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Low- or No-VOC Paints, Finishes and Adhesives

Low-VOC paints do not release significant pollutants and are virtually odor free.

Not so long ago, it was common for fumes to drive people from their homes during repainting. Most conventional paints contained high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that produced a breathable gas when applied. The VOCs diminish air quality, and may be detrimental to your health. Today, alternative manufacturing techniques have allowed the development of low- and no-VOC paints that release no, or minimal VOC pollutants, and are virtually odor free.

Paints, adhesives, and other protective finishes are often formulated with solvents (or VOCs) to improve performance and durability. Additionally, paint cleanup often requires toxic solvents that release additional VOC pollutants. However, increased awareness of possible health risks and overall air quality concerns has led to a demand for products lower in VOCs. Manufacturers have therefore risen to the challenge, mainly by developing high-quality, latex-based coatings and adhesives for a wide variety of uses. Latex paints use water as their solvent and carrier, allowing both easier cleanup and generally lower toxicity than oil-based paints. Today, latex paints are equal or better in quality and durability than conventional oil-based formulas. Many stains and clear finishes for floors and cabinets are also commonly available.

It should be noted that not every latex-based coating is low in VOCs. Products may be described as low-VOC when they off-gas significantly less than other products. Some oil-based paints qualify as low-VOC because their formulas have been modified. VOC levels are expressed in pounds per gallon (lbs/gal) or grams per liter (g/l). Interior paint is given a Green Seal if it has a VOC content less than 50 g/l (for flat sheen) or 150 g/l (non-flat sheen).

For persons who are particularly sensitive, or have strong concerns about air quality, most major manufacturers now offer special no-VOC paints that are odorless and completely "VOC-free."

Environmental Performance

Because they lower the emissions of potentially harmful pollutants, low- or no-VOC paints can improve indoor and outdoor environmental quality and human health.

Safety and Disaster Mitigation

Low- or no-VOC paints and finishes can be safer for people with chemical sensitivities.


Some painting applications may require coatings that are not available in low- or no-VOC formulas.

Low- and no-VOC paints typically cost about the same as a manufacturer's premium line of paints.

Not Applicable

There are no building code limitations on use of low-VOC paints. Low-VOC paints are tested for toxicity, coverage, fire resistance, and durability in the same manner as conventional paints. Regulating bodies include Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The National Volatile Organic Compound Emission Standards for Architectural Coatings became effective in 1999. The regulations limit VOC content of flat paint to 250 g/l and non-flat to 380 g/l.

The Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) regulates VOC standards in many Northeast states, and more states will be adopting regulations in 2006 and 2007. OTC regulations require VOC content of flat paint to be 100 g/l or less; non-flat paint 150 g/l or less.

Not Applicable

Application techniques for low- and no-VOC paints are the same as for conventional paints and coatings.

Not Applicable

Because low- or no-VOC paints have less odor and less impact on air quality than higher VOC-content paints, they are excellent for use in buildings where it is desirable to maintain good indoor air quality, such as hospitals, schools, or the homes and workplaces of those who are chemically sensitive. When using latex paints, clean up requires only soap and water. Since VOC emissions may contribute to higher ozone levels, use of low-VOC paints may improve overall air quality.

Disclaimer: The information on the system, product or material presented herein is provided for informational purposes only. The technical descriptions, details, requirements, and limitations expressed do not constitute an endorsement, approval, or acceptance of the subject matter by the NAHB Research Center. There are no warranties, either expressed or implied, regarding the accuracy or completeness of this information. Full reproduction, without modification, is permissible.