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VOC – What Does it All Mean?

VOC – What Does it All Mean?

I remember when I started painting about a hundred years ago!!! (OK, 25 years ago but it feels like 100!) - the paint was a whole lot more toxic!

The latex wall paint was ok at best and all trim got painted in oil, as did bathrooms and kitchens.

Latex paint was still toxic and oil paint was really toxic by today standards. Interior painting in the winter was challenging at best.

  • It was bad for the environment
  • It was horrible to the central nervous system and respiratory systems
  • The smell lingered for weeks and I probably would have suggested keeping birds away from areas that were being painted, because of the fumes. 

And then Low VOC came into the picture. VOC is short for volatile organic compounds, which are carbon-containing substances that easily become vapours or gases. While these compounds gave paint strength and durability they also caused respiratory problems.

To be totally honest the road to low VOC was not a pretty one! The paint didn't (and still doesn't) last as long before needing a recoat, in bathrooms or areas that had high humidity often showed signs of paint looking like it was "separating”. Paint has surfactant (basic soap that allows the paint to glide during application) in it and some of these volatile compounds helped "hold" the surfactant in. We found that some bathrooms would get brown streaks running down the walls. The paint wasn't bad and the steaks wiped off, creating a sudsy experience, but it was an inconvenience that no one wanted to experience.

Fortunately, things have gotten A LOT better and products like Harmony from Sherwin Williams is no VOC and actually has technology that removes harmful vapour and odours as it dries and cures – but I wouldn’t recommend drinking it!

We now have Low VOC or No VOC products. Low VOC typically has less than 50 grams per litre of volatile compounds (the law says 250 VOC /litre but that includes things like lacquer and oil paint) and No VOC can have as much as 5 grams per litre.

What does this mean?

  • It means that paint is less toxic. 
  • It means we can paint indoors ALL YEAR round without making people sick. 
  • It means we are caring more about our environment. 
  • It means that even though a paint may have an odour (and yes low and no VOC paints can have an odour) it's not going to hurt you or your birds!

Don't get me wrong I still miss some of the great paints of old (nothing beats oil stain yet), but my health (and yours) recognizes the benefits and the products just keep getting better.

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