‘VOC’ stands for volatile organic compounds. “Organic” means it has at least one carbon atom. “Volatile” means it is a gas under normal atmospheric conditions, so it has low boiling point and a high vapor pressure. That means these chemicals evaporate easily and often react with other substances in the air – they are volatile. Examples of VOCs include benzene, formaldehyde, and toluene.

VOCs can come from natural sources (such as flowers) or from man-made sources (such as paint and glues). Smells are also often VOCs that our noses register. If you have ever opened a dry erase marker and smelled that chemical smell, you have smelled a VOC!