Eco-Friendly Paint Options: Low VOC, No VOC, and What’s VOC Anyways?

Painting your home is one of the easiest ways to bring new life to your space, make it feel like home, or put the final touches on a remodeling project. If you’re looking to make an eco-friendly upgrade to your home, take a moment to consider the type of paint you’re purchasing. There are plenty of eco-friendly paints – low VOC, no or zero VOC, and natural paint – that you can use to repaint your home while staying environmentally friendly.

So whether you’re looking to paint your entire home a new shade or spice up your rental home in San Diego, CA, there’s a lot to consider when choosing an eco-friendly paint option. Let’s take a look at what these paints mean so you can pick the right option for your home.

paint brush and can that contains some volatile organic compounds in the paint

What is VOC?

Volatile organic compounds, “VOCs” are gas emissions from some liquids and solids. Different chemicals can be considered VOCs and some may even have short- and long-term health impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that “sources of VOCs” in “Household products, [include] paints, paint strippers and other solvents” and that when applied, “[paints] can release organic compounds while you are using them, and, to some degree, when they are stored.” The EPA continues on saying, “Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors.”

As a result, the repeated release of VOCs can impact indoor air quality and may cause reactions like headaches, eye irritation, and nausea. Many traditional paints include VOCs, meaning that your home is exposed to these gasses long after that new paint smell is gone. Luckily, there are many low and zero VOC paint options out there that can help reduce the effects of conventional paints.

paint can and paint brushes on a tarp covering hardwood flooring

What is low VOC paint?

Low VOC paint is paint that has fewer amounts of VOCs, typically less than 50 grams per liter. Although this ratio can vary in certain states like California where guidelines are more stringent. Low VOC paints also vary by manufacturer, so make sure to read the labels thoroughly. You’ll likely still notice the smell of paint fumes because low VOC paint still contains VOCs.

Typically, low VOC paint is latex and water-based, compared to traditional oil-based paint. Due to their toxic chemicals, oil-based paint is very difficult to find and you can likely only purchase it in small amounts. Low VOC paints are widely available and found in many colors. Some well-known paint brands that produce low VOC options are Behr, Benjamin Moore, and Valspar, among others.

What is no or zero VOC paint?

Zero VOC paint has, as you may have guessed, no VOCs. It is important to note that there may be some VOCs used during the paint tinting process. As a result, paint is considered no VOC if there are less than 5 grams per liter. Zero VOC paints can be a great option for those looking to reduce their impact on the environment, help improve indoor air quality, or if you’re particularly sensitive to paint fumes.

You may have fewer colors and finishes to choose from when picking a no VOC paint, but there are still plenty of brands that offer options. Some brands that sell zero VOC paints include Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, Clare Paint, and Green Planet Paints.

swatches of non toxic interior paint and zero voc paint products in light colors

What other natural paint options are there?

Another option that takes the guesswork out of finding VOC-free paints is choosing natural paint. These paints are made from all-natural ingredients and free from chemical compounds and heavy metals. Natural paints are often water-based and may include natural pigments, essential or plant oils, bees’ wax, milk paint, chalk, clay, and resins.

Natural paints typically have fewer shades and are more expensive. Some brands include ECOS Paints and The Real Milk Paint Co. However, you can also try making your own natural paint at home.

green colored paint with a matte finish in a bedroom

Determining which paints to choose

With all of the paint brands available and labels to decipher, there are a few resources to keep in mind to help you make the right decision. Some paint products have an eco-label certification, which means they have met the EPA’s framework for sustainability.

You can also check the paint brands you’re looking at on Green Seal. Green Seal is a nonprofit that certifies products based on “rigorous standards for health, sustainability and product performance.”

Another label to look for is Greenguard Certification, one of the most rigorous standards a product can meet. This means that products meet the “most rigorous third-party chemical emissions standards, helping to reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure.” The highest level of certification is Greenguard Gold Certified which means that the product also needs to meet the standards of California Section 01350.

Pros and cons of low and zero VOC paints

Pros: The biggest advantage of choosing a low VOC paint is sustainability. Opting for eco-friendly paint helps reduce toxic emissions and air pollution, and may help indoor air quality. When painting you’ll also have less paint odor.

Cons: The biggest con of choosing a low VOC or zero VOC paint option is the cost. They are often more expensive, which means you’ll have to factor the extra cost into your budget. Additionally, some paints still include potentially harmful chemicals and additives. It’s important to understand what goes into your interior paint regardless of what the label states. Whether you choose zero VOC paint or low VOC paint, having the proper ventilation is key to airing out any VOCs released into your home and helping the paint dry.

entryway of a home with desk and chair with a blue painted wall

Why is it important to consider reducing VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds can cause a host of negative environmental consequences. And in a time when climate change is affecting many homeowners, making sustainable choices is one step toward a more eco-friendly future. VOCs not only affect the inside of your home but the environment too.

They are a pollutant that creates ground-level ozone which contributes to smog. Reducing the use of VOCs may help curb the adverse effects of ground-level ozone production in the long term.

Starting on a path towards a more eco-friendly home can seem overwhelming. From sustainable architecture to reducing carbon emissions of your home, and choosing the right interior paint products, there are plenty of places to start. But each one can pave the path toward a more climate-conscious future.

Redfin does not provide health advice. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice from a medical provider.

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