Zero VOC? Is it safe for my kids to be around while painting? Relax, it’s fine. I’m not talking about stinky oil-based paints or dangerous lacquers, I’m talking about good ol’ interior water-based latex paints. So what exactly are VOCs? VOCs are Volatile Organic Compounds, which essentially are the solvents that evaporate while the paint is drying/curing. That fresh paint smell? VOCs! In fact VOCs are not limited to paint at all. That new car smell we all love? Yup it’s VOCs again! The chemicals from your new car’s vinyl and leather upholstery will be giving off that smell for months.
Back in the 80’s a slew of environmental laws were passed that changed the way architectural paints are made forever. Some paints that we sold every day just vanished from the market overnight.
So why all the fuss? In a nutshell the law states: “Certain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in many paint products react with nitrogen oxides in the air in the presence of sunlight to form ozone and subsequently pose a health threat in the lower atmosphere by causing respiratory problems.” And the market for The first low and Zero VOC paints was born. They first appeared in the early 90’s and were generally not very successful. Not only were the new paints more expensive, but they were also in some cases, defective (Benjamin Moore’s Pristine was a nightmare). In addition to having some performance problems, very few people really even cared.
Today is a different story. While modern paints are very safe, and it is unusual for people to have a reaction to paint fumes, it does happen. Fortunately zero VOC paints are now the norm and all the bugs are pretty much gone. Benjamin Moore’s Regal Select, Aura, Ben, Advance and Natura paints are now all zero VOC……but all zero VOC paints are NOT created equal. Many paint companies use Glycol-based tint that add VOCs to the paint when custom colors are made (Benjamin Moore uses a zero VOC Gennex tinting system .) and some use “exempt solvents” such as additives and modifiers that can cause odor. Only Benjamin Moore’s Natura line of paints are truly “Emission Free”. The only thing evaporating into the air is water. If you’re not crazy about that “Freshly painted” smell, then Natura is the paint for you! But believe it or not, our most popular latex paints are still Benjamin Moore’s Regal Classic line which clock in a just under 100 G/L VOC (Eggshell, Pearl and Semigloss are 150). All paint companies by law must post VOC information somewhere on the can but it can be confusing. Below are two Benjamin Moore stamps. The first is from Benjamin Moore’s Ultra Spec latex flat white. Notice the MAX VOC 00000 G/L. That’s a fancy way of saying zero VOC. The next is from a gallon of Benajmin Moore’s Classic Regal Matte finish in Super White; notice the MAX VOC 100 G/L stamp. I’m sure you got this now.
While VOCs in interior paints will soon be a thing of the past, I think I’m going to miss that “freshly painted smell.