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What are VOCs, and Why are There VOC Limits in Stains?

When you're buying a stain for your home, the package may indicate the level and type of VOC. There are state and federally-regulated limits on VOCs for your health. What are VOCs and how do you know if the products you're using are safe? There are a number of aspects about these chemicals that you should understand before you purchase your next stain.

What is a VOC?

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are organic, carbon-based chemicals that evaporate at room temperature. Some VOCs are harmful, while others are not, and some VOCs have a pleasant or undetectable scent, while others are quite obviously noxious. Unfortunately, the smell or absence of smell is not always an indication of whether or not a VOC is risky. There are a number of common VOCs that are in products you use regularly, such as:

  • Ethylene glycol
  • Methylene chloride
  • Acetone
  • Toluene
  • Benzene

Where are VOCs Found?

Because of the effectiveness of the VOCs used, you'll find these chemicals in products and even activities you engage in every day. Some of the types of products that have VOCs include:
  • Paint
  • Wood stain
  • Sealing caulk
  • Varnish
  • Air fresheners
  • Cosmetics
  • Gasoline

In addition to being in products regularly used, VOCs are seen in many different types of activities you may engage in. One of the most common ways you'll be exposed to VOCs is if you smoke. However, if you use a wood burning stove, VOCs are also present in wood smoke. Dry cleaning, photocopiers, and even cooking can expose you to these chemicals.

What are the Health Effects of VOCs?

If you're exposed to small levels of VOC, or for short periods of time, you may notice that you don't feel great. Some of the symptoms of exposure include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Eye, nose, or throat irritation
  • Nausea or vomiting
If you are exposed to the chemicals for long periods of time, however, the health effects worsen. With severe, long-term exposure, you may have an increased risk of:
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Central nervous system damage
  • Cancer

What are Safe Levels of VOCs?

Because of the health concerns associated with VOCs, it's best to limit your exposure to these chemicals as much as possible. However, that doesn't mean that you have to completely stop using anything with VOCs. The lower the level of VOCs in a product, the better it is for use. While the EPA has not put limits on all types of VOC in all types of products, there are restrictions on some. In addition, several states have restrictions on the percentage of VOC in products, based on weight.

How Can I Cut My Exposure to VOCs?

One of the best ways to cut your VOC exposure is to work with products with low levels of VOC. In addition, make sure that when using products that include VOCs you keep the area well-ventilated. Weatherall products are green-engineered, meaning that they have been created with your health and that of the environment in mind. The company doesn't use harsh chemicals, which helps you reduce your VOC emissions. Understanding VOCs and how they affect you in your daily life is important. The more you understand, the better you can cut back your VOC exposure.

Image via Flickr by Decorative Concrete Kingdom