The ABCs of VOCs!

This website contains carefully researched content meant to guide readers in educated health decisions. Although I am not a physician or research scientist, I am a committed and careful researcher of technical information and share health tips which I have considered and used in my own journey of health as a breast cancer survivor. I am also mindful of citing sources and careful not to plagiarize. If you choose to share the information I have published, please extend the respect of citing this website and my name as the source of the information, or citing the sources I have shared out of respect to your readers who choose to trust you as a source or conduit of information in their own journey of health. - Christy Begien, Non-Toxic Lifestyle (c) 2024 All rights reserved, Denver Colorado.

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VOC? What does that mean? The Minnesota Department of Health states that Volatile Organic Compounds are “a large group of carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. While most people can smell high levels of some VOCs, other VOCs have no odor. Odor does NOT indicate the level of risk from inhalation of this group of chemicals.”

I’ll bet most of you have heard of formaldehyde.  It’s a VOC and considered volatile because it emits a gas at room temperature. As it warms up, more of the chemical off-gasses into a room.  (Off-gassing is the natural evaporation of chemicals.) The top three VOC offenders in our home? Carpeting, paint, and furniture and upholstery; all can carry VOCs, such as formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene, just to name a few.

So What’s the Problem with VOCs?

Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) are a part of many home furnishings and decor.

Like many of you, I love spring because it entails throwing open windows, deep cleaning; maybe adding a fresh coat of paint or some other little redecorating project involving new furniture and or area rugs. The Environmental Protection Agency claims Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, often at home. More importantly, they claim that indoor air pollutants can be 2-5 times higher than outdoor air.  Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. (Environmental Protection Agency)

Chemical off-gassing of VOCs is not good for anyone but there are people at greater risk of major health problems including infants and young children, the elderly and those who already have respiratory problems such as asthma and allergies and those people with higher sensitivity to chemicals in general.

Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

Opening windows when you can, greatly reduces the harmful effects of VOCs.

Short Term health effects (Acute) to high levels of VOCs: (Minnesota Department of Health)

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Skin irritations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Worsening of asthma and allergies

Long Term health effects (Chronic) to high levels of VOCs:

  • Cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Central nervous system damage

I do ponder at times the coincidence of my cancer diagnosis, just 3 years after a major renovation of our home back in 2000. We updated our family room and master bedroom — of particular note was the new insulation, high VOC paint, wall-to-wall carpeting and new furniture in the master bedroom — a place where we spent 8 hours a night.  All of these factors led to major off-gassing and potential toxic overload.


New carpet – Consumer Reports indicates that 200 chemicals are in the mixtures of gasses released by new carpets. Most are made with agents using toxic synthetic chemicals including artificial dyes, stain and soil repellents, adhesives, moth proofing and flame retardants. (All known to cause loss of memory, respiratory and nerve damage)

Old carpet – Sometimes these can actually be worse than new carpets, in that may still contain chemicals currently banned. They also harbor years of dirt, dust mites, toxic cleaning products, pesticides and solvents.

Tips to Reduce VOCs in Your Carpet Choices

When you can, replace or choose rugs:

  • Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

    Natural rugs, like woven sisal, are healthier alternatives to synthetic materials.

    Made from wool, sisal, sea grass or jute.

  • With the Green Label Plus Certification. They have passed independent laboratory tests for emissions from thirteen notorious chemicals.
  • Make sure they are 100 percent organic, pesticide free with NO CHEMICALS applied.
  • Consider bamboo, tile, wood and other alternative natural or Eco-friendly flooring options.

For other healthy rug options click:

Tips for Cleaning Rugs

To clean rugs with non-toxic products, click here to see my full list and instructions.

  • Dry-Baking Soda
  • Liquid-White Vinegar
  • Steam
  • Professional non toxic companies


I love colored walls (!) but I learned a long time ago:

  • Traditional paints can off-gas for up to 7 years.
  • Darker colors of paint tend to contain higher levels of VOCs.
  • There seems to be some dispute as to paint manufacturer who claim zero VOCs; but the one thing experts seem to agree on is that using paints with lower VOC levels is making a healthier choice. (Consumer Reports)

Tips to Reduce VOCs in Your Paint Choices

  • Use a Sealing Primer such as AFM Safecoat Hardseal (for nonporous surfaces) or Safe Seal (for porous surfaces). A little pricey, but it does a great job at blocking VOCs, including formaldehyde.
  • Try painting during seasons when you can open windows and run fans. The drier air will draw out the VOCs faster.
Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

There are some great low-VOC paints for nurseries and all other rooms!

Low VOC Paint Company Recommendations

My favorite paint for the past five years has been Mythic. It’s a bit more expensive but the colors are wonderful and it’s much healthier.

For babies and nurseries: I’m hearing a lot of good stuff here: www.lullabypaintscom.

They have been endorsed by several consumer advocacy groups along with Parents, and Healthy Child,  HealthyChild. Their paints include food grade ingredient pigments imported from Europe meeting high environmental standards.

Furniture and Upholstery

Manufactured wood, such as plywood and particleboard, contains high formaldehyde. Plastic furniture made  of PVC is also high in VOCs.

Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

Choosing sofas covered in cotton is a healthier alternative to synthetic materials.

Tips to Reducing  VOCs in Your Furniture and Upholstery Choices

  • For new items, consider purchasing floor models which have already off-gassed while sitting in a store.
  • New items-try to select low or no VOC products.
  • Choose solid wood items with low VOC finishes (polyurethane is usually high in VOCs)
  • For expensive furniture you may already have with formaldehyde, use a non toxic sealer. Can be used on floors with polyurethane as well.
  • Purchase during a time of the year when you can set it outside to “air” for a period of days, allowing much of the off-gassing to occur, especially if it’s warm.
  • Wool and cotton, rather than synthetics (made from chemicals) are healthier upholstery fabrics.
  • Sprinkle baking soda liberally over fabric you know doesn’t contain natural fibers. Let sit for an hour and vacuum with a HEPA vacuum cleaner.

Here is a wonderful link for choosing safer furniture products:

Help! So I have new carpets, new furniture, and the walls were recently painted!

All is not lost! We’ve all been in these situations. Here are some great tips I’ve found to be very helpful!

  • Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

    Air purifiers are so beneficial to a home environment.

    Add any of these top six air-cleaning plants to any room with VOCs:

    • Areca Palm-the MOST efficient air purifying plant
    • Bamboo Palm
    • Rubber Plant
    • Dracaena
    • Peace Lily
    • Boston fern
  • Invest in a good HEPA filter vacuum and HEPA air purifier for needed areas. (HEPA vacuums and purifiers are not all the same so do your research.)
  • Increase your ventilation – Open your windows whenever you can and air rooms out.
  • Increase your family’s natural ability to detoxify toxins. Add extra vitamins E, C, D-3 and the Bs to enhance detoxification. Curcumin and alpha-lipoic acid also move things along.
  • Maintain climate control – Chemicals tend to off-gas when it’s warmer and more humid so de-humidifiers are also a good idea.

And, take your shoes off!

Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle

Leave your shoes or boots at the door!

Remove your shoes when coming indoors. A study from the University of Arizona found 421,000 units of bacteria on the outside of a shoe including meningitis, pneumonia and E. Coli. Yikes! Toxins and herbicides can last up to a week, plus removing shoes saves on the wear and tear on our floors, and keeps them cleaner.

I invite you to join me in making simple, everyday changes in improving our home air quality. We don’t have to do it all at once; things can get expensive, I know. Start with the simple, inexpensive steps, like taking your shoes off, opening windows and turning to baking soda and white vinegar for cleaning. Be well, everyone!

Christy Begien | The Non Toxic Lifestyle



Consumer Report
Environmental Protection Agency
Green Building Supply
Minnesota Department of Health
Mother Nature Network-Matt Hicknian (5/17/10)
San Francisco Gate-Paige Turner
Today’s Homeowner-Julie Day
Washington Toxics Coalition

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  1. Marcia Robinson-Rouse  April 14, 2015

    Wonderful information, Christy! Thank you!