Volatile organic compounds, aka VOC, are a group of chemical compounds that evaporate when exposed to the air. Manufacturers use VOCs in paints to improve their overall look and quality.

After you apply the paint on a surface, it starts drying with time. During drying, the paint begins to release these VOCs into the air in the form of vapors. This produces a stinky chemical smell that is harmful to humans. 

Did you know that this release of volatile chemicals is called off-gassing, and it continues over the years?


Many scientific studies found VOCs induced smoke causes Sick Building Syndrome, respiratory illness, and many other serious health complications when exposed to them indoors.

The problem is—the paint doesn’t release its entire VOCs at once after it is dried. Instead, it continues to release those toxic gases over the years.

To avoid such harmful health issues, you need to get a better idea about the VOC contents present inside your paint against the Federal Government’s safe allowed levels.

Knowing the VOC contents can help you make a wise decision before opting for your indoor paint.

Without much wait, let me help you understand…

Do You Know How Many VOCs Are There in Your Paint?

In the market, you can find mostly three different types of interior paints with varying VOC contents.

They are:

a) Regular Paints

The regular paints give you a better color tint and a glossy furnish than the other paints but it comes with a cost.

Actually, these modern paints contain VOCs in higher quantities than eco-friendly paints. The VOC content for regular paints may go as high as 250 grams or more per liter of paint.

b) Low VOC Paints

Low VOC paints have small amounts of VOCs when compared to regular paints.

As a result, they do not have much off-gas and have negligible ill effects on human health. Paints having labels as “low VOC” contain volatile compounds less than 50 grams per liter of paint.

c) Zero VOC paints

Paints that contain a label of “no VOC” or “zero VOC” are made from natural sources. They have zero to no volatile organic compounds in them.

Though they claim to be free of any VOC, some paints contain VOCs up to 5 grams per liter, which is significantly low to cause any health hazards. However, the color may take a little more time to tint than the other two variants of paint.


What Is Wrong With The VOCs?

You would be surprised to know that paint is nothing but a concoction of some toxic chemicals. The chemicals may be vehicles, pigments, or additives used in different compositions for various purposes.

The paints may also contain many toxic metals as organic solvents such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium.

However glossy may the paint look; some unexplored downsides of the VOCs are hidden behind the paint’s composition.

Let’s have a look at how dangerous the VOCs can be!

a) Effects of VOCs on humans:

As per scientific studies, VOCs can create some severe health complications in humans.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that damages the nervous system of your body. Formaldehyde, a commonly used VOC in regular paints, is a cancer-causing agent. The polyurethanes in modern paints lead to damage to the respiratory system.

The paints often contain lead and mercury-based substances unsafe when they enter your body by any means.

The aromatic fumes coming from paints contain epoxy resins. They are mostly found in organic solvent-based paints. The inhalation of the smoke over a long period causes headaches, convulsions, central nervous system damage, nausea, dizziness, kidney and liver damage, and fatigue.

People who have compromised immunity may get irritation in the eye, nose, and throat discomfort, and allergic skin reactions due to VOCs. Further, VOCs are known to cause cancer in the lungs, stomach, and kidneys.

Moreover, the side effects of exposure to VOCs can disrupt infant growth in pregnant ladies, and the ethyl glycol in paints causes birth defects in newborn children.

In fact, the VOCs don’t go off that quickly. These emissions can be detectable in interiors even after 5 years of painting.

b) Effects of VOCs on our environment:

Not only humans but the VOCs are also known to cause damage to mother nature as well.

When VOCs are exposed to sunlight, they create greenhouse gases and later form a ground-level smog layer in the atmosphere. This smog is harmful to the protective ozone layer of our planet.

Also, those greenhouse gases mix up with the rain, which makes the rain acidic. This acid rain affects the soil roof, water bodies, plants, and animals living inside them.

Further, the harmful emissions from VOCs affect the overall climate and contribute to global warming. Indirectly, the entire food cycle gets affected, and ultimately it reaches us.

The risks from VOCs are endless when compiled. However, such risks can be eliminated when you know how to choose eco-friendly paints without compromising your choicest color.

How Can You Get Rid Of The Risks Of  VOC Exposure From Your Paints?

Here are some actionable tips for you to reduce the risks of VOCs.

  • Choose paint labeled as “low VOC.” You can easily find low-VOC paints from brands such as Behr, Farrow & Ball, and Para.
  • Go for a “no VOC” paint as it stands as the better alternative to “low VOC.” You can choose your desired “no VOC” color shade from brands Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, and Yolo Colorhouse. These carry almost zero VOC.  No VOC paints are natural and are basically milk and chalk paints.
  • Check the labels carefully as darker colors tend to have higher VOC levels.
  • Prefer latex and water-based paint over regular oil-based paints.
  • Using less amount of paint while spraying results in low VOC emissions and also avoids wastage.
  • Apply modern spraying technology with enhanced “Transfer efficiency” to reduce emissions. Airless paint sprayers emit lesser VOCs than the HVLP sprayers.

What Does The Market Trend Say About Eco-friendly VOC Free Paints?

According to a recent market report, the low VOC paint market is climbing towards a CAGR of 6.5%. Today, 83% of people are opting for water-based paints than latex paints.

People are leaning towards natural, low-VOC paints more and more.

This is happening due to the increasing awareness about the harmful effects of VOCs and the regulation of strict federal limits.

Final words!

Selecting the best interior paint is quite puzzling while you weigh both the pros and cons of their chemical makeup. But whatever it may be, the end goal should be to choose paint-free from any toxic side effects without compromising your color preferences.

Today you can get plenty of low-VOC or zero-VOC paints as safe alternatives. Also, natural paints are as durable as regular paints. Yes, they may cost a little higher, take a few more days to dry, and need a re-coat sooner because they lack some useful-but-harmful chemical agents. But does that mean more than your health, anyway?