VOC in Paint or Stain – Volatile Organic Compounds
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency rates paint among its top five environmental hazards.
Indoor air studies have found that the level of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, present while paint is drying can be in upwards of a 1,000 times higher than levels outdoors.
VOCs have been linked with respiratory conditions; skin and eye irritations; headaches; nausea; muscle weakness; and more serious ailments like liver disease and lung cancer.
The “off gassing” of chemicals is most noticeable immediately after painting. There are also concerns about its long-term health effects in our homes.
Alternatives to conventional paint generally fall into one of four categories: low-VOC; zero-VOC; natural; and recycled.
To qualify for low-VOC status, paints and stains must not contain VOCs in excess of 200 grams per litre, a level easier achieved with latex paints, than from than oil-based paints. Low-VOC paints can still emit an odour until they dry, thus particularly sensitive individuals should consider zero-VOC or natural paints.
It is important to note that VOC levels vary considerably among low-VOC paints. Pigments used to provide custom colors can also add some VOCs, as well as toxins, to the base paint. The deeper the hue, the more pigment needed.
Zero-VOC paints are not allowed to contain more than five grams of VOCs per litre.
Limited to latex paints, some manufacturers may claim ”Zero-VOC” status for their base paints, but may still use colourants, biocides and fungicides that contain additional VOCs. Like low-VOCs, adding pigment will generally brings the VOC level up, though it is possible to get zero-VOC pigments.
Made from natural materials such as citrus oil, lime, clay, linseed oil, and even powdered casein (milk protein), natural paints are considered the healthiest and most environmentally sound. Natural paints do not contain petroleum products and therefore emit few, if any, of the VOCs regulated by current paint standards.
Some natural oil-based products contain significant amounts of other VOCs from ingredients like citrus-based solvents.
Recycled paint will not be low-VOC paint. Recyled latext paint has its attractions for those not bothered by conventional paints (with high-VOC levels), but who want to make environmentally friendlier choices by using a recycled product. We would not recommend recycled paint.
Most zero- and low-VOC paints are positioned as premium products in the market. They offer the same high performance as their conventional counterparts, just without the noxious chemicals. And they often cost to more than similar high quality paints!
Natural paints, considered the safest and most eco-friendly, do have some disadvantages. Natural paints generally take longer to dry and natural paints are not always compatible with existing latex paint surfaces. Using them may require more extensive surface preparation.
Filed under: ecoFriendly