Low VOC paint is a paint with reduced levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This paint is more environmentally friendly than traditional paints, in addition to being better for the health of people who work with it, although it's also harder on the wallet than conventional paints. Many stores which stock paint carry low VOC paint or can order it by request from customers, and these paints can be custom-blended for desired shades just like conventional paint. Customers who are concerned about cost may want to inquire about bulk discounts, which are often on offer to people purchasing large volumes of paint.
VOCs are compounds which rapidly vaporize. In paint, VOCs are used in the solvents which ensure that the paint dries quickly; without solvent, the paint would take a long time to cure, which would make painting difficult. However, VOCs are also bad for the environment, because they create ozone, and this same trait makes them dangerous for human health. As anyone who has walked into a freshly painted room knows, VOCs have a very strong odor which makes their offgassing obvious at first, but many people are not aware that paints continue to offgas for years after application.
With a low VOC paint, the formulation of the paint has been changed to reduce the overall VOC content of the paint. In addition to making the paint more pleasant to work with because it does not smell as strong, this also reduces the health risks associated with exposure to VOCs. VOC levels are very high inside most homes, and paints are a major contributor to this. A low VOC paint is designed to perform like conventional paint, without the harmful ingredients.
Low VOC paints are also called low odor paints, reflecting the fact that they do not smell as strong. Several manufacturers also produce no VOC or no odor paint, although this term is a slightly misnomer, because these paints actually do contain trace amounts of VOCs. In addition to paints, varnishes and other types of finishes can also be purchased with a reduced VOC content.
Regulation about paint labeling varies around the world, and the VOC content of a low VOC paint can actually vary quite widely. For consumers who are especially concerned, it may be a good idea to purchase paints which have been certified by an independent organization; the Green Seal, for example, has very stringent standards applied to low VOC paints which bear its seal.
Low VOC paint is especially recommended for parents, because children are particularly vulnerable to health problems from VOCs. Being exposed to these compounds can cause breathing problems and other health issues in a developing child.