What You Need to Know About What Could Be Lurking in Your Paint

ECOS 09/25/2018

painting a porch


Paint is a miracle tool. It can transform something that previously looked outdated, dowdy, or scruffy into something modern, fun, or sleek. It tends to be relatively affordable, depending on what you need, and easy to find if you need it. Paint chip samples make choosing a paint color a low stakes decision -- just tack some up on your wall instead of buying a can and realizing you hate it. And if you think about it, paint covers the majority of things that we encounter in a day. Likely your walls in either your home or workplace or school are painted. Furniture, floors, toys, and more all can be painted. But if you're picking out paint or thinking about starting a painting job, like painting a porch or a nursery, you ought to consider what kind of paint you're using and here's why. 

What's Lurking In Your Paint? 

The biggest offender that's usually brought up in the discussion is that of VOCs or volatile organic compounds. And to get started, we need to discuss what VOCs are. Volatile organic compounds are solvents that go out into the air over the course of the paint drying. For the record, other products also emit VOCs, but paint manufacturers have become more aware of the issues surrounding them, and have taken measures to be "low VOC" or "no VOC" brands. 

In the short-term, VOCs can lead to irritation in the eye/nose/throat area and cause headaches and dizziness, among other symptoms. There isn't as much data on the long-term effects, but given that the EPA has a cap on VOC levels, it's safe to assume you want to try and avoid too much exposure to them. 

What Impact Can High VOC Paint Have On Me? 

This can depend a lot on your age and how sensitive you are to external factors. CBC Marketplace found in a report that if there are VOC levels over 500 ppb, people with chemical sensitivities could be adversely affected. Since VOC levels tend to be much higher indoors than outdoors -- and we spend an increasing amount of time indoors -- our exposure is also much higher. So, painting a porch with high VOC paint might not be ideal, but it's better than doing it in a bedroom or a nursery, for example. 

Though the eye, nose, and throat irritation and the headaches are annoying, perhaps what's more concerning is that VOCs can cause a loss of coordination and even damage to your central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Of course, these side effects do depend on how long you've been exposed and how high the levels are that you're exposed to. 

On the whole, if you're thinking about putting in new flooring, painting your floor (or painting a porch), it's better to play it safe and choose an organic option and opt for VOC-free (or low-VOC) paints and primers. You don't want to gamble with your health. 

Does Using Low VOC Paint Have Other Benefits? 

No or low VOC paint can also improve air quality, which can help those who have a higher allergic sensitivity and reduces the risk for those who are particularly sensitive to chemicals. It can also keep contaminants out of landfills, groundwater, and the surrounding earth. Some VOCs are also ozone depleting. 

You also won't have to worry about disposing of your leftover paint as hazardous waste, which can make cleaning up and getting rid of it much easier. Fumes are also minimized and not as hazardous to your health. 

Otherwise, low VOC paint performs just like any other paint, with good durability and coverage, as well as the same application. No fuss or frills there! 

Whether you're painting a porch or painting your future child's nursery, play it safe. Don't mess around with paints that have VOCs -- opt for low or no VOC paint. Paint manufacturers are making it easier and easier to find on shelves, so do the smart thing and pick up those cans instead.