Natural Alternatives to VOC Rich Cleaning Products

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Overuse of everyday cleaning products can lead to VOC overexposure. Avoid this hazard by replacing common commercial products with natural DIY alternatives.

VOC Overexposure Is Common

Like many people, I washed my clothes in detergent, added softener, and then dried them in the dryer with fabric softener sheets. When I started making my own products, I made washing soap, fabric softener, and even my own stain sticks, but I still used the dryer sheets to get the smell I wanted. I didn’t realize that the VOCs that gave me the nice smell was also causing problems with my health.

What Are VOCs?

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, which may or may not actually be organic. They come in the form of gasses from solid or liquid compounds, such as dryer sheets, plug-in air fresheners, cleaners, and paints, to name a few items. They can even be found in furniture and carpeting, as well as cleaners for those.

Effects of VOCs

VOCs can harm the respiratory system and can cause short and long-term effects. Here are a few of the problems they can cause:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Headaches, dizziness, and nausea
  • Some can cause cancer in animals and are suspected of causing cancer in humans
  • Coughs and congestion
  • Skin reactions
  • Sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes

Depending on the severity, you can experience some of these or none of the reactions. Factors that can complicate the issue are the amount of product used, how it is used, proper procedures, ventilation and more. If you strip varnish off of door frames with the windows closed, you can be exposed to more VOCs than if you are painting outside.

How To Reduce VOC Exposure

There are several precautions you can take to lessen your exposure. Here are some of them:

  • Never mix chemicals
  • Always follow directions
  • Have proper ventilation
  • Store unused product sealed and in a well-ventilated area away from the living space
  • Never mix beyond the recommended amount
  • If there is a problem, remove the source if possible
  • Use natural products with care, even these can cause problems with some individuals
  • Buy in the smallest quantity as possible to avoid having to keep small amounts of these products around
  • Keep out of reach of children and pets
  • Cover or cap containers immediately

Alternatives to VOC Rich Commercial Products

While there are not viable alternatives for some products, such as gasoline, many products containing VOCs can be replaced with natural alternatives. Here are a few examples:

Scented Laundry Detergent

Make your own laundry soap. It doesn’t have to be fancy or smell like a tropical rainforest to get your clothes clean. You can add a few drops of essential oils to make it smell better if you wish.

Laundry Scent Boosting Crystals

Make your own scent booster too, without chemicals!

Fabric Softener

This is one tried and true method of softening your clothes. You don’t need to add a scent, but you can use a few drops of essential oil if you wish.

Dryer Sheets

You can make your own natural dryer sheets too!

Fabric Refreshers

Follow this quick and easy recipe to have your clothes, furniture and even your car smelling fresh without the VOCs that are present in most fabric refreshers.

Air Fresheners

This recipe with herbs simmering in a pot of water will have your home smelling fresh without all the chemicals that are in the sprays.

Baby Wipes

Who knew these weren’t natural? Make homemade baby wipes to avoid the chemicals and save money too!

Baby Powder

This often contains talc, which is thought to cause health problems. Make natural homemade baby powder without talc and chemical perfumes.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Who knows what is really in these cleaners? Many of them are petroleum based. Make natural homemade all purpose cleaner that really works to avoid exposure to the VOCs here.


Did you know that a lot of soaps on the market are not really soap, but detergents? These are chemicals that are made like soap but aren’t natural at all, and often contain strong chemicals to mimic perfumes to cover up the original harsh smell of the “soap”. Make your own soap to be sure of what’s in it.

Dish Soap

We buy dish soap in lemon scent to cut the grease on our dishes, but all too often, there’s no real lemon in it, or even real soap. You can make your own liquid soap too!

Carpet Cleaner

This is something we all need from time to time, but don’t think about the chemicals in. I know I never did until I started making my own products. This homemade carpet cleaner really works without using petroleum-based products to get the stains out.

Carpet Deodorizer

I never thought of the VOCs here until I started my research. All I knew was that I didn’t want my home smelling like “dog”, and the carpet deodorizer worked. This one that you can make yourself works too, but without the VOCs.

Toilet Cleaner

These are often naturally based, but they have VOCs that make your toilet smell fresh. Why not make your own toilet cleaning bombs or homemade toilet cleaner that will kill germs and bacteria naturally?

Insect Repellent

This is a big one for your body. Not only do most insect repellents use DEET, a chemical that repels insects like mosquitoes, they often have artificial chemical smells that say the help as repellents. Use a homemade insect repellent made with natural essential oils instead. Because these oils are organic and can evaporate over time, you can reapply them often without the fear of being exposed to VOCs.


I love to burn candles, but I had no idea what kind of problems they can cause until I packed to move. The “writing” on the wall said it all. There were black marks and funky smells around all of the photos I took down. Was that getting in my lungs too? Now, after learning how to make beeswax candles, that and soy-based are all I use. It’s simple and fun too!

Air Freshener Plug-Ins

These are by far one of the biggest offenders of VOCs. If you have an empty plug-in bottle you can refill it with essential oils. Pine and orange are two of my favorites. Or, instead of using a plug in, you can use a mist diffuser. They range from $10 on up to $50 or more, depending on materials used and design. But even the more expensive ones last a very long time and you can change out the oils.

Wood Stain and Varnish

Although these are often natural, they can still be harsh and emit VOCs. Here are some alternatives to stains and varnishes that will be gentler on your system.
These are only a few of the things that you can change in your life to lessen the effects of VOCs. Can you think of others?
Natural Alternatives to VOC Rich Cleaning Products was written by Debra Maslowski.

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