We all know that paint comes in a variety of types, colours, and ingredients – such as oil-based, water-based, or latex.  Low VOC is another option, but what does it mean exactly? We explain what is meant by VOCs, their purpose, why high levels are harmful and how long VOCs last after you have finished painting a space.

What is VOC in paint?

VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds which are organic chemicals found in solvent-based and in many water-based liquids (and solids) such as paints and coatings, that vaporise at room temperature and enter the atmosphere (an occurrence known as “outgassing” or “offgassing”). It is this process that is responsible for that unmistakeable paint smell, commonly referred to as “paint fumes”, within a newly painted room.

When paint is applied inside a confined indoor space the concentration of VOCs can be up to ten times higher than outdoors.  VOCs emitted from paint do dissipate overtime, after the paint dries on the wall but this process can take a while with most dispelling within the first six months after application. Minimising the number of VOCs entering your home interior atmosphere is always recommended.

What is the purpose of VOCS?

Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals that can easily evaporate into the air at room temperature. In the context of paints, VOCs are used as solvents and additives to help with the application and drying process of the paint. They serve several purposes:

Application properties: VOCs help to control the viscosity and consistency of the paint, making it easier to apply evenly on surfaces. They also aid in the dispersion of pigments, ensuring uniform colour distribution.

Ease of application: VOCs contribute to the flow and levelling of the paint, reducing brush or roller marks and resulting in a smoother finish.

Drying time: VOCs facilitate the drying of the paint by lowering its boiling point, allowing it to evaporate faster. This can be particularly important for projects that require a quick turnaround time.

Film formation: VOCs contribute to the formation of a cohesive and continuous paint film as they evaporate, helping the paint adhere properly to the surface and creating a protective barrier.

Aerosolization: VOCs aid in the spraying process by breaking the paint into fine droplets, making it easier to achieve an even coat when using spray application methods.

However, there are concerns about the environmental and health impacts of VOCs. When VOCs evaporate from paints and other products, they can contribute to air pollution and the formation of ground-level ozone, which can have negative effects on air quality and human health. VOCs can also contribute to the formation of smog and can be harmful to both indoor and outdoor air quality.

Because of these concerns, regulations and standards have been established in many regions to limit the amount of VOCs that can be present in paints and other consumer products. Low-VOC or zero-VOC paints have become more popular as they aim to reduce the negative environmental and health impacts associated with traditional high-VOC paints. These paints use alternative solvents and technologies to achieve their desired properties while minimising VOC emissions.

How harmful are VOC fumes to our health?

Unfortunately, VOCs let off gasses that are harmful to people and the environment, which is why they are regulated by the government. VOCs are found in many paints and when you think about how many rooms in your house are painted and how many coats of paint you have applied, particularly on walls that previously boasted bolder colours, it will probably all add up to a significant amount of paint and in turn, produce a lot of paint fumes that can build up in the air of your indoor space.

The side effects from paint fumes can range depending on the level of exposure and the amount of paint fumes in the air. When inhaled, VOCs can contribute to some nasty health problems such as headaches, nausea, dizziness, and irritation to your airways.

How to eliminate paint fumes

Prevention is always better than cure, so it is important to try and use products with minimal amounts of VOCs whenever possible to minimise health effects. After painting a room, you will need to increase the air flow and ventilation within the space as much as you can. An air purifier can help speed up the dissipation process of paint smell in the air as they are specifically designed filtration technology that can remove contaminants from the air to help improve the air quality in the indoor space.

How do I know the VOC content of my paint?

There are a few ways you can find out the VOC content of your paint.  The first place to look for information about the VOC content is on the paint pot itself.  Most manufacturers are required to provide VOC information on the label. Look for phrases like “VOC content” or “VOC emissions”.

Other ways to find out the VOC content of paint is to visit the manufacturer’s website or by contacting the manufacturer’s customer support. The paint retailer may also be able to provide you with the VOC content of their paint products. There are also online databases and resources that compile information about the VOC content of various products, including paints. You can search these databases to find information about specific paint brands and products.

In many cases, products containing VOCs will display details of the VOCs contained and will assign one of the 5 classifications on the packaging:

Do Wandsworth Sash Windows use low VOC paint for their products?

Rest assured, we use Teknos for all paint and treatments for our timber products.  Teknos is an extremely high-quality manufacturer of low VOC paints with sustainability at their core.

If we can help you with any home improvement project that you have in the pipeline, we’d love to chat with you.  Remember, we are more than just a window company – we have our own in-house team of skilled builders and can offer a complete design and build service for large projects too. We manage all aspects of your project, including architectural design, planning, and all construction works, easing the burden for you. We work with our customers to ensure everything is perfect and the project runs seamlessly. We’ve undertaken a wide range of extensions, property refurbishments, loft extensions and other large projects across London and the South East.  From ground works to plumbing, electrics to tiling, landscaping to decorating.

Contact the Wandsworth Sash Windows team

Talk to us – we can help with your bespoke window, door and joinery requirements. Call 02079247303 or email info@sashwindows.london.