Issue #8 – Low VOC vs No VOC Paints

What is a Volatile Organic Compound and Why is it in My Paint?

by Lisa Nelsen-Woods of Condo Blues

You don't have to look very hard to find volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the environment because they appear in both natural and man made compounds.  These off-gassing chemicals may cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and loss of coordination.  Some of the more potent VOCs can even damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.  Given the laundry list of potential health risks of long-term VOC exposure, the EPA regulates the use of VOCs in paint.

Unfortunately, because of what and how we want to paint, we can't completely remove VOCs in the paint we use. Why?  Let's start with how we make paint. The recipe is simple: pigment (color) + binders (to make the paint stick to the wall) + solvents (to allow application) = paint.

Most of the VOCs live in the solvent portion of the recipe, although some VOCs may live in the pigment portion depending upon the color you choose. Without solvents, paint will not stay liquid in the can or eventually dry to the touch on a wall. Without some sort of pigment (including white), paint may be the unappealing color of the base ingredients. As the Green Home Guide explains, you need to confirm that the tint your paint store adds is low VOC too.

Regardless of which brand you choose, it's a good idea to air out the house by opening a window until the paint fully dries and the smell fades.