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Eco-Friendly Paint: What You Need to Know

Eco-Friendly Paint: What You Need to Know

As people around the United States and the world become more environmentally conscious, green initiatives are popping up in just about every industry and application. In the painting industry we have seen the growth of eco-friendly paints, which offer a more environmentally-friendly option compared to traditional paints.

Today we will take a closer look at eco-friendly paints so you can learn about what they are and so you can ask for them by name for your next painting project.

Differences between Eco-Friendly Paint and Traditional Paint

The main difference between eco-friendly paints and traditional paints is the amount of VOCs. We will discuss VOC in a second, but to make a general statement, eco-friendly paints are specially formulated to have lower levels of these chemicals, and therefore to be safer for the environment and personal health. As we will discuss later, many other supposed ‘differences’ are simply myths.

What Is VOC?

VOC stands for volatile organic compound. VOCs are found everywhere and they are released by both natural things (for example, trees) and man-made things (like paint). VOCs can be harmful to people, animals and the environments, so painting developers have created more environmentally-friendly paints by lowering the number of VOCs in the formula.

Why Are VOCs Harmful?

VOCs are problematic because as the paint dries, these chemicals evaporate into the air. In a person, this can lead to nausea, dizziness, irritation, and even organ damage or cancer. You may have experienced some of these symptoms if you ever painted indoors without proper ventilation.

In the outdoors, VOCs can pollute the air, contribute to emissions-related problems, and decrease the air quality. The California Environmental Protection Agency has been working on reducing emissions and improving air quality. Part of this includes specific regulations for VOCs in coatings, which includes paints, varnishes, stains, and other coatings applied to beautify surfaces.

It is also important to understand that VOCs present long-term problems. Even after the paint dries, VOCs can evaporate into the air for up to five years.

Solution – Low VOC Paint

In the late 1990s, paint companies started to experiment with special formulas to lower the amount of VOCs in paint. The challenge was to replace the toxic chemicals with safer alternative materials, and it proved more difficult than expected. Early generations of low VOC paints had problems with application, flow, drying and more. While VOC levels went down, so did quality.

Over time, paint developers have continued to explore ways to lower VOC while preserving quality. These developers are pushed by government regulations (such as those required by California’s EPA) as well as consumer demand for environmentally safe products. The result has been an improvement in quality and an increase in the number of commercial and residential projects that use low VOC paint.

Low VOC vs No VOC Paint

There are currently two types of green paint options on the market, known more generally as low VOC and no VOC. Both types attempt to lower (or even eliminate) the amount of harmful chemicals found inside the paint.

To qualify for a low or no VOC label, the paint must go through EPA test 24. In this test, they measure the concentration of VOC inside the paint. Low VOCs are paints that have less than 50 VOC grams per liter. Because the test can only measure down to 5 VOC grams per liter, “no VOC” paints are those that have less than 5 VOC grams per liter (which doesn’t guarantee the complete absence of VOC, but does demonstrate that it has the lowest level that we can currently measure).

Myths of Low VOC Paints

As mentioned above, the difference between traditional paint and low VOC paint has to do with the amount of VOC chemicals in the formula. Other myths about the differences are simply not true. These myths include:

  • VOC paints don’t work as well as traditional paints in terms of application and coverage.
  • VOC paints don’t come in a range of colors.
  • VOC paints are not as durable as traditional paints.
  • Reduced toxins emitted into the atmosphere.
  • Better for personal health (allergies, sensitivities, etc.)
  • Low or no hazardous fumes when being applied and after paint has dried.
  • Easy cleanup and disposal, as low VOC paint is not deemed a hazardous waste.
  • Effective in terms of coverage and the ability to cover flaws.
  • Scrubability and easy water-based cleanup.
  • A company that drives fuel efficient vehicles or uses carpooling practices.
  • A company that has a solid recycling plan.
  • A company that makes good use of ‘waste’ paint, such as donating it to charities rather than throwing it away.

Paint developers have been working hard to create low VOC formulas that match the quality of traditional paints in every way. They come in a wide variety of colors, can be applied just as easily and effectively as traditional paints, and are made to last.

A final myth is that low VOC paints are not affordable. This is not true. Although low VOC paints cost a little more than traditional paints, they are still cost-effective and within budget for anyone who wants to make a smaller environmental footprint on their next painting projects.

Benefits of Low VOC Paints

While we’ve cleared up the myths about low VOC paints, it’s still important to point out their specific benefits. These include:

The environmental benefits are particularly important to people living in San Francisco and the Bay Area. The area has been a leader in sustainability and environmental activism. In fact, a recent Pew Research Center poll found San Francisco to be the 4th Greenest City in America out of 150 cities that were explored in the research.

The other benefits on the list are important to any homeowner who cares about his/her own health as well as the appearance and maintenance of their painted surfaces.

Finding an Eco-Friendly Painter


You can find an eco-friendly painter in your area by doing a little homework in advance. The first thing is to look at the company’s website. If a painting company uses eco-friendly practices, you will typically find it listed on their home page or About Us page. By exploring the website you can get many of your questions answered before you get an estimate.

Whether listed on the website or not, the next thing is to ask the company about the type of materials they use. The company should be able to tell you that they use low VOC paints on their residential or commercial projects.

Of course being eco-friendly is more than just paint materials. Other things you may look for are:

  • A company that drives fuel efficient vehicles or uses carpooling practices.
  • A company that has a solid recycling plan.
  • A company that makes good use of ‘waste’ paint, such as donating it to charities rather than throwing it away.

Choosing Eco-Friendly Paints for Your Next Painting Project

Now that you know more about eco-friendly paints, you understand how important they are for the environment – both the indoor environment that impacts your health, and the outdoor environment that impacts us all. Use this knowledge to ask specifically for eco-friendly, low VOC paints on your next painting project.

MB Jessee is proud to offer eco-friendly painting services to homeowners and business owners in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more about or eco-friendly initiatives here, and call us at (510) 655-7000 to schedule an estimate.

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