The acronym stands for volatile organic compounds, gases emitted from a variety of materials that can have short- and long-term health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs can be up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.
Sources of VOCs include many common products, including cleaning fluids, disinfectants, paints, and varnishes. Burning fuels like wood and natural gas also produce VOCs.
Short-term exposure to low levels of VOCs can cause throat irritation, nausea, fatigue, and other minor complaints. Long-term exposure to high concentrations of VOCs has been linked to more severe respiratory irritation as well as liver and kidney damage. Products can emit VOCs even when they’re in storage, though to a lesser extent than when they’re actively being used.