What is VOC Paint? - The Science of Paint


With so many different kinds of paint on the market these days, it can be difficult to decide which type of paint to use for your next project. One question that pops up quite often relates to compounds that can often be found in paint, called VOCs. Let's take a closer look at VOCs and why they're an important factor to consider when purchasing your paint. 

What is VOC paint?

Sage color wall and paint bucket

VOC paint is paint that contains Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC for short). VOCs are harmful chemicals carbon-containing substances that vaporize at room temperature and enter the atmosphere. Over time, these chemicals are be released into the air through a process called off-gassing. These chemicals 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.

What is Low VOC Paint vs Zero VOC paint?

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. 

Low VOC paints have lower amounts of VOCs in them. This means that they off-gas much less than traditional paints. There is no official standard for what is classified as a "low" level of VOCs, so the amount can vary. Zero VOC or No VOC paints have no volatile organic compounds in them. This means they are considered safer to use indoors and don't generally cause issues from off-gassing. 

How long do VOCs last after painting?

Painting wall skyblue with paint roller

Generally speaking, most VOCs from paint will release within the first six months after application. However, sometimes this can last for longer. VOCs can also come from other sources that off-gas for much longer. For example, some types of particle board can off-gas for up to 20 years. 

Is low VOW paint safe during pregnancy?

Since VOCs are known to cause health problems, it's best to avoid exposure to paint fumes during pregnancy. If you do need to paint, it's best to use zero VOC paint if possible, especially for interior painting. 

What to look for when shopping for paint

Painting siding with paint brush

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 color 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 liter. When buying an interior, flat paint, look for products containing 50 grams or less per liter of VOCs (150 grams or less per liter for a non-flat).

Hopefully, this gives you a bit more insight into the world of paint. One more tip - don't overbuy! Paint can be difficult to dispose of properly and this ensures that you won't end up with too much extra paint to get rid of. 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. 

At WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, we try to use low VOC or zero VOC paint on every job to minimize the health risks and avoid the lingering smell of traditional VOC paint. 

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