What does low VOCs in paint actually mean?

Let’s break this question down into three parts:

1 October 2021

Painting a wall in Oregano

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are combinations of elements that easily turn to gas or vapor at normal temperatures. They are volatile because they are not tightly bound, and organic as they don’t easily dissolve in water. We have thousands of these carbon-based chemicals in products around our homes including in air fresheners, carpets, cleaning products, cosmetics, paint and much more. VOCs can also be created biologically, for example by some kinds of mould found in the home.

Are VOCs in paint dangerous?

Breathing in high levels of Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can result in short-term irritation such as headaches, dizziness, itchy eyes, and a runny nose. However sustained exposure to high levels of VOCs can be linked to more serious long-term illness. In addition, as they are released, they cause environmental damage as they collide with gases in the air.

The fumes, or smell, released from a newly painted room are mainly due to VOCs. As paint dries the elements that keep it in its liquid form begin to evaporate. A very strong-smelling paint is an indication that it is high in VOCs.

Most VOCs disperse very quickly as paint dries. However, they can continue to release gas slowly for several months. Within the home this will be influenced by many things including insulation, it is always recommended to open a window when painting.

These days there are controls in place requiring that the VOC content of products, in their intended ready for use state, will not exceed the VOC limits applicable to the relevant product category. In the paint industry these are measured in grams per litre (g/l).

Which paint has low VOCs?

Water based paints have lower Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than solvent based, and they are washed out with water. However, they vary in their VOC content and therefore if you want a paint that is better for the environment, as well as your health it is best to check the VOC content before you buy.

All Fenwick & Tilbrook paint is water based, and the VOC content of our paint is kept very low despite being highly durable. In every category our paint is well below the VOC limit set by the Industrial Emissions Directive. In the table below you can see our VOC content in grams per litre (g/l) in comparison to the industry requirements. In all categories we are classed as having minimal VOC content according to the British Coatings Federation Globe Scheme.

VOC chart

Fenwick & Tilbrook VOC calculation method has been independently verified.