The science of paint – what are VOCs anyway?

The answer is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC for short), in case you were wondering. VOCs are harmful chemicals that have been proven to contribute to many health conditions including cancer, breathing difficulties, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and blurred vision. Pretty nasty stuff! 40 years ago, nearly all paints were oil-based which meant high amounts of VOCs. These days, due to stricter government regulation and more awareness on the part of the consumer, nearly all household paints are water-based meaning that they have low or in most cases no VOCs.

Like with all products that are marketed as environmentally friendly, it’s important to understand exactly what it is you’re getting and whether or not the product is as “green” as it claims to be. Here are some tips to make sure you’re buying good quality paint that is not harmful to the environment and is safe to use in the home.

  • Always request zero or low VOC paint. Also ensure that the tint used to create the colour that you’ve chosen is zero or low VOC as well.
  • Look for the Green Seal “mark of environmental responsibility” on the can which means that the contents meet Green Seal Standard GS-11. The Green Seal organization sets more stringent standards than the EPA for acceptable VOC levels in paint.
  • Most paints include a measurement of their VOC count per litre. When buying an interior, flat paint, look for products containing 50 grams or less per litre of VOCs (150 grams or less per litre for a non-flat).

Hopefully this gives you a bit more insight into the world of paint. One more tip – don’t overbuy! Measure the size of the area you’ll be painting before going to the paint store, typically a gallon of paint covers an area of 350-400 square feet. Don’t worry if you don’t know the exact size of what you’re painting, most stores will help you determine how much you need if you give them an idea of what you’re doing.

Happy painting everyone!