Orapi Asia

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) in Cleaning Products

What’s the difference between products that disinfect sanitize and clean surfaces
In recent years, there has been a heightened awareness surrounding Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). However, the online sphere is flooded with misinformation and alarming tales about them. It’s crucial to acknowledge that VOCs are indeed real and possess potential health hazards. Nevertheless, adopting practical measures can significantly minimise or eliminate exposure to the most detrimental types.
This article aims to provide an impartial examination of VOCs present in your cleaning products. It will describe their nature, the associated risks, and effective mitigation strategies.

What Are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)?

VOCs in cleaning and sanitizing products
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) refer to carbon-containing chemicals that readily evaporate at room temperature and pressure. They include common substances like solvents (e.g., mineral spirits-based solutions, methanol), household items such as cleaning products (detergents, bleaches), air fresheners, paints, and deodorants. These chemicals are employed in manufacturing or deliberately added to products such as fragrances, aerosols, or preservatives.
While cleaning or sanitising, consumers may often use multiple products simultaneously. This can result in the creation of complex mixtures of VOCs. Additionally, consumers frequently use products with complicated formulations, such as combined cleaners and sanitisers, or products containing multiple ingredients formulated for tasks like dusting or polishing. 
VOCs pose a significant threat to human health due to their impact on indoor air quality (IAQ).

Associated Risks

side effects of inhaling volatile organic compounds

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Effects on the Environment

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are carbon compounds, except for carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates, and ammonium carbonate. 
VOCs cause air pollution by reacting with nitrogen oxides, forming ground-level ozone, also known as smog. Breathing in ozone can be harmful to the lungs, causing respiratory problems like asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also warns that VOCs can cause other negative health effects such as eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, liver and kidney damage, and some have even been linked to cancers. 

Health Concerns

Occupational Exposures

do air freshners have volatile orgnaic compounds voc
Scientific reviews show a link between various cleaning activities, from professional use of cleaning substances to household sprays, and increased risk of new-onset asthma and respiratory issues. Vizcaya et al. found a connection between stringent cleaning work environments and higher asthma symptoms. Other studies highlight increased asthma risks from exposure to cleaning agents during occupational incidents, especially when inhaling fumes from mixing products. Arif et al. emphasised a dose-dependent relationship between prolonged use of cleaning agents and work-related asthma. Women working as cleaners have also shown a heightened susceptibility to developing lung cancer.
Substances like cleaning sprays, chlorine bleach, and disinfectants are strongly associated with these health effects, although the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, possibly involving sensitisation and irritant effects. Among female hospital workers, the study revealed that exposure to certain cleaning materials—such as decalcifiers, ammonia, and moderately intense sprays—was linked to heightened instances of current asthma.

Domestic Cleaning

volatile organic compounds VOCs in household cleaning products

Multiple studies have linked the frequent use of household cleaning sprays and chemicals to adverse health effects. One study associated their high use with increased wheezing (40%), asthma symptoms (50%), and diagnosed asthma (100%). Research suggests that exposure during pregnancy might lead to persistent wheezing in nonallergic children. Long-term use, especially in older women, could decrease heart rate variability, raising cardiovascular risks, particularly in those with existing lung conditions. Additionally, short-term cleaning activities can leave volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ammonia in the air, potentially exposing others to these chemicals.

Types of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

common volatile organic compounds voc in cleaning chemicals

Glycol ethers (2-butoxyethanol)

These are solvents used in many products like paints, cleaning agents, and cosmetics. Exposure to high levels can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.


Also known as rubbing alcohol, it’s commonly used as a solvent or disinfectant. Inhalation or ingestion of high concentrations can lead to headaches, dizziness, and even poisoning.

Hydrocarbons (Benzene, Toluene)

Both are aromatic hydrocarbons found in various industrial products. Benzene exposure is associated with an increased risk of leukaemia, while toluene exposure can cause neurological issues and affect the respiratory system.


Historically used as an anaesthetic, it’s now recognised as a carcinogen and can cause damage to the liver and kidneys upon prolonged exposure.

Chlorinates (Carbon Tetrachloride, Tetrachloroethylene)

These were once used in various industrial applications but are now restricted due to their harmful effects. Carbon tetrachloride can damage the liver and central nervous system, while Tetrachloroethylene exposure is linked to neurological issues and potential carcinogenic effects.


This is an aldehyde used in chemical synthesis. Prolonged exposure can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.

Terpenes (Limonene)

Found in citrus fruits and used in various cleaning products and fragrances. Although natural, they can react with ozone in the air to form harmful pollutants.

Phthalates (Butyl Benzyl Phthalate, Dibutyl Phthalate)

These are commonly used as plasticisers in various products. Some phthalates are suspected to disrupt the endocrine system and have adverse effects on reproductive health.

Isothiazolinones (Methylisothiazolinone, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Benzisothiazolinone)

These are preservatives found in personal care and household products. They can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions in some individuals.


Used in various industries and products like building materials and household products. Long-term exposure can cause respiratory issues and potentially increase the risk of certain cancers.


Commonly found as a byproduct in personal care and cleaning products. It’s a likely carcinogen and can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation.

Reducing Exposure to VOCs

how to avoid exposure to VOC

Using "Green" Cleaning Product

Using “green” cleaning products may help reduce exposure to harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emissions, potentially lowering the risk of health issues associated with conventional cleaning products. Green products, including cleaning agents and air fresheners, are often marketed as non-toxic with third-party certifications; they come in fragrance and fragrance-free options, aiming to minimise the release of VOC that affect air quality.

A study compared conventional and “green” cleaning products’ emissions of VOCs during household cleaning. Results indicated that while some “green” products emit VOCs, the emissions were generally lower than conventional products. For instance, in the laboratory test, 75% of the highest VOC emissions were from conventional cleaning products. While both conventional and “green” products may emit VOCs, “green” products tend to have lower emissions.


  • One-step disinfectant and cleaner. 
  • Professional formulation recommended for surface cleaning and disinfection in medical, food, industrial, offices, and childcare. 
  • Reduce viral contaminations. 
  • Leaves a fresh scent. 
  • Ideal for everyday cleaning and disinfecting: toilets, rubbish bins, microwaves, working surfaces, countertops, tables, fridges, etc. 
  • No-rinse.

Fragrance-Free Products

Temkin et al. analysed 30 products, including conventional, “green” with fragrance, and “green” fragrance-free products. They found that conventional products generally had higher concentrations, total emission factors, and numbers of hazardous VOCs than “green” products, especially fragrance-free ones. The study quantified a significant number of VOCs (530 unique) from the tested products, with 193 considered hazardous. It concluded that conventional products generally had greater total VOC concentrations and emission factors than “green” products, particularly fragrance-free ones. 

Rely on Products With Third-Party Certifications

Third-party certifications on products signal safety and eco-friendliness. Issued independently from manufacturers, these certifications enhance credibility through rigorous evaluations against safety and environmental standards. Displaying these logos assures consumers unbiased scrutiny and streamlines their search for safer or eco-conscious options. These certifications also help manufacturers stand out in the market, appealing to safety and sustainability-focused consumers. Ultimately, “green” labelled products with third-party certifications promise enhanced safety and reduced environmental risks, benefiting both consumers and the environment.
ORAPI takes pride in its third-party certifications and marks, including EcoVadis, NSF, ECOCERT, and ECOLABEL. These certifications highlight our commitment to safety, sustainability, and environmental responsibility. Moreover, our signature validation system, ORAPI Generation, ensures that our products meet high standards in five key areas: effectiveness, sustainable sourcing, eco-friendly solutions, safety, and eco-designed packaging. By using this approach, we help our customers make informed choices and opt for reliable and responsible products.

Wear Proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employees must be provided with high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE), such as fit-tested respirators and coveralls, to safeguard against inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. In industries with heightened risks, using disposable PPE is particularly beneficial, aiding workers in reducing potential cross-contamination and preventing inadvertent exposure of their family members to volatile compounds. It is essential to consult product labels to access the recommended PPE while using specific products.


Effective management of indoor air quality (IAQ) hinges on proper ventilation and air circulation. Adequate ventilation disperses VOCs by introducing fresh air, especially in enclosed spaces prone to VOC buildup, like industrial settings, specific material residences, or areas with poor airflow. Increasing indoor-outdoor air exchange via mechanical ventilation systems or opening windows and doors is pivotal in reducing VOC concentrations and promoting a healthier indoor environment.

Conclusion: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

In summary, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) present significant health and environmental risks in everyday products. Their mixtures in cleaning agents, paints, and household items contribute to indoor pollution, leading to respiratory issues, neurological effects, and potential carcinogenicity. Adopting ‘green’ fragrance-free products with third-party certifications, ensuring proper ventilation, using adequate personal protective equipment, and adhering to safety standards are pivotal in reducing VOC exposure. Recognising these risks and implementing practical measures are crucial to safeguard human health and promote a cleaner, safer environment for all.

Full list of curated cleaning products.
Housekeeping Hospitality Cleaning Guide

Now Trending

Housekeeping Hospitality Cleaning Guide

Fill up the form to download the ebook!