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Volatile Organic Compounds: How YOU Benefit From Using Low-VOC Paint

Meoded Paint & Plaster / exterior finish  / Volatile Organic Compounds: How YOU Benefit From Using Low-VOC Paint
what are vocs - volatile organic compounds

Volatile Organic Compounds: How YOU Benefit From Using Low-VOC Paint

The smell of paint is generally a dead giveaway that what you’re breathing in can’t be healthy. Well, it turns out that you should actually trust your nose!

Lead paint, which the Consumer Product Safety Commission outlawed in 1977, is not the only kind of paint that is harmful to your health. (You may recall hearing that kids who ate bits of lead-chipped paint later developed mental disabilities.)

So, what precisely are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), why are they in paint at all if they’re so harmful, and are there any alternatives? Continue reading to find out more.

What are VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds are carbon-containing compounds that vaporize easily into the air. When they enter the air, they combine with other elements to form ozone, which causes air pollution and various health concerns such as breathing difficulties, headaches, burning, watery eyes, and nausea. Some VOCs have also been related to cancer, renal damage, and liver damage. 

These toxic VOCs are significantly discharged into the air while the paint dries. Indoor VOC levels are typically ten times greater than outside levels and can be up to 1,000 times higher soon after painting. 

Although VOC levels are most significant during and immediately following painting, they continue to leak out for several years. In fact, only half of the VOCs are likely to be released in the first year.

Volatile Organic Compounds - VOC

So it’s hardly surprising that paint-related items are among the worst environmental culprits. After vehicles, they are the second largest source of VOC emissions into the environment, accounting for approximately 11 billion pounds per year. 

Painters who are consistently exposed to paint fumes have an increased risk of developing cancer, impaired cognitive function, renal dysfunction, and other health issues.

Consumers, armed with this knowledge, have begun to demand safer choices. Low-VOC and no-VOC paints are now widely available and supplied by most major paint manufacturers.

Now, you’re probably wondering what took them so long if the effects were so bad!? The answer is in the paint’s composition. VOCs were long thought to be vital to the performance of the paint.

What are the main components of paint?

Paint is usually composed of three basic components:

  1. Pigment: This is what gives the paint its color.
  2. Binders: also known as the vehicle or medium, these aid in the adhesion of the pigment to the applied surface.
  3. Solvents: sometimes known as “carriers” or “thinners,” solvents maintain the paint in liquid form, making it simpler to apply.

Solvents contribute the most to the paint’s VOC level of these three components. This is due to the solvent (a liquid) being meant to evaporate rapidly, leaving just the pigment and its binder (the solids) on your walls. Paints with a higher solids composition often leave more pigment behind, needing fewer applications.

Solvents are often oil-based (high VOC concentration) or water-based (low or no VOC content). Water-based solvents are usually more ecologically friendly than oil-based paints.

White spirit, formaldehyde, and toluene are common oil-based solvents, as are a range of other alcohols, ketones, acetates, and aromatic compounds. Oil paints were challenging to apply and infrequently used prior to the introduction of volatile solvents such as these. 

However, replacing the oil-based solvent does not entirely remove hazardous compounds from paint. VOCs can also be found in pigments and binders, and all three components frequently include a variety of additional poisons. 

Cadmium and chromium, for example, are hazardous metals controlled by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and are occasionally used in pigments. Furthermore, some paints contain harmful ingredients to inhibit mold growth or lengthen shelf life.

While a low-VOC label on paint simply shows that it has fewer VOCs than ordinary paints, some paints also eliminate additional pollutants. 

VOC-free Paint, Low-VOC Paint, and Other Options

So, what qualifies as a low VOC paint?

Most low-VOC paints offered by reputable dealers have levels of 50 g/L or less. Keep in mind that the values on the paint container represent measurements collected prior to the addition of the paint’s pigment or any additives, both of which might contribute extra VOCs. Pigments, for example, can provide around 10 g/L.

Green Seal-certified paints, for example, are guaranteed to fulfill stringent environmental criteria. Paints with this classification must have VOC concentrations of less than 100g/L for non-flat finishes and less than 50g/L for flat finishes. The VOC limit for Green Seal primers and floor paints is 100 g/L, whereas reflective wall coatings cannot exceed 50 g/L.

Green Seal paints are prohibited from utilizing a broad range of dangerous chemical compounds, including carcinogens, reproductive poisons, hazardous air pollutants, heavy metals, and formaldehyde contributors, to mention a few. 

As a bonus, Green Seal-qualified paints must also fulfill specific performance standards such as abrasion resistance, concealing power, and washability. Green Seal also provides information on proper handling and disposing of paint.

Natural paints, in addition to low and no-VOC paints, are produced mainly from naturally occurring elements such as clay, lime, linseed oil, and chalk. These paints are “naturally” low in the VOCs mandated by the EPA for air quality since they do not contain any synthetic oil ingredients. 

They may, however, have considerable quantities of uncontrolled VOCs from citrus oils and terpenes, which might irritate chemically sensitive persons. So just because a product is branded “natural,” does not necessarily imply it is healthier for your health.

Cadmium, a metal used in several yellow colors, is highly poisonous. As a result, it’s always a good idea to read the ingredients on the label.

While most low-VOC paints and other environmentally friendly paint options function similarly to standard paints, not all do. Depending on the solvent used, they may not do as well at thinning down the paint, making it more challenging to apply. 

Some alternative solvents also take longer to dry (because they are less “volatile”), requiring you to wait longer between applications. Another disadvantage is that fewer color options are available because many of the darker pigments include VOCs.

Finally, while low-VOC paints are often the same price as conventional paints, certain natural paints can cost up to 80% more. 

Aside from considering VOC and other toxin levels when purchasing paint, another good piece of advice is to search for one that includes at least 30% solids.

That way, you might not need to apply the third layer. This data is often available on the paint’s label or in the Technical Data Sheet.

Meoded's Environmentally Friendly Paints
Meoded’s Environmentally Friendly Paints

Meoded’s Environmentally Friendly Paints

All Meoded paints and plasters are eco-friendly. We not only take great pride in offering “green” products, but we are also the only manufacturer of real lime-based, zero VOC liquid plasters in the United States. It is critical that we offer our clients a healthy living environment by using eco-friendly products that protect the environment.


Our Lime Plasters are genuine lime-based plasters created with real lime and other natural elements such as crushed marble stone. This means that our lime plasters are 100% VOC Free! 

Sapphire Metallic and Crystal Brush glitter paint are manufactured with low or no VOCs, as requested by architects, contractors, and designers.

Primer: The primer we sell (Quartz Primer) is made entirely of acrylic.

Glazes: Our Velature Glaze top coating is water dilutable

Wax: Our HydroWax product is water-based and odorless.

Meoded’s environmentally friendly paint supplies ensure that your house or company will be safe for your family or customers for many years to come.

Using eco-friendly paint supplies is a safe approach to keeping your house or workplace healthy. Meoded paint products are all manufactured under tight quality controls that correspond to EPA regulations, protecting our customers, employees, and the environment. 

Recognizing the hazards of VOCs plays a significant part in creating Meoded’s eco-friendly, low VOC, health-conscious products. 

Ready to upgrade your interior paint to VOC Free lime plaster or low VOC decorative paint? Visit our online store to get started!

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