Unraveling the Confusion Surrounding Low-VOC Paint

July 15, 2013

If you’ve shopped paint lately, you’ve probably seen cans advertising the paint within as being low in VOCs. Sounds good, right? Most of us are looking for healthier, eco-friendly alternatives these days when it comes to everything from what we eat to the materials we use to customize our homes. Unfortunately, most of us are also busy leading our lives, making it difficult to figure out what the best alternatives actually are… and in the interior and exterior painting world there are plenty of confusing buzzwords and terms. VOCs… al-natural… organic…

We wanted to demystify at least one of these terms – and make it clear that when it comes down to it, low-VOC paint is not just another marketing ploy.

What are VOCs, Anyway?

VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which can actually refer to a wide range of chemicals that are gradually released as vapors into the air. This is sometimes known as off-gassing. Some VOCs you may be familiar with include the vapors released by things like gasoline, kerosene, glues, pesticides, cleansers, and furniture. Most interior and exterior paints also release VOCs during the application, as they dry, and then for years after a paint job. VOC levels are regulated by the EPA, which sets standards for different products, and is measured in grams per liter (g/L).

So What Is Low VOC Paint?

Paint is made with three main components: pigments, binders, and solvents. Pigments are what gives paint its color. Binders (also known as vehicles or mediums) are ingredients that help pigment stick to surfaces. And solvents (also known as thinners or carriers) both keep paint in its liquid form and help it to dry quickly leaving behind the pigment and the binder. It’s this solvent that contributes the most to the VOC load of most paints that aren’t classified as low VOC.

Low-VOC paint, as defined by the EPA, is any paint that measures in at than 250 g/L for latex paints or 380 g/L for oil based paint. However, most low-VOC paint will have a VOC content of no more than 50-150 g/L, and most paint manufacturers that sell low-VOC paints do significantly better. It’s not uncommon to see paints with 10-25 g/L VOCs. Finally, low VOC paint is typically water-based and usually contains no heavy metals or formaldehyde.

What makes the whole concept confusing, though, is that these g/L measurements are taken before pigments are added, so the actual VOC load of any particular paint once tinted may be higher. Low-VOC has also become a catchy marketing term and ‘low-VOC’ means different things to different paint companies, so do your research before you buy.

what is low voc paint

All the Color and Healthier, Too

That said, there is literally nothing healthy about breathing in VOCs, so anything you can do to minimize your exposure is worth doing. At Jerry Enos Painting, we’ve decided to use low-VOC paints in our interior and exterior painting jobs to not only protect our crew, but also our clients.

There are some people for whom the VOCs in paint are just annoying, and then there are individuals who are so sensitive that a room freshly painted with traditional paint can cause dizziness, headaches, and vomiting. We’d rather not take that risk in the homes and offices we paint, which is why we’ve found interior and exterior paint lines from Benjamin Moore that offer all the color quality and durability with VOC levels much lower than those recommended by the EPA.

At Jerry Enos Painting of New England, we know the right products for the job, and we use low-VOC paint to protect your health. Call our MA painting company for a free estimate at 978-546-6843.

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