New Paint Smell: Is It More Than Just A Bad Smell?

ECOS 04/15/2024

Have you ever opened a fresh can of paint, started applying it to your walls, and then noticed the awful "paint smell" that results? Did you know that it’s more than just a bad smell? One of the biggest issues with indoor painting is what’s released into the air – harmful fumes. They can cause a lot of discomfort while you’re painting and they can even have long-term health impacts. Luckily, there’s a simple solution to this problem. 

The Effects of Painting

When conventional paint is applied to a wall, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the air, resulting in that familiar strong, bad smell. How bad is it? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reported that when paint is applied in an indoor area, the VOC levels can be up to 1,000 times higher than the air outdoors. Paint isn’t the only substance to release VOCs; they can also be found in a variety of other things including glue, lacquer, cleaning supplies, fuels, and permanent markers. Breathing in these VOC compounds can cause short-term side effects such as:

  • Watery eyes
  • Irritation of your nose and throat
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
Prolonged exposure may result in much more severe conditions such as:
  • Asthma
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Nervous system damage

If you read the label on conventional paints, you’ll find a litany safety measures to reduce your exposure to these toxic VOCs. Make sure you work in a well-ventilated area; keep all windows and doors open to provide fresh circulating air; use an air purifier; etc.. It’s not terribly comforting considering you’re applying this inside your home.

A More Reasonable Solution

How about a paint with no smell and zero-VOCs? But, before you run off and grab any old zero-VOC paint, here are a couple of things you should know:

  1. Zero-VOC paints can still contain toxic chemicals. Just as you’d assume, “low-VOC” and “zero-VOC” mean a product has less VOCs than traditional paints. But, don’t take it at face value. Low or zero-VOC doesn’t always mean non-toxic or healthy or safe. Even zero-VOC paints can contain other risky chemicals not considered VOCs (like highly toxic ammonia and acetone which are not classified as VOCs and are not required by law to appear on the label). Or, the low or zero-VOC claim may only refer to the base paint – not the color tint. So, the moment you add color to your base, you’ve added VOCs right back in.
  2. Third-party, eco-friendly, and health certifications can be just as misleading. All third party certifications including the highest levels of certification allow for at least 2 teaspoons (about 50,000 parts per million/ppm) of these chemicals as part of their standards. Yet, toxic chemical exposures as low as 5ppm can cause damage ranging from skin and eye irritation to long-term damage to kidney, respiratory, and cognitive functions.

It's frustrating, we agree. That's why we developed our product line. We make everything from wall and trim paints to stains and varnishes, as well as innovative products like MDF Passivating Primer that adsorbs toxic chemicals from MDF and particleboard, EMR Shielding Paint that blocks ELF/VLF/EMR radiation, and Air Purifying Paint that adsorbs up to 98% of VOCs for up to 5 years. Check out everything we have to offer and contact one of our experts to learn more.

Photo: Daniel R. Blume  / CC 2.0