What Are Zero-VOC Paints? 9 Brands to Add Color to Your Home Without Harmful Chemicals
Are you considering a new paint color for your next room refresh or DIY project? While paint can change the look of furniture and even an entire room, its chemicals can also cause a range of adverse health effects and contribute to air pollution. But here’s the good news: healthier paint options do exist, and many are available online so you can shop from the comfort of home. Use this guide to learn more about volatile organic compounds (VOCs), their impact on air quality, and weigh your buying options.
What Are VOCs and Are They Harmful?
VOC is an acronym that stands for volatile organic compounds. The Environmental Protection Agency describes them as “organic chemical compounds whose composition makes it possible for them to evaporate under normal indoor atmospheric conditions.” Essentially, this means that VOCs are the invisible chemicals we smell when bringing paint products, building supplies, and even new furniture into our homes. The evaporation process is referred to as "off-gassing," and it can last well after the new paint smell is gone—potentially several years.
What are these chemicals exactly? Formaldehyde, d-Limonene, toluene, acetone, and ethanol (and more) fall within this category. Consumers have experienced short and long-term health effects, including headaches, respiratory and skin irritation, central nervous system issues, and even certain forms of cancer. According to the EPA, VOCs can be up to two to five times higher indoors. However, there are steps you can take to reduce the levels in your homes.
What Is the Difference Between Low-VOC and Zero-VOC Paint?
Laws and regulations around VOCs change often. Complicating things further, VOC regulations can also differ from state to state. While low-VOC paint lines are widely available and used, they still contain the chemicals mentioned above and off-gas harmful fumes, though less than traditional paint products historically. The main differentiator is that brands offering zero-VOC paint do not add VOC chemicals to their mixtures, resulting in a product that might only have trace amounts if any.
So, now that you know what VOCs are, what can you do about them? As you select colors, look for paint companies that meet zero-VOC emissions standards (containing 5g/L or less of VOCs), and are willing to disclose their test results to consumers. It is also important that a zero-VOC paint brand does not include VOCs in their tinting process either. VOCs can be present in the colorants even if they are not present in a base paint mixture.
Consumer Emissions Resources
With paint aisles filled with green labels, nature-inspired designs, and non-toxic claims, it can be hard to know how to pick the best product for your project. One thing to pay attention to: If an eco-label certification is on a can, be sure it is an emissions test approved by the EPA.
The Greenguard label is a widely trusted label you might have already seen. Greenguard tests for VOC emission levels and offers a range of certifications. The Greenguard Gold Certification is the most rigorous and is a good indicator of safety. Consumers can also use Greenguard’s website to search for other low-emitting, eco-friendly products. Spotting Greenguard’s green badge on a product indicates that it has been tested and that it lands within its range of emissions standards.
Earth-friendly resources like Building Green or an online retailer such as Green Building Supply are also available to help with the shopping process. Lastly, you can conduct your own research by checking a product’s material safety data sheet, or MSDS, for a list of chemicals used.
Zero-VOC Paint Brands
More Ways to Improve Air Quality
If you’d like to further improve your home's air quality, consider adding potted trees and plants, an air-purifying system, and improving ventilation. Choosing Greenguard Gold Certified furniture and natural materials for rugs and interior building materials can also help with off-gassing.
If you recently moved into a new home or have just completed a renovation, consider having your ducts professionally cleaned. Ensure that you are changing air conditioning filters as often as is recommended for your system, and keep up with floor and carpet cleaning using a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner. Paint manufacturers and regulations are changing day-by-day, so check updated research and a brand’s website for the most updated information before your next paint project.