Some recent media reports have raised concerns about volatile organic compounds (also known as VOCs) in cleaning products, but the facts are less frightening and we want to reassure you about their safety.
VOCs is a very broad term, and includes just about any scent or odour, from the smell of fresh coffee and roses to dog poo and freshly cut grass.
Some cleaning products include VOCs, and may smell pleasant or unpleasant.
These VOCs were mentioned by some media outlets because they are included in an excellent report on air pollution by the highly respected Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
The report, Every Breath We Take, identifies the many causes of outdoor and indoor air pollution. When looking at indoor air pollution, the report includes VOCs and says: “Although they are very common in the air, their health effects are generally minor.”
These products have been developed over many years to help you ensure your home is clean and safe. They are also carefully regulated, and are reviewed when new information is available.
Some of the recent media reports may have worried you, but rest assured many of them are based on a misrepresentation of the excellent information contained in Every Breath We Take.
The report identifies the major risk as coming from outside air which gets into the house. It also notes that substances such as cigarette smoke and carbon monoxide are very serious hazards.
Of course, tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide have no connection to cleaning products. Carbon monoxide is produced when gas, oil, coal or wood do not burn fully, usually in a faulty heater, boiler or stove.
The report also mentions the risks posed by radon gas, mould, house dust mites and animal dander (tiny particles of hair and skin).
It is clear from the report that cleaning products make little or no contribution to how air pollution can harm your health. In fact, removing mould, dust mites or animal dander usually requires some sort of cleaning product.
If you don’t want to take our word for it, we do recommend that you read the excellent coverage of Every Breath We Take by Damian Carrington, the Head of Environment at The Guardian newspaper and a former writer for New Scientist.
You can also read a short summary or all of the report on the website of the Royal College of Physicians.
If you would like more information about VOCs, you may wish to read our guide: “Do cleaning products & air fresheners release harmful chemicals?”
If you would like more information about formaldehyde in indoor air, you may wish to read our guide: “Formaldehyde in indoor air”