Threshold Limit Values of Volatile Organic Compounds

There are a number of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are damaging to our health. The US EPA list of these gases is an ideal place to identify these organic chemicals for our environmental protection. The Threshold Limit Value (TLV) is the supposed limit a person can be exposed to a certain VOC without experiencing adverse effects (1). TLV is usually measured in ppm (parts per million) for gases or mg/m³ (milligrams per cubic meter) for subatomic particles, such as smoke (2). Do note that the TLV can depend on where the VOC is located.

To protect your health from high concentrations of volatile organic compounds, utilizing a smart indoor air quality monitor is advisable.

What are the most common VOCs at home?

Volatile chemical emissions can be found in all environments and concentrations and can be especially damaging in the home environment. Interestingly, all VOCs are compounds of carbon accept carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (3). Here are some of the most common home VOCs and their threshold limit values (4):


  • Ethanol

    • Ethanol is most commonly found in cleaning products, such as glass cleaners, dishwasher detergents, and laundry detergents.

    • TLV: 1,000 ppm (5).

  • Formaldehyde

    • Formaldehyde is found in a number of molded plastics as well as plastic finishes such as on wooden products.

    • TLV: between 0.1 and 0.3 ppm (6).

  • Acetone

    • Acetone is prevalent in polish and in most homes can be found in furniture polish, wallpaper and nail polish.

    • TLV: between 750 and 1,000 ppm (7).

  • Benzene

    • Benzene can be found in any furniture made with paint or glue.

    • TLV: 0.1 ppm (8).

  • Dichlorobenzene

    • Often found in mothballs and deodorant.

    • TLV: between 25 and 50 ppm (9).


According to the World Health Organization, 3.8 million people die a year due to household air pollution, and for some pollutants, there are no thresholds where adverse effects do not occur (10). A list of all VOCs can inform those who are not sure what chemicals release VOC emissions and ensure environmental protection of their home. Bear in mind that the TLV standards can change as new research is published.


Ways to remove chemicals from the air

The removal of VOCs from polluted air is essential for our protection. Removing VOCs can be achieved in a number of ways by utilizing any of the following (11):


  1. Houseplants - many absorb unhealthy pollutants in our air.

  2. Air purifiers - such devices can clean the air around you.

  3. Air out new furniture - many VOCs are emitted from new furniture, make sure they receive plenty of air to carry away these chemicals.

  4. Open your windows daily - the simplest way to remove VOCs.

  5. Take off your shoes - prevents bringing in VOCs to your home from the outside.

What are the sources of VOCs?

The most common VOCs emissions come from chemical substances used in new furniture, paint, aromatic hydrocarbons, cleaning products, wood, a number of fuels, copy and printing machines, perfumes, varnishes, and tobacco products12.


  • Knowing how VOCs affect the environment is important because they have a particularly negative effect on our health. Most notably they can cause sensory irritation in the eyes, nose and throat, as well as lead to headaches, nausea and poor coordination when exposed for long periods of time or to large quantities. In more serious cases, they can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system13.

  • To get a better understanding of how VOCs affect our environmental health, it is advisable to consult the WHO IAQ standards and guidelines. These guidelines and standards are set by governmental industrial hygienists for our environmental protection and occupational health.

  • If you want to know how to test for VOCs, testing concentrations of VOCs emissions depends on what chemical is emitting the harmful substance.  For example, the testing methods can be different for VOCs emitted by plastic and water. However, the easiest way to test for VOC concentrations is with an indoor air quality monitor, which usually can test a number of VOCs at once. Additionally, you can also check for the composition before you purchase a new product and check their threshold limit values against the current acceptable standards.


While there are a number of harmful VOCs in our homes, we can measure their levels of harmfulness using threshold limit values. By being aware of what VOCs are in our homes and their TLVs, we can take measures to reduce their impact on our health.