Low VOC Paint – Do You Need it?


Low VOC paint - why you need it!

Prior to moving into our new home last year, we chose to do some basic renovations – new floors, new bathroom countertops, a new master bathroom vanity, new light fixtures, and of course new paint.

While I had the best intentions to keep eco-friendliness and health safety in mind when making renovation decisions, when it came to paint I simply chose a color and moved on. I didn’t even think twice about researching paint types/brands/etc.

…that is until I learned about VOCs.

What is a VOC?

A VOC is a “Volatile Organic Compound” commonly found in paint, building materials, and other household products. VOCs vaporize into the air as gasses (#newpaintsmell) and react with other elements to create air pollution and inevitably a slew of potential health problems (think breathing issues, headaches, burning or itching eyes, and nausea). What’s scarier is that some VOCs have been linked to cancer, liver, and kidney damage (source: How Stuff Works).

VOC levels in a home are highest immediately after painting (up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors), but they continue to release gasses for several years (source: EPA). VOCs are commonly used in paint to perform the necessary function of solidifying it. You can think of VOCs as the evaporation of moisture from wet paint drying on your wall (source: How Stuff Works).

Additional sources of VOCs include:

  • wood preservatives
  • aerosol sprays
  • cleansers and disinfectants
  • moth repellents and air fresheners
  • stored fuels and automotive products
  • hobby supplies
  • dry-cleaned clothing
  • pesticide

(source: EPA)

What are safer alternatives?

If you’re currently searching for the safest paint for your home, Earth Easy posted a fairly comprehensive list of low or no VOC paint brands that might qualify. Consumer Reports also published an article suggesting a few low or no VOC paint options.

Keep in mind that not all low or no VOC paint options are non-toxic, so check can labels for hazardous materials warnings (source: Casa Verde Paint).

How can you reduce exposure to VOCs already in the home?

If you’re like me and you already painted and did not use low VOC paint, or you’re moving into an apartment where you had little to no input on the type of paint they used, there are still plenty of ways to improve the air quality in your living space:

  • Depending on your location – open the windows (exception being if you live close to a factory or an interstate).
  • VOCs and other harmful chemicals are most often found in the dust within the home – vacuum twice per week, but do so slowly. Vacuuming quickly will rattle the dust back into the air – not the goal! Plus, always empty the vacuum outside.
  • Change your AC filter
  • Store half-used cans of paint outside in a shed if possible or sealed up in a box – they can still omit fumes even after re-sealing the cans.
  • Say no to air fresheners which can contain phthalates (hormone-disrupting chemicals).
  • Use DIY cleaners!
  • Decorate with live ficus plants – these are gas absorbing, antimicrobial, and can help remove formaldehyde (one of the more potent VOCs) from the air.
  • Invest in a HEPA vacuum – I use a Dyson, worthwhile purchase that I highly recommend!


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