VOCs are unstable, carbon-containing compounds that readily vaporize into the air. When they enter the air, they react with other elements to produce ozone, which causes air pollution and a host of health issues including breathing problems, headache, burning, watery eyes and nausea. Some VOCs also have been linked to cancer, as well as kidney and liver damage.
As paint dries, these harmful VOCs are released into the air at high levels. Indoor VOC levels are routinely 10 times higher than outdoor levels, and up to 1,000 times higher immediately after painting. Although VOC levels are highest during and soon after painting, they continue seeping out for several years. In fact, only 50 percent of the VOCs may be released in the first year.
Paint is typically made of three major components:
- Pigment: gives the paint its color
- Binders: also known as the vehicle or medium, binders help the pigment stick to the applied surface.
- Solvents: sometimes called carrier or thinner, keep the paint in liquid form, making it easier to apply.
Of these three components, the solvents contribute the most to the paint’s level of VOCs. That’s because the solvent (a liquid) is designed to evaporate quickly, leaving only the pigment and its binder (the solids) behind on your walls. Paints with a greater percentage of solids typically leave more pigment behind, thus requiring fewer applications.
Solvents tend to be either oil-based (high VOC content) or water-based (low or no VOC content). Latex paint, which has lower VOC levels and is generally more environmentally friendly than oil-based paints, uses water-based solvents.
just because companies cut back on VOCs doesn’t mean these paints are free of toxins. If you’re worried about those as well, you still have options. Paints that carry the Green Seal, for example, are guaranteed to meet precise environmental standards.
In addition to the lower VOC levels, Green Seal paints are forbidden from using a long list of toxic chemical compounds including carcinogens, reproductive toxins, hazardous air pollutants, heavy metals and formaldehyde-donors to name just a few. As an added draw, paints qualifying for the Green Seal also must meet certain performance requirements such as abrasion resistance, hiding power and washability. Green Seal also offers instruction on how to handle and dispose of paint properly.
Here are some Low or No VOC paints that all carry the Green Seal:
Lifemaster No VOC* paint, the leader in Glidden Professional’s environmentally sustainable product line, is a 100% acrylic no VOC* paint, making it ideal for institutional, educational and other commercial facilities. The excellent durability and no residual odor allow you to maximize your repaint cycle and minimize your environmental impact with a quick return to service, better indoor air quality during application and minimal disruption of occupied spaces.
Natura Interior Waterborne Eggshell (513) is a premium-quality, zero-VOC paint from Benjamin Moore that provides a durable, washable and fade-resistant finish. Natura Interior Waterborne Eggshell (513) is ideally suited for residential applications. Unlike conventional zero-VOC paints, Natura remains zero-VOC even after tinting, which means it remains virtually odorless regardless of color.
With Harmony Interior Acrylic Latex paint from Sherwin Williams, you get excellent quality with the ultimate in “green” performance. This water-based paint is low-odor with zero VOCs*, and gives your walls a washable, durable finish, without having to worry about mildew growth. Harmony is perfect for use in children’s rooms or a nursery, and can even be applied to occupied rooms without causing disruption to your daily routine. The new enhanced Harmony formula contains Odor Eliminating Technology to reduce common household room odors!