Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Consumer Products Regulations

Little Pro on 2018-02-13

Volatile organic compounds(VOCs) are organic chemical compounds which can quickly evaporate to air due to their high vapour pressure and low boiling point. Common VOCs include ethanol, formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and xylene. VOCs are of concern to both indoor air quality and outdoor quality. Indoor VOCs are usually emitted from consumer products and building materials such as paints and carpets and may adversely impact the health of people that are exposed. Outdoor VOCs are usually emitted from industrial facilities and vehicles and may contribute to the formation of photochemical smog. Many countries have implemented regulations to limit the use of VOCs in consumer products. In this article, we will summarize different definitions of VOC  and give you an overview of VOC content limits for consumer products in USA, Canada and EU.

Definitions of VOCs - Similar But Different

Each jurisdiction or country may have different official definitions for VOCs depending on whether the VOCs are indoor VOCs or outdoor VOCs. There is usually no detailed list of VOCs. However, some volatile organic substances may be excluded from the definition of VOCs due to their low concern. 

Jurisdiction Definition


  • Indoor VOCs:Organic chemical compounds whose composition makes it possible for them to evaporate under normal indoor atmospheric conditions of temperature and pressure
  • Outdoor VOCs: Any compound of carbon, excluding carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, carbonic acid, metallic carbides or carbonates and ammonium carbonate, which participates in atmospheric photochemical reactions, except those designated by EPA as having negligible photochemical reactivity 


  • Any volatile organic compounds that participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions and that are not excluded compounds.


  • Any organic compound having an initial boiling point less than or equal to 250°C measured at a standard pressure of 101,3 kPa;


  • Any volatile organic compounds that participate in atmospheric photochemical reactions, including non-methane hydrocarbons (alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, aromatic hydrocarbons, etc.), oxygenated organic compounds (aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, ethers, etc.), chlorine-containing organic compounds, nitrogen-containing organic compounds, sulfur-containing organic compounds and so on.


  • VOCs are volatile organic compounds that are discharged into the air. Substances (Methane and Hydrochlorofluorocarbon) designated by government decree which do not cause suspended particulate matter and oxidants are excluded

VOC Regulations for Consumer Products in USA

US EPA has established National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Standards for Consumer Products  mandating the VOC limits for a wide range of consumer products (see picture below). In addition, many states (i.e. California) have draft their own VOC content limits for consumer products and these limits sometimes can be tougher than EPA's limits. 

VOC Limit Consumer Products US EPA

To access detailed VOC content limits, please click the links below.

VOC Regulations for Consumer Products in Canada

Environment Canada published revised proposed Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Concentration Limits for Certain Products Regulations in 2013.  If coming into force, the revised regulation would set VOC content limits for 98 categories of certain products, including personal care products, household maintenance products, adhesives, coatings and automotive refinishing products. The proposed VOC limits are intended to alighn as closely as possible with those set by California Air Resources Board (CARB) and US EPA.

To access the proposed VOC limits, please click the link below:

VOC Regulations for Consumer Products in EU

In EU, Directive 2004/42/EC on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in decorative paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products sets the maximum contents of VOCs (in g/L) in paints, varnishes and vehice refinishing products. The directive also requires that suppliers label the subcategory of the product, the legal limit value for VOC contents and the maximum content of VOC of the product in its ready to use condition.

The picture below shows the VOC content limits for some paints:

VOC Limit EU Paint

To access the complete list of VOC limits for paints in EU, please click the link below:

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