essential oil for fragrance if desired.
    • Glass Cleaner: Combine 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup of vinegar, and 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle.
    • Scrubbing Paste: Make a paste using baking soda and water for cleaning sinks, tubs, and other surfaces that need scrubbing.
  2. Eco-Friendly Store-Bought Options: Several companies produce effective, low-VOC cleaning products. Brands such as Seventh Generation, Ecover, and Method offer a range of cleaners that are less harmful to indoor air quality.
    • Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Cleaner: Plant-based and free from harsh chemicals.
    • Ecover All-Purpose Cleaner: Made from biodegradable ingredients and free from synthetic fragrances.
    • Method All-Purpose Cleaner: Uses naturally derived ingredients and is certified by Cradle to Cradle for environmental safety.
  3. Ventilation: Improving ventilation in the home can help reduce the concentration of VOCs. Use exhaust fans, open windows, and ensure adequate airflow when using cleaning products.


Reducing VOCs in your home by changing the types of cleaning products you use can significantly improve indoor air quality and reduce health risks. By opting for homemade cleaners, selecting eco-friendly store-bought products, and improving ventilation, homeowners can create a healthier living environment. Always read product labels carefully and look for indicators of low or no VOC content to make informed choices.


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