Volatile emissions from common consumer products


Consumer products emit a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can affect air quality and health. Risk reduction is hindered because of lack of information about specific product emissions. This study investigates and compares VOCs emitted from 37 common products (air fresheners, laundry products, cleaners, and personal care products), including those with certifications and claims of green and organic. It extends a prior study of 25 consumer products by adding 12 more products, including fragrance-free versions of fragranced products, representing the first such comparison in the scientific literature. This study found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 VOCs are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals. Emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from green fragranced products were not significantly different from regular fragranced products. The most common chemicals in fragranced products were terpenes, which were not in fragrance-free versions. Of the volatile ingredients emitted, fewer than 3 % were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS). Because health effects depend on many factors, not only individual ingredients, this study makes no claims regarding possible risks. However, knowledge of product composition can be an important step to understand, assess, and reduce potential exposures and effects.

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  1. 1.

    In Supplementary Table 1, products #1–#25 represent the set from Steinemann et al. (2011) and #26–#37 the additional 12 products for this study.

  2. 2.

    Specifically, on product labels, five VOCs represented a total of 8 occurrences (ethanol, 3; isopropyl alcohol, 2; d-limonene, 1; acetone, 1; and propane, 1) and on product MSDSs, six VOCs represented a total of 13 occurrences (ethanol, 8; isopropyl alcohol, 1; d-limonene, 1; acetone, 1; propane, 1; and 2-butoxyethanol, 1).

  3. 3.

    This article does not provide specific wording from product labels and MSDSs because it could lead to the identification of product brands.

  4. 4.

    For the 28 products regulated by the CPSC, on the labels, ten listed no ingredients, and on the MSDSs, five listed no ingredients. For the nine products regulated by the FDA, on the labels, all nine listed ingredients, and on the MSDS, three listed no ingredients.

  5. 5.

    These 31 products were determined to be fragranced because of product advertising (e.g., “original scent”) or disclosure of a fragrance. For the 22 fragranced products regulated by the CPSA, 15 did not disclose a fragrance on the label, 12 did not disclose a fragrance on a MSDS, and 7 products did not disclose a fragrance on either. For the nine fragranced products regulated by the FDA, all nine disclosed a fragrance on the label, but eight did not disclose a fragrance on the MSDS.


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I thank Lance Wallace, Ian MacGregor, Amy Davis, and Jaret Basden for their valued contributions to this study and article and two reviewers for their helpful and thoughtful comments that improved this manuscript.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anne Steinemann.

Electronic supplementary material

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Supplementary Table 1

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Supplementary Table 2

(DOCX 45 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

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Supplementary Table 4

(DOCX 37 kb)

Supplementary Table 5

(DOCX 44 kb)

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Steinemann, A. Volatile emissions from common consumer products. Air Qual Atmos Health 8, 273–281 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-015-0327-6

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  • Consumer products
  • VOC emissions
  • Fragrance
  • Fragrance free
  • Green