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Reduce Airborne Contaminants with Low VOC Paint

by Jon Nunan

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The air in our homes is riddled with airborne contaminants. Things like carpeting, wood finishes, and glues and adhesives, all emit small amounts of potentially dangerous chemicals into the air. Paint, unfortunately, is one of the top contributors of this type of indoor air pollution, and can emit contaminants for years after application. Fortunately, there is a new generation of paints that are low VOC, no VOC, or all natural, and that reduce the indoor pollution from your interior paint to almost nothing.

What's a VOC?
Close your eyes and try to conjure up that "new paint smell." Got it? What you're smelling are VOCs. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound, and refers any of the compounds traditionally added to paint to enhance the paint's color, spreadability, adhesiveness, and resistance to fungus and insects. Unfortunately, many of these compounds are released into the air at room temperature, polluting your indoor air and causing major problems for those with chemical sensitivities, allergies, and respiratory illnesses. While VOCs used to be necessary to make paint, new technology has rendered them less and less essential. The result is the next generation of painting products.

All-Natural, No VOC, and Low VOC Paint
As the paint industry has responded to public demand for less polluting indoor paints, three main products have hit the shelves. Those products are all natural, no VOC, and low VOC paint. Each product contains a different level of VOCs, and has to meet a certain set of standards set by the EPA in order to claim the label. Here's a quick breakdown of each, so you can choose the best product for you.

  • All Natural Paint contains no VOCs and is composed entirely of natural ingredients. It is water based, reinforced with plant and animal oils and resins, and is colored with plant and mineral dyes. All natural paint has almost no smell to it, wet or dry, and is the healthiest choice when it comes to painting interior spaces.

  • No VOC Paint contains less than 5 grams of VOCs per liter of paint, usually in the form of biocides, fungicides, or colorant. No VOC paint has almost no smell when wet, and none at all once it has dried.

  • Low VOC Paint is required to have less than 200 grams of VOCs/liter. However, most manufacturers of low VOC paint strive to meet the Green Seal Standard, which guarantees them to have less than 50 grams of VOCs/liter. If low VOC emission is a priority for you, then it's smart to search out, and pay a little bit extra, for paint that meets Green Seal Standards.

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Low VOC Paint is Eco-Friendly in More Ways than One
Besides providing better indoor air quality for your home, low VOC, no VOC, and all natural paint is also much easier to dispose of. Traditional paints should never be thrown in the trash or dumped out on the ground, since they can harm wildlife and contaminate soil and water sources. In fact, even low VOC paints should be taken to your local household hazardous waste collection center for disposal. No VOC and all natural paints provide little or no threat to environment, however, and can be disposed of with the rest of your household trash.

If you're interested in paint with low or no VOC content for your home, talk to a paint supplier or painter about which paint is going to best for you. With you and your family's health at stake, you'd be crazy not to look into the benefits of low VOC paint.

Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.