How To Cut Down On the Amount Of VOCs In Your Home


It’s a rite of passage that accompanies moving into any new house: painting. Putting a new coat of paint in a room can liven it up and painting can come with a real sense of accomplishment; like you are putting your stamp on the house and making it feel like a home.

For all the enjoyment that can come from painting, there’s a lot of risk involved too, particularly risk that you can’t necessarily see. A fresh coat of paint may look good and might liven up a room, but it could also harm your home.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be irritants during whatever home repair you might be working on. Using those chemicals can ratchet up the number of pollutants in your home very easily and quickly. The number of pollutants can lead to a number of health problems and the exposure to VOCs is much greater inside than outside.

Common VOCs include benzene, formaldehyde, butanal and toluene. When it comes to flooring, Formadehyde, benzene and toluene are some of most common. Toulene is found in paint, benzene is found in paint and glue and formadehyde is found in floor finishing products and some plastics. Water-based polyurethane is a good low-toxic alternative to formadehyde.

VOCs have a great impact on air quality indoors and are emitted as gases from solids and liquids. These can range from cleaning products to degreasers to hobby products like glue. CBC Marketplace reports that VOC levels of more than 50 parts per billion (ppb) can affect people with chemical sensitivities.

When it comes to paint, there are three basic types:

  • Latex: Latex paints have a water base and have fewer VOCs as a result.
  • Oil: Oil paints are durable, but have a chemical base and have the highest level of VOCs.
  • Natural: Natural paints use things like chalk, casein and linseed instead of chemical bases. They do emit some VOCs and it’s best to test them to figure out if you’re sensitive to certain ingredients.

To keep your home allergen and pollutant free, consider using products like an eco friendly clear coat for painted wood and low-VOC wall primers as well. Primers have changed in recent years due to changing VOC regulations. In many cases, primers made with latex perform well as an alternative to oil-based primers, but in some cases oil-based primers still work best.

If your home already has a coat of VOC paint on it, there are several steps you can take to deal with that problem and lower the amount of VOCs in the house.

  • Remove it: to completely eliminate the potential harm of VOCs, it may be best to strip away the existing coat of paint for a fresh surface. Keep in mind through that stripping away old paint or sanding it away may expose VOCs such as lead.
  • Cover it: If a paint job is more than five years old, like on your floors for example, you can paint over a coat of high VOC paint with an eco friendly clear coat for painted wood. The amount and type of VOCs emitted depends on the type of paint used and if it’s been a long time since an old coat was applied, the chances of VOCs still being emitted are less.
  • Use sealing primer: a good non-toxic sealing primer can effectively block different VOCs and can work wonders on a fresh coat of paint that’s high in VOCs.

Keeping an eye out for low-VOC products extends to wood working around the house as well. Applying a clear coat for painted wood gives a finished product a great look, but you can also find a low-VOC lacquer to keep it eco-friendly and safe. The same principle can be applied to wood flooring. If you’re painting it, apply a clear coat for painted wood to cut down on VOCs, especially if it’s a highly trafficked area in your home.
The best rule of thumb is to just read labels and keep an eye on what you’re buying. Paints, stainers, spray paints, wood conditioner and other products for home projects can be very high in VOCs, so keep a sharp eye out to make sure you’re not buying something that’s going to be harmful for your home.