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 were 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 items.

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 it is suspected they may also cause 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 reduce your exposure. Here are some of them:

  • Never mix chemicals
  • Always follow directions on store-bought products
  • Have proper ventilation
  • Store unused product sealed and in a well-ventilated area away from living spaces
  • 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

Many all-purpose cleaners on the market are petroleum based, and also contain a long list of other harmful chemicals. Make natural homemade all purpose cleaner (that really works) to avoid exposure to VOCs.


Did you know that many 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 have full control over ingredients.

Dish Soap

Many people buy dish soap in lemon scent to cut the grease on 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 it contains. 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 in this product until I started my research. All I knew was that I didn’t want my home smelling like my dog, and the carpet deodorizer worked. This carpet deodorizer 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

Not only do most insect repellents use DEET, a chemical that repels insects like mosquitoes, they often have artificial chemical scents that 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. There were black marks and funky smells around all of the photos I took down. Was that getting into my lungs too? Now, after learning how to make beeswax candles, I only use beeswax or soy-based candles. 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 in price, 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 you can change in your life to lessen the effects of VOCs. Can you think of others?


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Cheryl Hargraves says


    To replace our bathroom air freshener, we just use a regular spray bottle of water with 6-8 drops of essential oils in it (depending on the size of the spray bottle, you’d want to use more or less), set on a mist option.

    Yes, this means we mist water into the air that goes all over, but it hasn’t made any impact on how hard it is to clean the bathroom.

    We have been doing this for a couple of years and I have not once considered going back to any of the commercial air fresheners. The scent only lasts for a short while, but long enough to get the job done, so to speak.

  2. Toni says

    Great recipe, now tell me what we are supposed to do with all the plastic containers those products came in? Just to make a diy soap. How many were used? How many are now floating are in our environment?

    • Debra Maslowski says

      Good question, Toni. I reuse all of my containers for various things and I encourage others to do the same. I’ve written articles about reusing what is normally considered trash in hopes that this will happen. Containers that ingredients come in happen from the smallest maker, like myself, to the largest company out there. It’s all in how you deal with it.