What are VOCs? Can Air Purifiers Help with VOCs?

A lot of people have heard about VOCs, but not a lot of people know what they are. They’re told that VOCs aren’t any good, but why?

VOCs are volatile organic compounds. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are prevalent in a lot of household items and goods. What’s so bad about VOCs? VOCs are known to cause a whole array of short and long-term health issues in life. These issues include cancer, liver damage, kidney damage, and it can even impact your central nervous system.

So, VOCs are not good for us; now the question is, where do they come from? Can air purifiers help with VOCs in your home?

VOCs are compounds and chemicals that are present in just about everything in our homes. The paint on your walls, the aerosols in your hairspray, the glues that hold together your furniture. VOCs are in just about everything. Fortunately, just a little bit probably won’t hurt you, but a lot will.

If you’re like me, then you might be thinking, “If VOCs are in everything, why am I not dead yet?”

Well, luckily a lot of manufacturers have taken note of the dangers of VOCs and have worked to remove the super dangerous ones. They’ve also made moves to limit the amount of VOCs that might “off-gas” inside of your home.

But those efforts aren’t enough to make our homes completely VOC-free.

VOCs are something that we can’t ever fully remove. They’re part of our lives everywhere we go. However, there are things that we can do to lessen the amount of VOCs that we are exposed to.

What Can I Do to Limit My Exposure to VOCs?

There are several courses of action to limit your exposure to VOCs, so you don’t need to worry! As we previously mentioned, a lot of companies have already acted to limit your exposure to some VOCs.

However, there remains one major concern with VOCs–they’re known to get trapped in your home. Because of limited air flow, the VOCs remain in your home and they gather there. The EPA found that levels of VOCs are 2 to 5 times higher indoors than they are outside.

Actions that you can take to further protect yourself and your family include increasing airflow and ventilation in your home. Believe it or not, this is the same strategy to take care of another harmful gas called radon. That can be difficult, however, so there is another step you can take.

Air purifiers.

Hold on, what does an air purifier have to do with all of this?

Well, not all air purifiers can help you, but there are some that can. What kind can help you? Air purifiers with activated carbon filters.

Is There a Way I Can Check My Home’s Air for VOCs?

There is a way to check your home’s air for VOCs, believe it or not!

I always thought that you had to either do everything you could to make sure there weren’t VOCs, or you had to do your best to try and identify them by smell (which is just about impossible). As it turns out, however, there are actually sensors that can check the air for them!

Just like carbon monoxide detectors, these VOC sensors check the air for scentless gasses that are harmful for you, your family, and your pets. For that, we can take a breath of fresh air (pun intended).

You can shop around on Amazon for VOC monitors, but I’d like to recommend one from a company I know and trust well, AirThings. They’ve got a sensor that you can pick up from their site here. I’ve set things up with them so you can get an additional ten percent off your order when you use the code ape10-10off at checkout.

But, if you’d rather poke around on Amazon for a VOC sensor, here’s a link to do that. (Spoiler alert: those are either hard to find, or they’re a lot more money than the AirThings one!)

What is an Activated Carbon Filter?

Can Air Purifiers Help with VOCs

Activated carbon is basically just charcoal that was treated in a few special ways to make it work really well. It’s totally safe and some people even brush their teeth with the stuff!

How does it help you with VOCs? Well, activated carbon is super porous and it has a few other qualities as well, all of which allow it to capture stuff out of the air. Because of this, a lot of air purifier manufacturers make air purifiers that have filters made out of this special activated charcoal.

These air purifiers with activated carbon filters cycle your home’s air through these carbon filters. When that happens, the charcoal filters strip the air of the VOCs you don’t want. In fact, they also take care of pesky odors and smoke too!

So, in order to up your game in your fight against potentially dangerous VOCs, you might want to pick up an air purifier with an activated carbon filter.

Why Don’t All Air Purifiers Capture VOCs?

Making a filter with activated carbon can add to its cost. On top of that, people might not want activated charcoal in their air purifier for one reason or another. Either way, some air purifiers don’t have the VOC-capturing capabilities because of that.

Other air purifiers might be built with different focuses in mind, just because they don’t have an activated charcoal filter doesn’t mean they aren’t good. One kind of air purifier that we love that doesn’t have an activated carbon filter actually uses water as its sole filter! (Believe it or not!) If you’d like to read up on those water-based air purifiers, then you can here.

Other air purifiers use filters like HEPA filters to clean the air. But a HEPA filter on its own can’t capture VOCs. Each kind of filter has its own pros and cons. If you’re curious what else air purifiers can do, then we’ve got an article for you too. You can check it out here, What is an Air Purifier and What Do Air Purifiers Do? Air purifiers do a lot more than any of us might expect, so you might want to take a look at what they can do for you!

There are lots of air purifiers out there that have both a HEPA filter and an activated carbon one, these are some of our personal favorites. If you’d like to read some more on air purifier filters and why they’re important, then you can check out our post on the subject here.

What is a Good Air Purifier for VOCs?

The best air purifier for VOCs will have an activated carbon filter. We find that air purifiers that have HEPA filters as well will be of more use, however. We find this to be true because a charcoal filter can’t really clear dust and allergens out of the air, a HEPA filter can. These air purifiers aren’t too difficult to find, so you’ll have a wide selection.

One of our favorite air purifiers for VOCs, allergens, dust, and so much more, is manufactured by a longtime air purifier maker called Blueair. This air purifier does a whole lot more than take care of VOCs, hence why it’s a favorite of ours. If you’re looking for an air purifier for your bedroom or a nursery, then our Blue Pure 411 post might be a good choice for you. If you’re looking for an air purifier for a larger room like a living room, then you might want to check our post on the Blueair 211+.

Unfortunately, both those units are on the costlier end of the spectrum. Since they work so well and do so much they command a higher price. But, if you’re on a tight budget, then you might want to check out these cheaper alternatives for activated carbon air purifiers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Off-Gassing?

Off-gassing is the process in which VOCs and other compounds that are in a gas form at room temperature are released. This is something that takes place in just about everything we come into contact with. In fact, that new car smell we all love is actually evidence of off-gassing! As things get older, they usually off-gas less and less.

What Can Release VOCs in My Home?

Unfortunately, most everything in our homes today release VOCs. Everything from hair spray to pain, to couches release it. There’s basically no getting away from them. However, there are ways to mitigate VOC exposure, such as getting an activated carbon air purifier and/or increasing ventilation in your home. Can air purifiers help with VOCs? Yes.

HEPA filters are some of the best air purifier filters out there. They can capture up to 99.97% of the particles in the air you breathe. They can capture things as small as .3 microns, that’s several times smaller than a human hair!

Jonathon Silva

Jonathan Silva is our longtime Air Purifier Essentials author. He has been writing on air purification technologies for his entire professional career.

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