What Is VOC?
VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. VOCs are found in a host of building materials and are partially responsible for that new paint smell. Unfortunately these unstable chemicals let off gasses that are very harmful to people and the environment, which is why the government now regulates them.
Since VOCs are found in paints, they also buildup quite a bit in the home. Studies have found that levels of several organics average 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. When inhaled they can contribute to several health problems. Because of this, it's best to use the minimal amount of VOCs whenever possible.
Low VOC paints have reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds, meaning they don't off-gas as much as traditional paints. It's important to remember that when it says "low" it's only in comparison to some other paints. There's no real number that defines what "low" is.
Paint brands that have low VOC options currently include Behr, Farrow & Ball, ICI, and Para, but it's expected that most if not all paint companies will be offering low VOC alternatives soon.
Paints with no VOCs have no volatile organic compounds in them. But that's not to say they don't contain any harmful chemicals. In fact, sometimes the paint tinting process can add some VOCs. That said, these are still a great option.
Brands that have no VOC options include AFM Safecoat and Yolo Colorhouse.
Pros and Cons of Low and No VOC Paints
- Little odor, dry quickly, good coverage, durable, can be applied to many different surfaces, easy to find, and are available in a huge variety of colors.
- Sometimes these paints can contain other solvents and additives that can be harmful.
When buying paint the best thing to do is to look for paints that are labeled 'non-toxic' and contain no extra solvents or additives, and look for 5g/L or less of VOCs. If you're still not sure about what brand is best ask an expert at your local paint store. There are many eco-friendly paints making their way onto the market including recycled, milk, and plant and mineral paints, so check out these alternatives before buying.