As the world becomes more environmentally conscious, VOC emissions are on everyone’s minds. Volatile organic compounds are gases that are emitted from certain solids and liquids and are released into the air. VOC emissions are much more concentrated indoors–10 times more than they are outside, according to the Environmental Protection Agency–and can be harmful to your health. But don’t panic! When equipped with the right knowledge, you will be well on your way to having a VOC-free apartment.

Where Do VOC Emissions Come From?

VOCs are found in a variety of products that we use in our apartments every day. They’re most common in household products such as paint, cleaning supplies, air fresheners, nail polish and building materials. These products can release VOC emissions when you are using them or when they are simply being stored. Although the federal government places limits on VOC content, all products containing VOCs should be kept in well-ventilated areas.

How Will VOC Emissions Affect My Health?

VOC emissions can have a variety of effects on you health, including headaches, nausea and eye, nose or throat irritation. In more serious cases, VOC exposure can lead to damage of your central nervous system, liver or kidneys. Some organic compounds will have no effect on your health whatsoever, while others can be extremely toxic–some of it depends on the level and length of your exposure to VOCs.

How Can I Reduce My Exposure?

If you want to reduce your exposure to VOCs but can’t bear to give up your favorite nail polish or cleaning products, make sure you open your windows when they’re in use, so as to increase the ventilation in your apartment. You should also carefully follow the directions on all products containing VOCs, and throw away any partially full containers that are old or that you no longer need. However, make sure to thoroughly research how you should be disposing of these substances. Most products containing VOCs are illegal to pour down the drain, and some require being taken to a hazardous materials waste site. The fewer chemicals in your apartment containing VOCs, the better.

Are There Any Product Alternatives?

If you really want to go green, there are plenty of products available that can replace those you’ve been using that emit VOCs. Buy cleaning products with natural ingredients (or go the DIY route and make your own), switch to shower curtains made of fabric, and purchase low-VOC paint any time you feel the need to change the color of your apartment’s walls.