Quick Tip: Use Low-VOC Paints

Try the new low-VOC paints that get the job done with fewer toxic chemicals

By Bob Vila | Updated Jul 9, 2013 11:15 AM

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Low-VOC Paint

Most VOCs will dissipate as the paint dries, but it is best to wait several days before moving into a room that’s just been painted.. Photo: From Bob Vila's Babyproofing the House

The Danger of VOCs
There’s more to that new paint smell than you might think. There are already federal restrictions on them because they’re damaging to the ozone layer, but more and more studies are showing that volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are dangerous to humans.

Precautions to Take When House Painting
VOCs are found in paint and lots of other products that contain solvents and petrochemicals. Their concentration can be 10 times higher indoors than out, especially right after a home improvement project. While most VOCs will dissipate on their own as the paint dries, they continue to off-gas at low levels for years. Ventilation is key during and after any paint job. Never use exterior paint indoors, and wait several days before moving into a room that’s just been painted.

VOCs and Health Concerns
High-level exposure to VOCs has been linked with eye and breathing problems, headaches, nausea, dizziness and even cancer. Children and asthma sufferers are especially vulnerable. Because of these health concerns, paint manufacturers have been putting a lot of effort into new lines of low- and no-VOC paints.

What Qualifies as Low-VOC Paint?
Petrochemicals are what make up 5 to 15 percent of standard latex paints and about half of oil-based paint. That’s about 450 parts per gallon. Until recently, these toxic chemicals were what made the paint work well. Now, to qualify as low-VOC paint, they must contain 100 parts per gallon or less and still do a good job.

Benefits of Non-toxic Paint
Non-toxic paints have lots of benefits, but one of the greatest is easy cleanup. Because it’s not considered a dangerous substance, you can clean up the mess with soap and water and dispose of the cans in your regular trash.