What is Low VOC Paint?

When it comes to the painting the inside of their homes, homeowners are often preoccupied with picking out the perfect color and finish for each room. Something to keep in mind while doing this, however, is the number of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) the paint emits. VOC is a measurement of how much hazardous material is cast into the air as paint, varnish, or stain dries. The primary goal of low VOC paint is to reduce or eliminate these issues as much as possible to make the air in your home safer and healthier to breathe.


Low VOC paint refers to any paint, stain, or varnish that uses water instead of petroleum as a carrier. Because low VOC paint is water-based, not only is cleanup much easier, but harmful emissions are much lower compared to their solvent-based counterparts. Low VOC paint also typically contains little to no formaldehyde or heavy metals.


When painting indoors, VOC levels are an average of ten times higher than those outdoors. Though VOC levels are highest immediately after painting, they continue to seep out for several years. Only about half of the VOCs are usually released after the first year. Some adverse health effects that can occur as a result of exposure to VOCs include breathing problems, headaches, watery eyes, and nausea. Some VOCs have also been linked to cancer.


VOC is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is measured in grams per liter (g/l). Paint’s VOC level must appear on the paint container’s label. Low VOC paint is one of three categories that a non-toxic paint can fall into. The other two are zero VOC and natural paint.


For paints and stains, the upper limit of the rating is 200 g/l. For varnishes, it is 300 g/l. These are standards set by the EPA that all paint manufacturers must adhere to. However, most low VOC paints rarely exceed a VOC rating of 50 g/l. While low VOC emissions are not classified as dangerous, these paints still emit an odor as they dry, which can still be harmful to people sensitive to such emissions. If you know you are sensitive to VOC emissions, make sure the paint that you are working with has less than 25 g/l of VOCs. However, it is also important to keep in mind that paint’s VOC measurement is taken before any pigment or additives are added, which can contribute to a higher VOC level.

Low VOC paints are a modern, safe approach to painting and are a wise choice for any painting project homeowners wish to undertake. While low VOC paint is not quite as environmentally friendly and safe as natural paint, it is a close second.


Stephen Lockyer
Stephen Lockyer
Professional painters and Decorators on the Gold Coast. Serving all your interior and exterior painting needs.

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