On “Happy Eco New Year” post, one of the eco-resolutions I suggested was using low VOC paint for your next painting project. Some of you were probably thinking “What the heck is low VOC paint and why should I use it?” I’m going to answer those questions now.
VOC is short for Volatile Organic Compounds. The word, ‘organic’ means the compound contains carbon molecules. Formaldehyde is a VOC. Breathing VOC fumes has been linked to respiratory illnesses, dizziness, headaches, nausea, memory loss. Research is being conducted to determine whether or not VOC is carcinogenic.
Paint is composed of three elements: pigment, a binding agent, and solvents. Pigment is the color. A binding agent is added to help paint adhere to surfaces. Solvents keep the paint liquid until it is exposed to air. Solvents emit VOC gasses.
Consumersearch has a guide to some terminology:
- VOC: Volatile organic compounds are the organic solvents found in commercial paint, which evaporate during the paint curing process. These compounds are the carrier responsible for the paint being able to spread on a surface. The odor during the paint curing process comes from the evaporation of these compounds. The federal government limits VOCs to 250 grams per liter for flat paint and 380 grams per liter for other finishes, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might reduce that to 100 grams per liter for flat and 150 grams per liter for other finishes.
- Nontoxic: This type of interior paint is also referred to as natural. These products are no-VOC and nonhazardous. Natural materials like plant dyes, linseed oil and milk protein are used instead of chemical components. Nontoxic does not necessarily mean low-odor, however.
- No-VOC: This type of paint has no VOCs at all. However, chemically sensitive people may still be sensitive to other paint components, which can also give off an odor. Not all zero-VOC paints are odor-free.
- Low-VOC: ConsumerReports.org and other reputable sources consider 50 grams of VOCs per liter or less to be low-VOC, and well-known manufacturers stick to that definition. Low-VOC paint may not be low-odor. Benjamin Moore Aura (*Est. $55 per gallon), covered in our Top Rated Interior Paints section, is a low-VOC paint.
What is Low-Voc paint in a nutshell? Paint that is estimated to release an average of 500% less toxins when used. Better for the environment, better for you and yours.
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