Why VOCs in Cleaning Products are Bad

Household Cleaning Products

Awareness of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) has increased over the last few years, but there is still a lot of disinformation online.  Yes, VOCs are real.  Yes, they can harm your health.  But you can take reasonable measures to reduce or completely remove exposure to the most harmful ones. This article will explain what these compounds are, the risks, and what you can do to protect yourself.

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that pollute the air around us and are released by everyday items such as: cleaning products (detergents, bleaches), air fresheners, paints, and deodorants. The chemicals evaporate at room temperature, and are used in the manufacturing process or specifically added to products as fragrances, aerosols, or preservatives as examples.

There are numerous VOCs in everyday household products, although this may not always be clear from the ingredient label. It is worth noting that VOCs in household products can react with the air around us to create VOCs with different chemical structures, which can themselves be associated with health risk. Which begs the question – how safe are VOC’s?


It’s important to ensure the disinfectant you use for your home or business doesn’t contain any harmful volatile organic compounds! VOC’s create unhealthy airborne vapors that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and skin irritation. Higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system. In some cases, there are even reports of cancer linked to long-term exposure to VOCs.

With the increased importance of cleanliness during Covid-19, Bacoban is positioning itself as a strong contender for the ideal cleaner and contains no VOCs. 

  • Health Canada Approved
  • No Volatile Organic Compounds (Zero VOC’s)
  • Kills 99.99% of viruses, bacteria & fungi
  • Zero Phenol and Aldehydes
  • Will not damage surfaces
  • No harsh chemical smell
  • Reduces odor
  • Water based

What are the risks of VOCs in cleaning products?

A 2003 California Air Resources Board study found that cleaning products alone account for 7.4 tons of VOCs released per day (based on a population of 33 million, which equals around 82grams per person every year). This considerable VOC pollution has been shown, or associated with, a range of adverse health effects.

1. Asthma

Asthma attacks can be triggered by a range of allergens and household pollutants, including VOCs. Household exposure to VOCs has been shown increase the risk of asthma, with a 1.6-fold higher risk in adults, and 1.5 to 2.5-fold risk in children. In California, it has been reported that 11% of work-related asthma attacks are due to VOCs in cleaning products.

It should be noted that a 2015 systematic review of 53 studies evaluating how safe are VOC’s in asthma concluded that much of the evidence was of low quality, with inconsistent results. Larger clinical trials are required into if and how VOCs increase the risk of asthma, and if a reduction in exposure to VOCs can clinically improve the symptoms of asthma.

2. Eczema, contact dermatitis and skin conditions  

Much like asthma, household exposure to VOCs has been associated with an increased risk of eczema, with the risk shown to be between 1.1 and 2.3-fold. In addition, the ingredients in cleaning products are thought the be responsible for contact dermatitis in 0.7% of the population. Household exposure to VOCs is thought to increase the risk of experiencing skin reactions to the irritant ingredients in cleaning products.

3. Endocrine and immune disruption 

Many VOCs have individually shown to be responsible for endocrine (mostly with effects on fertility) or immune disruption (unexpected inflammatory responses) [10]. These studies have mostly been in animals, and high-quality studies linking household VOC exposure to hormone disruption in humans are lacking. The correlation is often made because these VOCs can be detected in low quantities in human blood, but the effects aren’t yet clear.

4. Cancer 

Several VOCs are known or probable human carcinogens, including formaldehyde and benzene. A 2007 study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health determined that the overall lifetime risk of cancer due to VOCs was between 0.06-0.1% – although this study included indoor and outdoor exposure, in addition to dietary sources. Permittable levels of the most carcinogenic VOCs in cleaning products are restricted nationally.

Recognizing VOCs on ingredient labels

Unfortunately, labelling regulations in the EU and US allow product manufacturers to provide very little ingredient information to consumers. In Europe, only ingredients making up 0.2% of the product, or ones known to be harmful (excluding those used in the manufacturing process) ,are required to be on the label. In the US, the regulations are even more lax with no clear standardization

This means most VOCs cannot be found on ingredient labels.

Can you reduce exposure to VOCs?

It’s extremely tough to eliminate VOC exposure due to their prevalence in household products. But steps can be taken to reduce the risk:

  • Open windows and doors to increase ventilation
  • Follow product instructions (e.g. standing certain distance away)
  • Never mix cleaning products. This may inadvertently create harmful VOCs.
  • Understand what ingredient s are in products that you use, and recognize/monitor the most harmful components
  • Use less toxic alternatives where available (for example, cleaning with baking soda and vinegar)


VOCs are potentially harmful pollutants released by household items like cleaning products and air fresheners. These have been associated with a range of adverse health effects including asthma, eczema, reduced fertility, and cancer. It can be difficult to find reliable ingredient information for VOCs in cleaning products, and so milder alternatives or ‘ingredient-free’ products are often the only options.

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