VOCs: Invisible Killers in Your Home & Office

Posted on December 17, 2017
by PureLiving

With the prevalence of new buildings, renovations, furnishings, high use of particle board, and low awareness of healthy construction in China, the concerns surrounding formaldehyde and other VOCs are increasingly significant. Although the Chinese government has issued a series of standards to regulate formaldehyde exposure, lack of enforcement and regulation often lead to concentrations in homes, offices, and public places exceeding the National standard. In addition, homes and offices here have the same pollution sources as they do elsewhere: household cleaning agents, mold, dust mites, just to name a few which can lead to indoor air quality being 5-10 times worse than outdoors. Together, this leads to a level of indoor air quality that poses an unacceptable level of risk to our health as well as our comfort.


Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people experience soon after exposure. Some organics and VOCs may make symptoms worse for people with asthma or those who are particularly sensitive to chemicals. Some compounds are also carcinogens (cancer causing agents)––studies show that prolonged exposure to certain compounds in the indoor environment can increase the risk of developing leukemia, lymphoma, and other cancers.

What are VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals emitted as gases from certain solids and liquids, which off-gas over time. Some occur naturally in the environment, other compounds occur only as a result of manmade activities, and some compounds have both origins. VOCs are contaminants of concern; for example, benzene, a known human carcinogen, has a safety limit of 0.09mg/m3 using China standards, yet its sweet smell is usually only detectable when levels are greater than[1]4.5mg/m3.

The total concentration of multiple airborne VOCs in the indoor air is known as TVOC.

voc 2


Sources of VOCs

sources of VOCs

Common examples of VOCs that may be present in our daily lives are: benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, tetrachloroethylene, toluene, xylene and 1,3-butadiene.

voc 3 painting


How Can You Tackle VOCs

PureLiving's recommended steps to reduce levels in your home & office:

1. Eliminate/separate the source of pollution elimination/separation 
  • The general principle is that it is more effective to eliminate the source of the pollutant than to try to remove the aftereffects. For example, it is better to remove a formaldehyde-emitting rug than to implement an air filter to passively filter VOCs.
voc 4


  • Limit your purchases to low formaldehyde products such as solid wood and metal materials instead of pressed board

  • Remove or reduce the products in your home that give off VOCs- look for supplies of unused chemicals such as paints, varnishes, solvents, adhesives and caulks–don’t leave opened containers lying around and only buy what you need

  • If you must store unused chemicals, store them outside where possible, e.g. on a well-ventilated exterior balcony where people do not spend time

2. Contain vapors 
  • Increase the amount of fresh air in your home to help reduce the concentration of VOCs indoors- ventilate 2-3 times a day when PM2.5 levels are good outside
  • Use fans to maximize air brought in from the outside
  • Keep both the temperature and relative humidity as low as possible or comfortable as chemicals off-gas more in high temperatures and humidity
  • Try to perform home renovations during the seasons that allow you to open door and windows to increase ventilation
  • Use professional remediation – oxidation sprays and/or sealants
3. Install filters/ air purifiers 
  • Install air purifiers or air filtration systems that are equipped with activated carbon filters and remember to replace filters as per the manufacturer guidelines


4. Introduce more green plants 
  • Certain plants not only remove toxic VOCs but also exchange carbon dioxide with fresh oxygen, necessary when windows are shut and purifiers are running continuously. For example, the philodendron, spider plant and the golden pothos were labeled the most effective in removing formaldehyde molecules according to a NASA study on house plants that improve air quality.

However, if you do have VOC levels which are over the standards, don't expect a few plants to remove the VOCs completely. It is still recommended to remove the source or seek professional remediation. 

green plants help to decrease voc level


How PureLiving Can Help?

1. Testing/Investigate 

At PureLiving, we always recommend testing prior to taking any professional remediation steps as only with accurate data and analysis can you reliably identify pollutants, pinpoint sources, and recommend the most appropriate solutions. For example, installing a HEPA - only air purifier into a home with strong chemical odors will not solve the VOC issue. In fact, it may lead to a false perception of safety - occupants will "feel" safe while in reality they are sitting in a potentially hazzardous environment.

To help you understand your environment, PureLiving has designed a Chemical Investigation package, which uses a combination of real-time chemical sensors and certified laboratory analysis to precisely identify TVOC sources and levels in the air and common household furnishings or objects. Based on the results of the test, we will be able to recommend a number of solutions and options for treatment. 

2. PCO Treatment 

Photocatalytic oxidizationo (PCO) is a type of remediation where a chemical safe for humans (typically titanium dioxide, TiO2) is vaporized and applied to furniture, walls and floors in a room with high levels of odor or VOCs. The titanium dioxide-coating decomposes nitrogen oxide (NOx), formaldehyde, benzene and other VOCs in the air.

The coated surfaces then become the treatment area. When exposed to UV light, TiO2 becomes a photocatalyst oxidizer (PCO). The TiO2 facilitates the oxidation process of carbon bonds (which keeps most organic compounds like germs together) through a photocatalytic reaction. This reaction breaks up these bonds over and over again until only save substaces like carbon dioxide and water are left behind.

3. Purification Solutions 净化方案

Our engineering team provides state-of-the-art, customized installations designs through implementation of best practices in the industry with a focused vision of improving IAQ for your office/factory.

For families, portable purifiers containing active carbon/charcoal media can help control chemical off-gassing in the indoor environment. 

Purifications with carbon filters can help aid in chemical absorption, but should not be used in-lieu of fresh air ventilation.


[1]Source: Odor Thresholds and Irritation Levels of Several Chemical Substances: A Review by JON H. RUTH



About PureLiving

PureLiving is a leading indoor environmental consulting company with a simple mission: to help our clients create healthy homes and workplaces. Our expert team of building engineers, HVAC specialists, and environmental consultants advises clients on air and water quality, mold, asbestos and lead exposure issues and helps to improve their indoor environmental quality through testing to identify sources of pollution and then eliminating them. Our total range of solutions includes pollutant testing, design and installation of cutting-edge filtration systems, monitoring, and odor and chemical reduction.

With operations in six cities across China, Hong Kong, and India, PureLiving is the industry’s provider of choice for assessment, engineering, implementation, and monitoring of indoor environmental quality.