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Painting Tips & Tricks: What Is Low VOC paint?

Understanding Paint ToxicityAs more become concerned about the environment—a good thing—they begin to realize that traditional paint has been an environmental offender, both to the environment in general and more specifically to the quality of indoor air. With the recent trend in building products going more “green,” paint manufacturers have begun to develop paint products that were less damaging to the environment.

What manufacturers have done is to reduce the amount of VOCs, Volatile Organic Compounds in their products. VOCs can “off-gas” that is, they release harmful gasses both when applied and as they dry. But the gassing doesn’t stop immediately once the paint appears dry; it can extend for some time. And the exposure to harmful VOCs can be hundreds of times greater than normal. With the increased health risk due to such exposure, many have begun to look for safer, less dangerous alternatives.

The acceptable limits for VOCs are currently, 250 grams per liter (g/l) for all flat paints and 380 g/l for all other paints. However, some states, such as California, have set even tougher standards. The problem with testing and reporting the VOC number for a specific paint is that the testing methods don’t provide the concrete results we’d like to see. It has been difficult to measure those paints labeled as very low or no VOC, and the relative danger posed by paint with a slightly higher number is unknown. Until the EPA improves its paint testing and rating system, it’s probably best to err to the side of caution and to purchase paints with the lowest possible VOC number that fits your requirements.

The following material regarding VOCs is from the EPA website:

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.

Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in household products. Paints, varnishes, and wax all contain organic solvents, as do many cleaning, disinfecting, cosmetic, degreasing, and hobby products.

There are many “Low” or “No” VOC paints now being produced by all major and several smaller paint manufacturers. One that we are familiar with is Harmony® Paint by Sherwin-Williams. Check with your local supplier to determine which products best fit your needs.

For more information about low VOC paint, visit the following websites: