Low VOC Paint is Best

Recently, I’ve had experience in my home with low-VOC paint as well as conventional paint. The first left the place virtually odor-free; the second filled it with noxious fumes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Possible health effects from VOC exposure include headache, dizziness and respiratory problems in the short-run — and liver, kidney and neurological damage long-term.

If you are embarking on a paint job, consider low- or no-VOC paint to reduce exposure. It’s widely available nowadays from major manufacturers, and at big home improvement chains, such as Home Depot.

The safest low-VOC paints comply with Green Seal’s GS11 environmental standard:


If you are the one doing the painting, wear a proper mask for respiratory protection and take frequent breaks in the fresh air while painting.

If a paint job has recently been completed in your home, air the room out for at least 48 to 72 hours. Open the windows wide and, if possible, use a box fan in a window that is set to blow out — or make sure you have cross-ventilation. (Always secure box fans carefully in the window to avoid an accident.)

If there’s a baby on the way in the family and the nursery is being painted, do make sure to air out the room well in advance. Off-gassing (the release of VOCs even from dried paint) continues for a long while, though at sharply reduced levels.

People with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity should also take special care to avoid undue exposure.

See my May 2009 This Green Life column on low-VOC paints for more information.


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12 Responses to Low VOC Paint is Best

  1. Jon May 21, 2009 at 11:36 am #

    I wanted to share how I used low VOC paint. I am landscape/nature photographer with a gallery in Lake Tahoe. I was able to stay open while painting, given the lack of odor and chemical effects of low VOC paint. Furthermore, I used a very dark grey color, which absorbs ambient light and enabled me to remove 1/2 of the lights, in my gallery. I cut my electric bill in half, decreased my environmental footprint, and am setting an example that holds true to my work…all thanks to dark colored low VOC paint.

  2. Linda May 27, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    I read your article about paint and you should know about EarthPaint-I painted my bathroom over the weekend-no odor at all!! Tom Rioux formulated non toxic paints after a bad allergic reaction. His paints are composed of clay dug locally. Please check them out.

  3. Deborah June 1, 2009 at 11:30 am #

    High VOC paint can be sealed in by repainting with low VOC primer, then low VOC paint.
    Adding pigments usually adds VOC,
    so lighter colors generally have less.

    I was a house painter many years ago, until I had kidney damage from the chemicals in the “normal” paint. I’ve recovered and now teach yoga, and work as an alternative health practitioner. 😉

  4. buckeyede06 June 4, 2009 at 6:07 am #

    There is also the FreshAire Choice for paint, http://freshairechoice.com/. From my research most of the "VOC Free Paints" are just a gimmick. The actual base is VOC free but they just add all the VOC's right back with the colorants. The FAC uses a dry packing colorant system. Its actually really cool to see them drop it in (at Home Depot) check it out. its worth talking about

  5. Tim June 8, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    What about EcoTrend paint? They have no VOCs, use a collagen base, and are Greenguard Children and Schools certified.

  6. Tom Rioux June 15, 2009 at 5:26 pm #

    Thanks Linda! Low Voc is important but I also stay away from Vinyl and the standard set of additives that are used in most low voc paint. We just looked at some zero voc colorants and nearly choked on the "Trade Secret" solvent in them. Smelled like naphtha to me. It all adds up which is why we are sticking with our locally made low voc colorants.

  7. Mike Owens June 16, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    ECOtrend Collagen Natural Interior Paint contains zero VOC’s and has no odor. Because their product uses the eggshell’s lining (collagen) as the paints binder, it retains the quality of high VOC products such as excellent adhesion, superior coverage, fast-dry and scrub resistance. Collagen Natural Interior Paint is certified by GREENGUARD® and holds the most stringent requirements under the “Children and Schools” category. The paint uses an amino-acrylic (natural)resin and has a natural resistance to mold and mildew but does not contain biocides, heavy metals or other harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde or ammonia. The product passed the ASTM G-21 test for prevention of mold and mildew. It ia available in three sheens; Flat, Eggshell and Semi-Gloss and four bases allows any color to be tinted. A zero VOC interior primer to compliment the system is also available.

    • ellen October 25, 2011 at 11:57 am #

      whre can you buy this pain in the US?

  8. Anonymous June 18, 2009 at 6:12 am #

    We used Olympic no voc paint in my sons room. I will never use this again! After seven weeks the room still has a smell to it. It doesn't smell like fresh paint but there is a distinctive smell. I called Olympic and they told me that the darker colors (we used very dark red) take longer to cure. I'm not convined that this smell will ever go away. What's frustrating is that I bought this specifically to avoid a lingering odor. Err…

  9. Anonymous June 25, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    I bought Yolo paint at FreshandGreen.com. It was amazing . . . first of all the room did not smell. I am usually so sensitive to the fumes from paint, but this one I could sleep in the room the same night. I visited a friends house, one week after she painted . . . she still had all the windows open and the fumes were horrible. Never again will I purchase a VOC paint.

  10. Anonymous June 26, 2009 at 1:44 am #

    Great article. I own the Green Paint Shop in Brisbane Australia…its nice to know whats happening around the world.

  11. Greg Castillo October 2, 2009 at 9:12 am #

    Instead of low VOC paint, what you should use is no VOC paint. Home Depot carries a brand called the Freshaire Choice, and it is certified by the GreenGuard Environmental Institute. There are also a few other brands out there to choose from.