University of Minnesota
Minnesota Technical Assistance Program

Clear The Air - Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds

How Green Is Your Clean?

Most common liquids that evaporate and have an odor contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a large group of solvents and chemicals that, when released into the atmosphere, are transformed into ground-level ozone which is a component of smog and is a harmful air pollutant.

Did You Know?
Small degreasing operations add 14% of all industrial VOC air pollution in Minnesota

The University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP) is working to improve Minnesota’s air quality. One effort is helping businesses reduce solvents used for degreasing while still maintaining effectiveness and not increasing costs.

Why Reduce VOCs?

To make our air safer, the EPA has recently proposed lowering the ozone standard which will likely introduce new and costly VOC regulations in Minnesota. In addition to avoiding potential regulatory burdens, reducing VOC emissions can impact your bottom line by helping you:

  • Save money - use and buy less chemicals by implementing modern technology and more efficient methods
  • Improve worker health and productivity
  • Use less personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Provide a healthier work environment - increasing worker retention and reducing absenteeism and fire risk

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Tips To Cut Smog-Causing Fumes

How You Can Reduce VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present in many common aerosol solvents, degreasers, brake cleaners, and parts washer solutions used by nearly every shop. Here are some ways MnTAP or your cleaner supplier can help you reduce VOCs in your shop:

      1. Switch to aqueous or soy-based cleaners.
      2. Use liquid rather than aerosol products to put product where it is needed and reduce overspray.
      3. Switch to higher flash point solvent in parts washers to reduce evaporation and fire risk.
      4. Switch to less hazardous (less reactive) solvents (talk to MnTAP).
      5. Keep drums, equipment, and waste containers sealed to prevent evaporation.
      6. Store rags used with VOC cleaners in a sealed container and reclaim the solvent, rather than allowing it to evaporate into the air.

Equipment required to implement these changes might be the basis for funding assistance, for example: purchase of a cabinet spray washer to degrease with a water-based cleaner while a mechanic does other repair tasks.

Considerations When Changing Products

Some factors to be aware of when changing cleaning/ degreasing products:

  • Some products labelled ‘VOC exempt’ or ‘VOC compliant’ may contain other hazardous materials instead. Don’t replace one hazard with another one. Two ingredients to watch out for are Tetrachloroethlyene (aka PERC) and Methylene Chloride.
  • Some aqueous cleaners can last a very long time if oil and dirt are removed to maintain the solution. Ask for cleaners that separate from oil easily.
  • Procedures for using aqueous cleaners effectively can be different from current solvents (higher temperatures, longer soak time, or agitation). Learn what is needed to make alternative cleaners work best.
  • Note that labor cost may be the largest component of cleaning costs (more than chemical, more than equipment rental). Cabinet spray washers or small ultrasonic baths, using water-based cleaners, that clean while workers do other value-added tasks can pay off in some circumstances.
  • Alternative product may not be a complete drop-in replacement for all situations. If a first attempt is not successful, there still may be a greener product that could work for you, or a partial solution may be better than no change.
  • Some aqueous cleaners contain solvents as an ingredient. Know what ingredients are present and how much to determine if the change is an improvement.

Making Our Air Safer

To address the growing problem of air pollution, federal EPA standards for air quality have tightened over the years. To make our air safer, it is increasingly likely that VOC standards will be lowered and Minnesota will face costly new regulatory requirements for businesses if levels of specific pollutants, including VOCs, are too high.

More information on the MnTAP VOC reduction project can be found here: Information on the MPCA VOC reduction program is available at:

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Webinars and Events

Safer Products that Work
Finding safer products that work is never an easy task. This document provides a list of products, considered by MnTAP, to be free of Hazardous Air Pollutants, and have reasonably low ozone (smog) generation potential. |PDF 298KB|  

Webinar: Safer Products That Work

Cleaners and Degreasers for Industrial Maintenance and Auto Repair

Webinar Recording [PDF Slides]


Cleaners and Degreasers for Industrial Cleaning: Aggressive Hydraulics

A case study showcasing a greener alternative to brake cleaners


Cleaners and Degreasers for Auto Repair: Lake Elmo Repair

A case study showcasing a greener alternative to brake cleaners and penetrants


Ceaners and Degreasers for Injection Molding: Lakeland Tool

A case study showcasing a greener alternative to mold and metal cleaners


Ceaners and Degreasers for Auto Repair and Industrial Use: Grandview Auto

A case study showcasing a greener alternative for reusable sprayers.

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Get Your Ideas For Improvements Ready!

To participate in one of MnTAP’s projects or events, or to discuss your ideas or identify funding sources, contact
MnTAP at:

We will share the results of the pilot projects, trainings, and VOC reduction success stories with businesses, including a useful list of alternative cleaners for both parts washer applications and aerosol use. Check for updates and information.

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