What Are VOCs in Paint and How Dangerous Are They?

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Home Improvement

No matter the color you choose, the paint you bring into your home may contain hazardous chemicals.

The smell of paint can indicate that you’re breathing something unhealthy, but do you know how right your nose is?

Lead paint is not the only type that can be harmful to your health. Most of today’s paint contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that can be detrimental to your health and the environment if you don’t choose carefully.

VOCs are chemicals in paint that are released into the air as you apply it to a surface. Although most VOCs leave the paint as it dries, some can continue to be released for years, posing a risk to your family’s health.

VOCs are dangerous because they contain carcinogens, such as benzene and methylene chloride, which have been linked to cancer. They can also cause headaches, asthma, and allergies.

VOCs are necessary to solidify paint, but low- and no-VOC paints are becoming more common as paint manufacturers become more aware of the health risks. No-VOC paint contains five or fewer grams of VOCs per liter of paint, while low-VOC paint contains less than 250 grams per liter. However, these healthier alternatives can be more expensive than regular paint.

Some people make homemade paint using natural ingredients, but they come with limitations and may require specific conditions to use. Some companies specialize in manufacturing all-natural paint.

When it comes to choosing paint, opting for no- or low-VOC options is the healthiest alternative, particularly for frequently occupied rooms. However, for rooms that won’t be used as often, such as a garage or storage room, regular paint may be a more convenient and cost-effective choice. For more links related to painting and air quality, check out the following page.

Low VOC paint standards typically have less than 50 grams of VOC per liter for flat and non-flat sheen. VOCs are dangerous as they are poisonous and can cause cancer, and they also contribute to environmental damage by reacting with gases in the air when emitted. VOCs tend to dissipate quickly from paint, usually lasting only six months after application. A safe level of VOCs, according to experts, is 0.3 to 0.5 mg/m3. While most VOCs dissipate quickly from paint, they will continue to emit gas slowly for years.

Additional information related to painting and air quality can be found on the next page, including articles on low-VOC paint, carcinogens and cancer, exterior paints, types of paint, and how to paint a room. Sources for this information include the PLoS ONE journal, Green Seal, Midwest Eco-Design, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.


1. What are VOCs in paint?

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are chemicals found in many types of paint. They are released into the air as the paint dries, and can be harmful to human health and the environment. Examples of VOCs in paint include benzene, toluene, and formaldehyde.

2. How can exposure to VOCs in paint affect my health?

Exposure to VOCs in paint can cause a range of health problems, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and respiratory issues. Long-term exposure to high levels of VOCs can also increase the risk of certain types of cancer.

3. Are all types of paint high in VOCs?

No, not all types of paint are high in VOCs. Low-VOC and zero-VOC paints are available, which contain lower levels of harmful chemicals. It is important to read the labels of paint products carefully and choose those with low or zero VOCs.

4. How can I reduce my exposure to VOCs in paint?

There are several ways to reduce your exposure to VOCs in paint. First, choose low or zero VOC paints. Second, use proper ventilation when painting, such as opening windows and using fans. Third, wear a respirator mask to protect your lungs from inhaling harmful chemicals.

5. Can VOCs in paint affect the environment?

Yes, VOCs in paint can contribute to air pollution and harm the environment. When released into the air, VOCs can react with other chemicals and form ground-level ozone, which can damage crops and trees and lead to respiratory problems in humans and animals.

6. Are there any regulations on VOCs in paint?

Yes, there are regulations on VOCs in paint. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on the amount of VOCs that can be included in paint products. Many states also have their own regulations on VOCs in paint.

7. Are VOCs in paint only harmful during the painting process?

No, VOCs in paint can continue to be released into the air for weeks or even months after the painting process is complete. This is known as off-gassing. It is important to continue to ventilate the area and avoid exposure to the paint fumes until they have dissipated.

8. Can I dispose of paint with VOCs in it?

No, it is important to dispose of paint with VOCs properly. In most cases, this means taking it to a hazardous waste disposal facility. Pouring it down the drain or throwing it in the trash can harm the environment and endanger human health.

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