What is Low VOC Paint?
Many people speculate that paint is just paint. But the fact is further from such a belief simply because paint comes in a variety of formulations designed for specific needs and uses. For example, exterior house paint must withstand environmental conditions that are not encountered indoors, therefore resulting in a much more durable finish.
Common household paint, the kind you find at your local home improvement or paint store, contain large amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC). While this might sound frightening, it is factual and part of the formulation of most common paints. The level of VOC in your paint is determined by its chemical composition, which may include: formaldehyde (a potentially toxic, allergenic and carcinogenic compound), benzene (a known carcinogen), toluene (a toxin), and xylene (a derivative of benzene with neurological side effects), just to name a few.
While the levels of VOCs in paint are monitored through guidelines by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), newer and greener alternatives of paint are quickly emerging. In support of such eco-friendly formulations of paint, the EPA has established additional VOC levels for paint that can be identify a paint as "Low-VOC" or even "zero-VOC".
Common oil-based paints can contain as much as 50% petroleum based by-products, resulting in well over 400 parts of VOCs per gallon. Your common water-based paints can contain as much as 15% petroleum based by-products by weight, still resulting in high VOC levels, despite the large reduction when compared to oil-based paints. Another fact to consider when painting, is the level of VOCs that accumulate in the air surrounding the painted area. Because of poor or restricted ventilation, VOC levels indoors are hundreds of times higher than those outdoors. This is why proper ventilation is essential when painting, with any paint.
In order to be labeled a "Low-VOC" paint, it must have no more than 100 parts per gallon. And "zero-VOC" paints, although labeled as such, will still contain a minute amount of chemicals. But their low levels allow them to brand it as such, making them the safest of all available paints.