What are 'V.O.C.'s in paint?

What are 'V.O.C.'s in paint and why don't we want them?

Indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air, and according to the EPA, is considered to be one of the top 5 hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes, releasing low-level toxic emissions into the air for years after application. They poison groundwater and contain ozone-depleting contaminants.

The source of these toxins is a variety of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), which, until recently, were essential to the performance of the paint. These are the fumes that you smell while you paint, and usually for several days after.

A VOC is an organic chemical that becomes a breathable gas at room temperature. Some examples of these are ethylene glycol, vinyl chloride and mercury. VOCs in paint usually come from the additives to the paint such as fungicides, biocides, color, and spreadability agents. These high levels of VOC's in paints can cause headaches, allergic reactions, and health problems in the very old, very young, and those with chronic illness.

Fortunately, new environmental regulations, and consumer demand, have led to the development of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes that are durable and cost-effective.

Because of all this, we all should want to paint with the good, healthy stuff!

Tips to help you buy paint in the future:

You can determine the VOC content of paint by reading the label. It is usually expressed in terms of grams per liter. The most environmentally friendly choice is to buy paint with no VOCs (that's what we use). But if the paint you need for a job contains VOCs, try to choose a paint with no higher than 250 grams per liter for latex, and if you must use oil-based paint, no higher than 350 grams per liter. These numbers are usually on the label or on the product literature.

Be sure to ventilate the area well, during and after painting. VOCs cling to fabrics and carpeting (synthetic carpeting and padding is itself one of the worst off-gassing products in most homes).


By supporting these low-VOC and zero-VOC paint companies, you are encouraging all paint companies to strive for healthier alternatives.

   SO Green, Inc.   ~   Sustainable Design      (831) 402-1111     www.sogreeninteriors.com