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Do HEPA Filters Remove VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are dangerous.  

Unfortunately, they are also common in your home. To have the best air quality, you need the right materials and technologies. HEPA air purifiers, for example, can remove many of the small particles of dust, pollen, and other forms of contaminants. But they may not be the best solution for your home, especially if your house is littered with VOCs. 

As we will show, VOCs can be an issue in your house, but a HEPA filter is usually not enough. You need an air purifier that uses a different technology. Specifically, you need activated carbon.  

But first, let’s take a step back to learn more about VOCs and why HEPA filters are not effective for removing this harmful contaminant.  
 voc's from old paint cans

What are VOCs

To completely understand VOCs, it helps to take a step back and look at air pollution as a whole, especially common indoor air pollutants.   

In general, there are two categories of air contaminants. There are particles in the air, which are known as particulate matter, and there are gaseous pollutants, which encompass a wide range of potentially harmful chemicals.   

Particulate matter is a mixture of solid particles that are floating in the air. These particles can come from a wide variety of sources, including pollen, dander, smoke, and allergens from dust mites. With particulate matter, the smaller the particles, the more dangerous they become to our health. This is caused by two specific issues: first is the fact that smaller particles stay suspended in the air longer so you have more chances to come into contact with them. The second reason is that small particles, when inhaled, can be more dangerous to our overall health.

The smaller a particle is, the deeper it can penetrate into our bodies and cause a harmful reaction. Large particles can barely make it down our windpipes when inhaled. If we breathe in large particles, we cough and wheeze, which is our body’s natural way to remove these materials. However, smaller particles can be inhaled and can reach all the way down to our lungs, which creates a wide variety of health issues. If particles are small enough, they can actually get into our bloodstream, which is one of the main reasons that air pollution and particulate matter is associated with heart disease.  

Fortunately, particles can be captured easily by a real HEPA filter. Large particles such as pollen, dust, and dander can be captured by HEPA air filters, removing them from the air and keeping them from damaging your health.   

The other type of air pollution is gaseous, which is far more difficult to contain especially with only a HEPA filter. Gaseous airborne particles are chemical molecules in the air that are made from different elements bonded together. Formaldehyde is a gaseous air contaminant, and it’s made from hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon atoms. VOCs (formaldehyde is a type of VOC) are gaseous chemicals released into the air from a variety of substances.  

One of the best sources of information on indoor air pollution is the EPA, and they are also a great place to turn when you specifically want to research volatile organic compounds.

According to their information, VOCs are emitted from certain solids or liquids. They are released as a gas into the air, which creates significant problems with air quality. Volatile organic compounds include a variety of chemicals, and they can create both short and long-term health problems. Concentrations of VOCs are often higher indoors, as the chemicals are not able to dissipate into the atmosphere, but are instead kept inside.  

These chemicals are found in a large variety of products, many of which are used in the home. Paints and varnishes are a common source of VOCs. If certain paints or varnishes are applied, they will release VOCs for a certain period. Cleaning and disinfecting products often contain VOCs as well. Hobby products, like paints for models, can also contain VOCs. Moth repellants and air fresheners can also released VOCs, and dry-cleaned clothing can contain the substance as well. Pesticides (which are more of an outdoor issue) can also release VOCs.

New homes and buildings can have high concentrations of VOCs. This is because building materials and furnishings often released organic compounds. From office equipment to craft materials, there are many sources of these compounds, making them common and dangerous. Products with VOCs tend to release the chemicals as they are being used, and continue to release the chemicals when they are being stored.  

 

The Health Impact of VOCs

VOCs are very common. Unfortunately, they are also dangerous to our health. Overall, the health effects of VOCs can include irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches and nausea. Prolonged exposure can damage the liver and harm the central nervous system. Some organic compounds have been linked to cancer, although scientists are hesitant to say that VOCs cause cancer, as more research is required on this subject.  

Despite the potential health issues, it can be difficult to understand whether or not you have been exposed to volatile organic compounds. Generally, if you have experienced nose or throat discomfort, headaches, or an allergic skin reaction, you may have been exposed to VOCs. It’s also possible that you will notice nausea, fatigue, or dizziness, although these are not clear indicators, and they could certainly be caused by something else entirely.  

The health problems caused by VOCs are complex, and this is largely due to the fact that there are so many different compounds in this classification, and they can all cause different health concerns. Some, quite frankly, are highly toxic, while others are less severe. Like all forms of air pollution, the severity and longevity of exposure will make a difference in someone’s symptoms, as will their overall health. For example, someone with asthma may be greatly effected by small levels of VOCs, while a healthy person with strong lungs may not be impacted, at least not at first, by a high level of VOC exposure. 

Unlike particulate matter, gaseous pollutants like VOCs cannot be captured by regular HEPA filters. Instead, you need an activated-carbon filter to remove these chemicals.  

 

How to Reduce and Remove VOCs from Your Home

It seems like VOCs are inevitable. With so many products using these chemicals, it can be extremely difficult to have a home free of VOCs…or so it seems. While it may be hard to have a home free of VOCs, or a least a home with fewer VOCs, it’s not impossible, and there are some steps you can take to remove these chemicals from your space.  

First of all, you should increase ventilation in your home, as this will remove many of the VOCs and reduce their concentrations. Ventilation is especially important after painting walls, bringing in new furniture, or using products that emit VOCs. You will also want to store any products that contain VOCs in a separate living space. Opened containers of paint, for example, should be stored in an outdoor shed or garage. Use smart pest-management ideas, and avoid sprays and air fresheners that contain VOCs.  

One of the steps you can take to reduce the amount of VOCs in your home is to use an air purifier. This may seem like an obvious choice, but when you look closely at the benefits of this measure, you’ll see that only specific types of purifiers should be used. 

 

Is a HEPA Filter Enough to Remove VOCs?

The answer is simple: no. While HEPA filters are excellent for removing particulate matter, they are not enough to remove gaseous pollutants like VOCs.  

HEPA filters are mechanical filters that meet a specific standard of air-pollution removal. In order to be classified as “HEPA,” which stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Air, a filter must remove at least 99.97% of all particles that are 0.3 microns and larger. This seems like an outstanding level of filtration (and in fact it is), and it helps keep your home free from excessive levels of dust, pet dander, pollen, and other forms of particulate matter. But unfortunately, it’s often not enough to remove all the particles in your air. 

VOCs are gas molecules. They are much smaller than almost all particles that make up particulate matter, so they are much harder to trap. Because of this fact, HEPA filters simply can’t control VOCs. In fact, many of the molecules that make VOCs are thousands of times smaller than the materials that can be trapped by a HEPA filter. Catching VOCs with a HEPA filter is like trying to catch sand with a fishing net; the sand simply goes through the gaps in the net. The physical properties might be different, but this is essentially what happens when you try to capture VOCs with a HEPA filter.  

Many people wonder “do HEPA filters remove VOCs?” The answer, unfortunately, is no. Instead, you need a different filtration material. You need an air purifier that uses activated carbon.  

 

For Reliable Removal of VOCs, You Need Activated Carbon

To remove VOCs, you need the right technology, and few technologies are as effective as a filter made with activated carbon. Activated carbon, also known as an activated charcoal filter is a material with a high surface space and extremely small pores. These pores allow the material to trap a wide variety of contaminants, including gaseous molecules that are too small for other types of filters.  

Charcoal has been used as a filter medium for centuries. It was used by 16th-century sailors to clean water; some would use charred barrels to keep water fresh and clean during long voyages. This is just one example of how the material was used throughout history.  

To make activated carbon, charcoal needs to go through a specific process. Charcoal is treated with chemicals and taken through a specific process that results in a highly porous material that is able to capture many different contaminants.  

Activated carbon is highly effective for certain VOCs because of a process known as adsorption. This is different than absorption, but we won’t bog down this article with the complex scientific details. Basically, when something absorbs, it holds a material but the two substances remain separate. A sponge absorbs water, and it can release the water when squeezed. With adsorption, the two materials become one through chemical bonding.  

Activated carbon filters permanently remove VOCs from the air through the process of adsorption, making them extremely useful for cleaning the air in homes. Fortunately, there are a few different products from Oransi that give you outstanding results for clean air including HEPA and carbon filters.  

 

Other Air Purifier Technologies and VOCs

There are other technologies that can be useful for removing VOCs in the home. As we have discussed, a HEPA air purifier is not enough, so you may be considering using an ozone generator or ionizer, which may be able to destroy VOCs at the molecular level. However, the use of these systems is not recommended, as they can create a variety of health issues by releasing ozone. Yes, ozone can remove smoke, odors, mold, and other forms of air pollution, but they are not recommended for use in the home.   


Air Purifier to Remove VOCs

mod HEPA Air Purifier

The mod covers both small and large rooms at 1,312 square foot coverage. The mod has a sleek design with a glass interface and a bright orange handle that makes the portable product easy to carry.

This purifier has one combination filter that includes a pre-filter, HEPA filter, and activated carbon filter. The mod helps to remove VOCs, allergens, dust, mold spores, pet dander, and smoke.
If you have a smaller area you're looking to clean look into our mod jr. model that has the same features as the mod but cleans 878 square feet. 

 

High-Quality Air Purifiers for Volatile Organic Compounds and Other Chemicals

 If you are looking for a top-quality air purifier that can remove volatile organic compounds and other chemicals, contact the team at Oransi today. We’ll help you choose the right product for your home, including reliable air purifiers with HEPA filters, activated carbon, and other technologies.  

 We take pride in created world-class purifiers, so contact us today!