The Ins and Outs of Low VOC Paint

What Is Low VOC Paint?

Volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) are gases that are emitted by various solids and liquids. With many having short- and long-term adverse health effects. Traditional paint solvents often contain high quantities of VOCs. Conversely, low VOC paints have relatively low levels of VOC’s. Low VOC paint has been shown to improve indoor air quality and reduce urban smog. A few of the benefits of using low VOC paint include low odor, clean air, and safer technology. In addition, low VOC paint is extremely durable and has a washable finish.

History of Low VOC Paint

1900s: Mass production of paint begins. Binders, additives, and solvents are added to paint, increasing the amount of VOCs in commercial paint.

1960: Paint manufactures incorporate as much lead and VOC’s as they see fit.

1966: Los Angeles, California institutes Rule 66. The first law attempting to limit the amount of VOCs in paint.

1967: The Federal Government enforces the new Clean Air Act (CCA). The first Federal law attempting to limit the amount of VOCs in paint.

1990: The Clean Air Act is updated and adds 189 toxins that must be removed from the environment.

1992: Glidden Company produces the first VOC-free coating. High prices limit its adoption.

2005: The Green Chemistry Research & Development Act is enacted. The passage of this law increases the awareness of green chemistry and its attempt to decrease air pollution.

Side Effects of VOCs

The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects will vary greatly. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including the level of exposure and length of time exposed. 

Key signs and symptoms that are associated with exposure to VOCs:

  • conjunctival irritation

  • nose and throat discomfort

  • headache

  • allergic skin reaction

  • dyspnea

  • declines in serum cholinesterase levels

  • nausea

  • emesis

  • epistaxis

  • fatigue

  • dizziness

Immediate symptoms that are associated with longer exposure to VOCs include:

  • Eye and respiratory tract irritation

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • visual disorders and memory impairment

Some of the long-term health effects of VOC exposure include:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation

  • Headaches, loss of coordination and nausea

  • Damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system

  • Some organics can cause cancer in animals, some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.

How Low VOC Paint Is Different Than Normal Paint

Low VOC Paint:

Low VOC paints have reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds. This means that they do not release as much gas (VOCs) when compared to traditional paints. One important fact to remember is that low VOC does not mean NO VOC. Low VOC only means it has a lower amount of VOCs compared to that of traditional paint. Currently, there is no set standard that defines what "low" means. Therefore, be careful when reading labels when buying paint. 

Low VOC Paint Brands:
  • Behr

  • Farrow & Ball

  • Para

No VOC Paint:

Paints with no VOCs have absolutely no volatile organic compounds in them. But keep in mind, just because it is missing VOCs doesn't mean its chemical free. In fact, the paint tinting process can sometimes add some VOCs. That said, these are still a great option.

No VOC Paint Brands:
  • AFM Safecoat

  • Behr

  • Benjamin Moore

  • Sherwin Williams

  • Yolo Colorhouse

Pros and Cons of Using Low VOC Paint

Pros:

The first advantage of using low and no VOC paint that you will notice is the diminished odor. Some additional advantages include quick drying time, good coverage, and a durable finish. And to top it all of, they are now easy to find and easily applied.

Cons:

Unfortunately sometimes these low and no VOC paints can have additional additives which are also toxic. So just keep this in mind and check with your retailer to learn about everything that is inside your paint.

Where to Buy Low VOC Paint

Low VOC paint and NO VOC paint can be purchased at most hardware stores. Although, some types of paint may not actually be labeled as low VOC paint. To ensure the type of paint that you are buying make sure to check the VOC content. The table below breaks down what is considered low VOC and what is considered as a NO VOC paint.

  • To be considered low-VOC, the paint should contain <50 g/l of VOC.

  • To be considered zero-VOC, the paint should contain <5 g/l of VOC.

Price of Low VOC Paint

Currently, Zero/NO VOC paints, are typically more expensive than low VOC or conventional paints. And they usually cost about $30/gallon or more. However, with all things considered, this is still not unreasonable given that conventional paints can cost up to $50 or more a gallon. But keep in mind that these products might just be on the higher end of pricing for conventional paint. So depending upon the type of paint you buy, the brand, and the quality, the price can vary dramatically. 

Conclusion

No and low VOC paint is safer for your health, the environment, and all those that are around to get that no paint smell. Despite the fact that they might cost slightly more than conventional paint of the same quality, the price difference is worth it. By making this simple change in your next home project you can decrease the amount of toxic chemicals in your local environment. On top of all this, no and low VOC paint is easy to find and easy to apply. Make the change today, begin using no and low VOC paint in your home.

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Tyler Farr
 

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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