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What You Should Know About VOC in Paints


You probably have heard that VOCs are not suitable for your health. That’s a danger that comes along with paints and painting projects. We’ve run-down essentials that you should know about VOC paint.

What are VOCs?

A volatile organic compound (VOC) is a chemical that contains carbon and that is likely to be in its gaseous form under normal conditions. VOCs can exist in almost everything, technically speaking, including the aroma of the coffee we drink. Consider the aroma of the coffee as you roast or brew it. However, there is no need to give up our coffee habits because we shun away VOCs. 

However, there are potentially dangerous VOCs. These are those insides of paints, air fresheners, and dozens of other products commonly found in households worldwide. Many VOCs contain formaldehyde and benzenes, both of which are suspected to be known human carcinogens.

What at VOCs in paints?

Paints contain several compounds with specific functions.

PigmentTo impart colour and opacity
BinderA polymer (or resin) to hold the pigment in place
ExtenderLarger pigment particles are added to give additional functionality – strengthening the film, improving adhesion, etc.
SolventEither an organic solvent or water, which reduces the viscosity of the paint and makes it easier to spread
AdditivesTo modify the properties of the liquid paint or dry film, e.g., anti-fungal.

Organic solvents are the primary source of VOCs in the paint. As a solvent, it carries the paint to the wall and allows it for easy spread. Certain organic compounds in the solvent then evaporate into the air as the paint cures and dries. This evaporation of organic solvents is the primary source of VOC.

Formaldehyde. One of the best-known VOCs in paint is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde in the paint can inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. However, the bad news is that there are several health concerns concerning the off-gassing of formaldehyde from freshly painted indoor surfaces. Exposure to formaldehyde can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and neurological effects

PGE. PGEs (propylene glycol and glycol ethers) are in the paint solvents. PEG is a VOC that is less volatile than other VOCs yet performs very well as a solvent. It is used in water-based paints, making water-based paints of a relatively lower level in VOC levels.

Acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde, on the other hand, is added to paint as a binder. Acetaldehyde off-gassing (the airborne release of a chemical, being in vapor form) can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory tract.

How dangerous are the VOCs in Paint?

Paint products with high volatile organic compounds are dangerous for the health and environmental impact. Scientifically, VOC paints emit air pollutants that can form harmful ozone and decrease greenhouse gases. Off-gassing from paint VOCs can give harmful side effects to the body, such as headaches, nasal irritation, allergic reactions, and breathing complications.

Exposure to VOCs in the paint can lead to congenital disabilities, learning delays and can even increase the chance of miscarriage. Volatile organic compounds are associated with cancer

Aside from paint products, volatile organic compounds are also present in several indoor sources—building materials such as varnishes, sealants, adhesives, finishes, wood products, etc. Home care products are also present in some disinfectants, pesticides, air fresheners, fuel, gas, cosmetics, and deodorants. So they are not just in paints.

So what now?

There are low- and zero-VOC paints developed by paint manufacturers. You can identify them with the Green Seal certification, Greenguard certification, SCS Indoor Advantage Gold.

Also, it is a general safety measure to open all windows and doors during and after painting. Read also: Impact of Paint Fumes on Health.