A Quick Guide on How to Test for VOCs

Knowing how to test for VOCs is essential if you’d like to keep the air quality in your home safe. The belief that air pollution is only found outside is one big misconception. Pollutants called VOCs are most likely inside your home right now.

What’s really alarming is that VOCs can still be present regardless of how clean or well-maintained your place is. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average home could have as much as 10 times the amount of VOCs inside.

And allowing these levels to surge over time can result in serious health problems for you and your loved ones. Make sure you follow along to get a quick yet insightful walkthrough on how to test for VOCs.  

What are VOCs?

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VOCs are basically gaseous volatile organic compounds. They originate from things you normally see and may even use every day. These include cigarette smoke, insecticides, cleaning products, cosmetics, degreasers, wax, and paint, among others.

Moreover, correction fluids, printers, copiers, and several other office equipment also contain VOCs. Air fresheners and hobby products like adhesives and solvents are packed with these compounds, too.

Sure, you may have noticed the word “organic” in there, but this doesn’t mean that VOCs are safe. They are actually far from it. Besides causing adverse health effects, these volatile organic compounds can also significantly decrease the comfort and tranquility your home offers.

Are VOCs Harmful?

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Prolonged periods of exposure to VOCs can be very harmful to your body. And if you’re like most people, it’s not uncommon that you spend most of your time at home. You could even be exposed to VOCs right this very moment.

The most common adverse health effects of VOCs include irritation of the throat, watery eyes, and increased mucus levels in the sinuses. However. Daily exposure to VOCs can result in even more severe health issues.

Besides chronic fatigue, constant exposure to VOCs can also lead to skin breakouts, shortness of breath, and loss of coordination. They’re even attributed to causing liver and kidney damage. Some VOCs are even known to cause cancer.

Some Key VOCs You Need to Keep in Mind

harmful how to test for vocs

The term “VOCs” is actually a general term. There are more than 10,000 substances deemed as volatile organic compounds. But the thing is, there are some crucial VOCs that you have to know about because of their potentially serious negative effects. Knowing how to test for VOCs is primarily about safety. Let’s check them out.

Methylene chloride

Methylene chloride is a type of solvent that’s used in several residential and industrial applications. Dichloromethane or DCM is another name for this VOC. This chemical compound is a significant ingredient in most adhesives and hobby cement.

Moreover, this VOC is also a component of most car care products these days. If you check your usual automotive care brand, chances are you will find methylene chloride in its list of ingredients. 

This chemical compound is quite popular for its mildly sweet and pleasant odor. A lot of people mistakenly think that methylene chloride is safe to breathe in because of this attribute. However, prolonged exposure to this VOC can result in severe health issues.

Besides making you lose consciousness, methylene chloride can also trigger impairment of the senses and asphyxiation. There are people who developed heart ailments and even succumbed to heart attacks due to this compound. 


As a VOC, benzene is one of the most utilized in various applications. There is benzene in crude oil and plasticware. Gasoline has it as the main ingredient. It’s even in pesticides, detergents, and synthetic fabrics such as nylon. It’s one of the biggest reasons why you need to learn how to test for VOCs.

You’re most likely exposed to benzene if you live in an area where there are lots of passing vehicles. Did you know that getting a quick whiff of gasoline is already deemed as benzene exposure?

The major health effects of constant exposure to benzene include weakening the immune system and anemia. It’s also not unheard of that this compound can escalate the risk of leukemia in some people.


Most commercial products these days contain formaldehyde. These range from plywood and particleboard all the way to disinfectants and insulation. It’s also very much present in automobile emissions.

Besides causing skin allergies and a painful sensation in the throat, this compound also triggers intense nasal cavity discomfort. Additionally, formaldehyde has already been listed as a known carcinogen. 

When Should You Have VOC Testing?

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Most people tend to disregard VOC testing because they think it is just a waste of money and time. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to these compounds. If you value your and your family’s health, don’t waste time. Act fast because these things are just going to increase by the day.

How to Test for VOCs: The Options You Can Go For

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There are basically two VOC testing options that you can choose from. The first one is through a photoionization detector, and the second one is via an air quality monitor. These vary in the amount you have to shell out and the length of time you need to wait.

Photoionization Detector

Testing for VOCs using a photoionization detector involves ultraviolet light to “stimulate” the chemical compounds present in the air. Krypton or some other type of noble gas is used for this test. 

The ultraviolet light emitted by the photoionization detector starts a charged chain reaction of molecules and electrodes. It creates a reading of the VOCs present by analyzing the current flow. The console will then display a readout showing the VOCs in a particular area in parts-per-million (PPM).

This option can be pricier—$1,000 upwards—compared to an air quality monitor because of its quick results and versatility. Professionals usually conduct tests using a photoionization detector.

Air quality monitor

As regards to an air quality monitor, this choice is more suitable for DIYers. Its main component is a semiconductor sensor made from heated metal oxide. It’s pretty much available online and can only set you back $200 or so.

While an air quality monitor can detect VOCs present in the air, its readings are not as detailed and accurate compared to a photoionization detector. However, this can already suffice if you’re looking to start protecting your home from VOCs.