Let’s say you decide to put a fresh coat on your house. The paint seller recommends you dozens of paint from common paint to low-VOC and no-VOC paint, et cetera. At the time, you do not care much. You just pick out the best color, which is advertised as stain-resistant and long-lasting.
You feel delighted with the new look of the home. However, you start to have mild symptoms of allergies, headaches, dizziness, or shortness of breath. But you do not know why. Is there anything wrong here?
The paint you choose is of high quality and environmentally friendly. But are you aware that paint has some vaporous substances that affect your health as well? VOCs are a typical example I am talking about here.
Why do paints contain VOCs? What is the level of VOCs to be considered dangerous? You will find some useful information in this article.
What Does VOCs Mean?
VOCs stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, vaporous chemicals that react at even ordinary room temperature. VOCs exist in lots of products and materials that we can find in both indoor and outdoor environments. VOCs can be scented or odorless.
Sources of VOCs
For outdoors, VOCs are released from human’s daily activities or production activities. The most visible examples are the burnings of gasoline, wood, coal or fuel emissions, and smoking cigarettes.
For indoors, the sources of VOCs come from many building materials such as plywood, glues, solvent, paints, and so on. Some other household products contain VOCs too. They include cleaners, polishing, disinfectants, air fresheners, detergents, and mood candles. What’s more, a few personal belongings like perfume and hair spray are also sources of VOCs.
Are VOCs a Risk to Human Health?
Many studies have shown that the levels of VOCs indoors are many times higher than that of outdoors. The good news is harmful VOCs in the environment rarely reach the toxic level. Besides, the amounts of VOCs discharged from the products are likely to reduce over time.
Immediate and short-term contact with VOCs may not be a big deal. However, in the long term, they affect our health to some extent.
When the concentrations are low, which is how they usually are, no clear symptoms are found. However, when the concentrations are high, you may suffer from some symptoms that I have listed above.
For many serious cases, VOCs may pose a risk to some human organs such as lung, kidney, and liver. Nervous systems are under threat too. Some people may find themselves more sensitive to VOCs than others, especially young children, the elderly and those with asthma.
How to Remove or Reduce VOCs from Your Home?
The easiest way we can think of is to replace our current products with VOCs-free ones. When using cleaning products, you need to open doors and windows so the air can circulate more effectively. To prevent VOCs from the outside and avoid absorbing them from the inside, installing an air ventilation/ filtration system is always the best choice.
If you are doing some DIY projects, remember to do it out in the open air. It is recommended to get just enough materials you need for the project. Try not to store any leftovers. If you do, store it safely with a firm lid on and keep them as far from your living place as possible.
But if you are planning to add a new coat of paint to your house, you need to consider using a low-VOCs level paint or no-VOCs paint. We will go into details about these two kinds of paint so you can make a wiser decision.
Why Does Paint Contain VOCs?
First, you need to know what components are included in the paint. There are pigments to give the paint its color. There are binders to ensure the color to stick to the walls. Those two components also give off VOCs at an inconsiderable rate, only about 1 to 2 grams/liter.
The majority of VOCs emanate from some sorts of solvents such as formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, and benzene. They are used so the paint can dry much faster. To be specific, VOCs are needed to form the paint color and help a wet wall dry.
Is it necessary to have VOCs in paint? The answer is yes, but of course, within the safety lever. And it will probably be no in the future. Technology has become more and more advanced, and scientists always come up with new ideas to make our life much better. A product must offer more convenience while still being safe for customers.
When customers are more aware of the risks of VOCs in paint, that is when low-VOCs and no-VOCs paint start their journey. Those kinds of paint have become more and more popular nowadays.
How Long Does VOCs Last in Paint?
When the paint is applied to the walls, it starts to emit VOCs. You wait for a couple of hours or even days for it to dry and you think that the chemical wears off. You are wrong.
VOCs will continue to vaporize for several days after application. The level of VOCs will decrease over time for the next six months or even longer through the off-gassing process.
The duration pretty much depends on some factors and conditions. It is either the concentration of VOCs in the paint you are using or how much paint to be applied. The current conditions of the house, for example, the temperature, air circulation, and ventilation also contribute to it.
What Is low-VOCs Paint?
Flat and latex paint with no more than 250 grams/liter of VOCs is considered a low-VOCs paint. This figure is developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For oil-based paint, the amount can reach up to 380 grams/liter.
However, as stated by Green Seal, an organization specialized in studying standards for products and services, the figures are calculated in a stricter manner. As per Green Seal GS-11 Standard, paints with low-VOCs level must not exceed 50 grams/liter for flat and latex paint and 150 grams/liter for others.
Do not get confused here. Both figures are all just right. If you want to be more certain, go with products with Green Seal certified standards. You need to check the label carefully or even prepare a material safety data sheet to make sure you pick the right paint.
What Is VOCs-free Paint?
A no-VOCs paint does not mean it has no-VOCs at all. No does not equal to 0. And yes, the manufactures do not deceive you. The EPA as well as the Green Seal has put a limit of 5 grams/liter on every paint label registered under the no-VOCs brand.
Low-VOCs/ No-VOCs Paint Versus Common Paint, What Should We Choose?
There is no best option. It is just about preferences. Each type of paint has its advantages and disadvantages that consumers should always consider.
Let’s make it simple this way. Low-VOCs/ no-VOCs paints are more expensive than regular paints with high levels of VOCs. The prices even fluctuate based on labels and brands. This is understandable since it requires endless efforts of advanced research technology to invent such quality, yet environmentally friendly paint.
As mentioned above, common paints use some solvents (which emit VOCs) to make it dry quicker. Besides, they also add to its durability as well as coverage ability when being applied.
Consumers might find some low-VOCs/ no-VOCs paints to offer less coverage ability than common ones. As a result, painters need to apply more coats. It means more paints are to be consumed, and more efforts are to be taken. However, some high-quality paints of low-VOCs/ no-VOCs in the market provide coverage ability the same as regular paint.
If you are unsure about how thick the VOCs/ no-VOCs paints can cover, you can try it on a smaller painting surface and then consider your option.
Due to less VOCs level than regular paints, low-VOCs/ no-VOCs paints give off a low odor. This would be more favorable for you or your home builders while doing the painting work.
So is no-VOCs equal to no odor? The answer is no. Manufacturers remove unhealthy substances in solvents and replace them with better chemicals. You can total smell something out of it.
No-VOCs and low-VOCs paints are just not as smelly as other high-VOCs ones. It stays at the level that most people find comfortable. However, different people react to the smell in different ways. You should also note that the smell does not affect the quality of the pain.
Brief Note for Low-VOCs/ No-VOCs Paints
Differences between these types of paints are basically demonstrated as the above contents. However, when it comes to those paints, there is more to be concerned about.
As there is less or none biocide, fungicide, and mildewcide in low-VOCs/ no-VOCs paint formulations, they are likely to be infected with micro-bacterial contamination. Painters are advised not to dip the brushing tools directly into the paint can. A separate container is more suitable. And, the lid must be kept firmly at all times.
Other than that, preservation also needs special care. Leftover paint should be stored in a cool and dry place.
It is suggested that a newly painted wall should not be cleaned within 30 days after the coat is completed. Moreover, ammonia-based cleaning products are not highly recommended for the removal of dirt and stains on low-VOCs/ no-VOCs painted walls. Instead, mild soap and water are preferable.
Some Painting Tips
Low-VOCs or no-VOCs paints do not mean they do not have unhealthy chemicals in it. The definition only means they do not emit bad gases as much as others.
It does not matter if it is high VOCs, low-VOCs, or no-VOCs paints you are using, you should carefully follow the below instructions to prevent any possible health issues.
Wearing a mask, gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt is necessary.
It is important to keep the brushes and rollers away from contamination. When you are done with it, remember to wash them with soap and warm water. Try to get rid of the paint from the brush hairs and bristles as much as you can.
A closed room is never an ideal place for paintings. Remember to open all doors and windows to improve indoor air circulation. If the current space does not allow so, you should take more breaks for fresh air.
You should not store unused paints for later use if you are unsure when later is. Just discard them all. And when you do that, remember to do it properly. Take it to a disposal facility if you can or at least put a label on the can so the sanitation worker can be aware of it.
You should always stay away from a newly painted room. Depending on the type of paint you use, it may take 3-4 hours or even longer for the paint to dry and the odors to go away. In any case, it is best to consult a professional painter for the best recommendation.
Now that you acknowledge the existence of VOCs, you also know that VOC paint can have a profound impact on your health. You must take actions. It is not your family’s health at the moment, but many more years in the future you should take care of.
The creation of low-VOCs and no-VOCs paints has opened a wider, better door for customers to take care of yourself, especially, if you are pregnant, have small children or elder people in your house.
Although these new kinds of paint still have some disadvantages, it is one of the safest options at the moment. There is no price for health because it is priceless. Hopefully, you can make the best decision for your home with low-VOCs and no-VOCs paints.
I am Peter Levick, with over 10 years of experience in the home improvement industry, I have become a seasoned expert in painting and paint sprayers. Through numerous DIY projects, I have developed a keen eye for aesthetics and a deep understanding of the technical aspects involved. My expertise extends to various paint sprayer systems, and I stay updated with the latest advancements. I bring a meticulous approach to every project, ensuring stunning and durable results. Clients can trust in my craftsmanship and commitment to delivering exceptional work.