VOCs – What They Are and Why Your Hotel Should Monitor Them

This is the third article from our “25’000 – every breath counts – Importance of Indoor Air Quality Monitoring in Hotels” – ARVE series.

Try to remember a time you have painted a wall or used a strong cleaning product in your home to finally get rid of that one nasty stain. Did you become slightly light-headed or dizzy from the smell? If so, at that moment you may have suffered the immediate effects of high VOC exposure.

But what are VOCs? Why can they make us feel unwell? And why should hotels monitor their VOC levels? We will dive into the fascinating topic of these elusive chemicals below.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are also referred to as a class of a large group of organic gasses. There are over 10’000 chemical compounds that can be classified as VOCs [1]. They can be found in products such as building materials, cleaning materials, tobacco smoke, or cosmetics [2]. Find a list of possible VOC sources at the end of this article. Known examples of VOCs include benzene, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, commonly found in furniture glues, paints and more [4].

High levels of VOC in indoor environments cannot only lead to dizziness but have many short-term adverse health effects ranging from itchy eyes, headaches, fatigue, coughing, burning throats, nausea, all the way to difficulties breathing. These symptoms change depending on the duration and intensity of the VOC exposure [3]. For example, sleeping on a new mattress with high VOCs can lead to health concerns almost immediately.

By their nature, hotel rooms are a prime example of indoor environments with high VOC levels. Not only do they regularly need maintenance work, but they are also cleaned daily [2]. Often with strong chemicals and in the age of COVID-19 with high amounts of disinfectants.

Here is an example of how VOCs can end up in a hotel room: When a cleaner is being applied to a surface, the contained VOCs evaporate quickly at room temperature. They will leave the surfaces and accumulate in the room air quickly. Some of the VOCs, such as disinfectants, evaporate within minutes, while others may evoprate more slowly and over many hours or even days, thus raising the levels of VOC in the hotel room and increasing the negative health effects.

What can a hotel do?

Step 1: Monitor your In-Room Air Quality

First, hotels should be aware of the risks of high VOC levels and monitor them accordingly. For example, with the ARVE Swiss Air Quality System. When it comes to air quality, knowledge is power. Even though hotels cannot influence outdoor conditions, or control the ventilation centrally, they can take steps to monitor their indoor air quality, identify sources of VOC pollution in the hotel rooms, and thus protect their guests´ health.

Step 2: Source Control - Protect your Staff and Guests

If the monitoring showed phases with high VOC levels in your hotel, reconsider the type and amounts of cleaning products used by your housekeeping teams [5]. Switch to products that are low in VOCs and/or set clear standards on how much products are needed to disinfect and clean (3-4 sprays of disinfectant on a cloth, sprayed from 5cm distance is sufficient).

Step 3: Increase Ventilation

If you get a notification of high VOC levels over a period, open the windows, or increase the centralized ventilation in your hotel rooms. Do the same, during the cleaning process or maintenance work with products that contain VOCs [5].

About ARVE Swiss Air Quality System

ARVE monitors the indoor air quality in real-time and generates actionable insights for hotels making use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

Here is how it works: Cleaned surfaces or building materials in the hotel rooms release VOCs in the indoor air. The ARVE Swiss Air Quality System collects the data (VOCs among others) from the air, analyses it and creates actionable insights and reports for the hotel (see image 1). The hotel can then use these reports to make data-based decisions, such as taking corrective or preventive actions to decrease VOC exposure of guests and staff, by actively managing ventilation, cleaning products, and staff training.

Description of how the ARVE Swiss Air Quality System works
Image 1 - How it works

If you want to learn more about ARVE or book a demo of the ARVE Swiss Air Quality system, visit: www.ARVE.swiss