You’ve picked the new color for your painting project, but you still have a decision to make: Should you choose traditional eco-friendly paint or a low-VOC paint? It’s important to know that the ingredients of your paint matter. Shopping for paint according to only color or price is shortsighted.
Did you know that some ingredients in a traditional paint can affect the air quality in your home — and not just until the paint dries? Those ingredients (VOCs) can emit harmful gases into your home for years.
Learn what you need to know about VOCs — and how best to avoid them as you repaint your home.
What Are VOCs?
Have you ever been in a room as the paint dries? If so, then you might have experienced the effects of being exposed to VOCs — headaches, nausea, and/or dizziness. Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are found in many traditional paints, lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, and more. They can be harmful to both people and the environment. VOCs are a class of chemicals that evaporate as the paint dries. They harm the air quality indoors, and they can even make their way outdoors.
And you can’t assume that once the paint dries, all concern is gone. VOCs actually continue to release low-level toxic emissions for years. While headaches or dizziness are common reactions to VOC exposure as paint dries, they can cause more long-term damage — like organ damage and cancer.
The EPA actually found levels of VOCs to be 2 to 5 times higher inside the home than outside, which is alarming. Our homes are supposed to be sanctuaries of safety and peace. Exposure to VOCs in the rooms where you eat, play, and relax is disconcerting.
So why are VOCs even in paints?
Until recently, there simply wasn’t another option. VOCs were necessary for paint to perform as it should. But one of the benefits of modern living is having access to advances in design and technology. And now that they are readily available, you should reap the benefits of low-VOC paints.
Low-VOC and No-VOC
Scan the cans in a paint store, and you’ll see paints touting their status as low-VOC or no-VOC.
Which paint should you choose?
A “low-VOC” label typically means there are fewer than 50 grams per liter of volatile compounds for flat paints. As you add pigment or gloss, VOC levels often go up. However, there currently is not one regulatory standard, so different bodies may have different requirements for certifying a paint as low-VOC. That’s why it’s a good idea for you to always check the label and compare.
Photo by Scott Lewis on flickr
Low-VOC paints may still emit an odor until they dry. If you choose a paint that has fewer than 25 grams per liter of VOCs, you have a better chance at not noticing an odor.
No-VOC is better than low-VOC, but it isn’t necessarily completely free of VOCs. The current VOC-measuring test cannot measure down to zero VOCs, going only to 5 VOCs. This means a paint labeled as no VOC has less than 5 VOC grams per liter.
Some natural paints, like milk paint or chalk paint, carry no VOCs. Natural paints often contain ingredients like water, plant oils and resins, essential oils, and plant dyes. They typically don’t give off a smell, are eco-friendly, and people generally are not sensitive to these paints.
Low-VOC and no-VOC paints are not only better for your health, they are more environmentally friendly too.
Do Low VOC Paints Work as Well as Traditional Paints?
In the 1990s, when paint developers began creating low VOC paints, quality did suffer. They were replacing the chemicals with other materials that made the paint more environmentally safe, but limited abilities in the application, flow, and more. If you wanted to be environmentally friendly or reduce harmful chemicals in your home, you had to sacrifice quality.
That’s not a decision most homeowners like to make.
Since then, developers have improved the process and materials of developing paint, and low VOC paints can work as well as traditional paints.
Photo by John Morgan on flickr
The decisions are far easier now.
Just like traditional paint, low- and no-VOC paints cover flaws if you’re painting over previous coats. Because they’re water-based, they are easily scrubbed and cleaned. They don’t leave behind odors and they create little to no hazardous fumes. Disposing of low- and no-VOC paints are easy because they aren’t deemed hazardous waste.
Often just as durable as traditional paints, low and no-VOC paints now come in a variety of colors and are often affordable. A professional painting contractor will be able to answer any questions you have and help you select the best paint for your needs. The decision is now easy: You can be eco-friendly and safe while using high-quality, durable, and attractive paint.