Alarming Health Risks of Volatile Organic Compounds in Household Cleaning Products

Alarming Health Risks of Volatile Organic Compounds in Household Cleaning Products

In a recent study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), researchers have raised significant concerns about the potential health risks associated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many household cleaning products, including those labeled as "green" or eco-friendly. This peer-reviewed study, titled “Volatile organic compounds emitted by conventional and ‘green’ cleaning products in the U.S. market,” was published in the journal Chemosphere on September 13. It investigated a variety of cleaners and air fresheners acquired from online retailers between December 2019 and May 2022.

The Study's Findings: A Detailed Overview

The researchers identified 530 unique VOCs in the 30 products tested. Alarmingly, out of these, 193 were listed as health hazards by recognized agencies such as California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control and the European Chemical Agency. The presence of these harmful chemicals in household products is particularly concerning because they can potentially seep into your drinking water, posing an even greater health risk.

Short and Long-Term Health Effects of VOCs
Short and Long-Term Health Effects of VOCs

Volatile organic compounds are prevalent in many aspects of modern manufacturing and can have severe short and long-term health effects. These effects range from respiratory issues and neurotoxicity to cancer. VOCs have significantly higher adverse impacts in individuals who are consistently exposed to them, such as workers in certain industries.

VOCs in Green Cleaning Products: A Safer Alternative?

Given the clear and present danger of VOCs, individuals are urged to seek safer alternatives for cleaning products. The study highlighted that green products, while still emitting VOCs, did so at a reduced rate compared to conventional cleaning products. This makes them a safer choice for consumers. Particularly, green and fragrance-free products have lower VOC emissions, presenting a viable path to reducing exposure to hazardous VOC emissions.

Ensuring Safety in Household Cleaning

In light of these findings, individuals are recommended to be more conscious and cautious about their choice of cleaning products. Ensuring the purity of your drinking water is also a significant step in safeguarding your health against VOCs' harmful effects. A viable solution to this is exploring water purification solutions available at to help keep your drinking water clean and safe from potential contamination from these chemicals.

Call to Action for Consumers, Researchers, and Regulators

Alexis Temkin, a senior toxicologist at EWG, described this study as a “wake-up call for consumers, researchers, and regulators.” She urged all stakeholders to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the chemicals we allow in our indoor environments. The findings promote the use of green and fragrance-free products as a viable path to reducing hazardous VOC emissions.

Industry Response and Criticism

While the American Cleaning Institute acknowledged efforts to reduce VOC concentrations in products, it criticized the study’s classification of products into “green” and “conventional” categories, citing "green" as a marketing term, not a scientific one. Nonetheless, the research undeniably highlights a critical need for increased awareness and precaution in the selection and use of household cleaning products. This is to protect our health and the environment.
Practical Steps for Reducing Exposure to VOCs
Practical Steps for Reducing Exposure to VOCs

  1. Choose Fragrance-Free Products: Many VOCs are found in cleaning products' fragrances. Fragrance-free products reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals.
  2. Ventilate Your Home: Proper ventilation can help disperse VOCs released into the air. Ensure that your home is well-ventilated, especially when using cleaning products.
  3. Use Green Cleaning Products: While not completely free of VOCs, green cleaning products generally emit lower levels of these compounds than conventional products.
  4. Check Labels and Certifications: Look for products certified by reputable organizations that evaluate the safety and environmental impact of cleaning products.
  5. Consider DIY Cleaning Solutions: Simple household ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can be effective cleaning agents and are free from harmful VOCs.
The Future of Cleaning Products

The EWG’s study underscores the need for continued research and innovation in safer cleaning products. It also highlights the importance of regulatory oversight in ensuring that products marketed to consumers are truly safe for use.

Manufacturers are encouraged to be transparent about the ingredients in their products. They are also encouraged to invest in developing formulations that minimize harmful VOC release. Consumers, on their part, can drive change by making informed choices and supporting companies that prioritize health and environmental safety.


The findings of the EWG’s study serve as a critical reminder of the hidden dangers lurking in everyday household cleaning products. By choosing safer alternatives and being mindful of the products we bring into our homes, we can protect our health and contribute to a cleaner, safer environment.