What Are Zero-VOC Paints, and Which Paint Brands Sell Them?

Prioritize air quality during your next DIY project with these zero-VOC paint brands.

Are you considering a new paint color for your next room refresh or DIY project? Unfortunately, while paint can change the look of furniture and even an entire room, some harsh ingredients in paint can also cause various adverse effects and contribute to air pollution. But here's the good news: safer paint options exist, and many are available online, so you can shop from the comfort of home. Use this guide to learn more about VOCs and their impact on air quality and weigh your buying options.

paint can lids pink neutrals flowers
Marty Baldwin

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." VOCs are the invisible chemicals we smell when bringing paint products, building supplies, and even new furniture into our homes. The evaporation process is called "off-gassing," 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 from exposure to VOCs. According to the EPA, VOCs can be up to two to five times higher indoors. However, you can take steps 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. VOC regulations can also differ from state to state, complicating the matter further. While low-VOC paint lines are widely available and used, they still may contain the chemicals mentioned above and off-gas harmful fumes, though less than traditional paint products historically had. The main differentiator is that brands offering zero-VOC paint don't 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 crucial that a zero-VOC paint brand doesn't include VOCs in their tinting process either. VOCs can be present in the colorants, even if not 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 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's 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 a good safety indicator. 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's 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 research by checking a product's material safety data sheet, or MSDS, for a list of chemicals used.

Zero-VOC Paint Brands

01 of 07

ECOS Paint

stacked paint cans
Courtesy of ECOS Paints

ECOS Paint, founded in 1985, was initially created for consumers suffering from chemical sensitivities and has a "beyond zero VOC philosophy." Every product includes a comprehensive list of ingredients and detailed VOC test data. All ECOS paints are water-based, zero-VOC, no odor, and manufactured and sold from their facility in Spartanburg, SC. And if you're in love with another paint brand's color, ECOS can likely match it for you and ship it to your front door.

Buy It: ECOS Paints, $86 per gallon

02 of 07

AFM SafeCoat

green paint can
Courtesy of AFM Safecoat

AFM SafeCoat was created in collaboration with physicians to create healthy, eco-friendly products for laboratories, hospitals, and schools. SafeCoat offers a range of zero-VOC paint products that seal in off-gassing and dry quickly for those sensitive to chemicals or suffering from allergies and asthma. According to AFM, this paint line is "ideal for areas where the health of occupants is a concern: schools, hospitals, homes, offices, or anywhere people want to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals."

Buy It: AFM SafeCoat, from $72 per gallon, Green Building Supply

03 of 07

Clare Paint

yellow and blue paint cans
Courtesy of Clare Paint

Clare Paint offers a designer-curated range of water-based, zero-VOC paint colors that are Greenguard Gold Certified; plus they're also free of toxic air contaminants and air pollutants. For those wanting to shop for paint from home, Clare Paint offers everything you need to get started with pre-assembled paint kits and large peel-and-stick paint samples. Another bonus? Clare's paint trays and liners are made from recycled materials and arrive in a 100% recycled paperboard box at your door.

Buy It: Clare Paint, $64 per gallon

04 of 07

Sherwin-Williams Harmony

bright green paint can
Courtesy of Sherwin-Williams

Sherwin-Williams Harmony interior acrylic latex is a zero-VOC paint formula that's Greenguard Gold Certified and available in the brand's abundant color options. Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services at Sherwin-Williams, says Harmony's odor-eliminating technology helps to "reduce common indoor odors from cooking, pets, and smoke while providing a durable, washable finish." He also notes that Harmony has a formaldehyde-reducing technology that "helps improve indoor air quality by reducing VOC levels from sources such as cabinets, carpets, and fabrics."

Buy It: Harmony interior acrylic latex paint, $42 per gallon, Sherwin-Williams

05 of 07

Behr Pro i300

behr paint tub
Courtesy of Behr

Behr's i300 zero-VOC paint line is water-based and available at The Home Depot. This interior paint formula comes in a versatile white with an eggshell finish to suit many interior decor styles. It's Greenguard Gold Certified and mildew-resistant.

Buy It: Behr i300, $24 per gallon, The Home Depot

06 of 07


containers of paint in different colors
Courtesy of BioShield

If you want warmth and texture in your next project, clay-based paint manufacturer BioShield offers a range of non-toxic, low-odor, zero-VOC paints in more than thirty earth-inspired colors. BioShield utilizes natural materials such as clay, citrus extracts, essential oils, natural pigments, beeswaxes, and tree resins to achieve its rich, earthy aesthetic. While beautiful and eco-friendly, BioShield's clay interior paint isn't suited for high-traffic areas or situations that might require scrubbing or contact with water, such as bathrooms or children's playrooms.

Buy It: BioShield Paint, $60 per gallon for clay; $42 per gallon for solvent-free

07 of 07

The Real Milk Paint Co.

black can of paint
Courtesy of The Milk Paint Co.

If you're looking for eco-friendly milk paint, Real Milk Paint offers 56 cheerful colors made from natural, 100% organic ingredients, including powdered purified casein, lime, and pigments. Use it on floors, walls, or a DIY furniture project. The product can achieve a smooth, matte texture or an antiqued finish. Real Milk Paint lists its paint as zero-VOC, biodegradable, compostable, and safe for children's furniture and toys.

Buy It: The Real Milk Paint Co., $70 per gallon

More Ways to Improve Air Quality

If you'd like to improve your home's air quality further, 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 daily, so check updated research and a brand's website for the most recent information before your next paint project.

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