Question: What does low-volatile organic compound (VOC) technically mean? How does a chemical qualify as being low VOC?

There are two common definitions for VOCs. The scientific answer is: any chemical that contains carbon that can be present as a gas at room temperature.

There is also a regulatory definition that is based on definitions from the State of California and the U.S. EPA. Low VOC chemicals are ones that do not appreciably volatilize into the air.

It's important to remember that chemicals can be quite dangerous without being a VOC. Caustic soda for instance, or sodium hydroxide, is non-volatile, but highly corrosive when in concentrated form.

— Dan Daggett, Ph.D., manager, Corporate Sustainability, Diversey Inc., Sturtevant, Wis.


First of all it is important to understand that VOCs are what get emitted into the atmosphere and contribute to indoor air quality and outdoor pollution.

Secondly, products need to be grouped into categories first and then you compare the VOCs among the products and their best in class. For example, a floor finish with VOCs of less than 50 g/l would be considered low, while a glass cleaner may need to be at 1 g/l.

— Mike Sawchuk, vice president, Enviro-Solutions/Charlotte Products, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.


Low VOC is a relative term, in that low and high may differ between product class. The definition is further compounded by geographical location, as there is more than one way to calculate VOCs and the selected method for reporting can depend on product classification and geographical location.

The basic point is to balance functional use and available chemistry to obtain the lowest indoor air quality impact.

— Rebecca S. Kaufold, chemist, Spartan Chemical Co., Inc., Maumee, Ohio.