VOC Paint vs No-VOC Paint Comparison Guide

Paints contain various chemicals that give them desirable properties like durability, color, and ease of application. However, some of these ingredients also release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be harmful to human health and the environment. VOCs contribute to air pollution both indoors and outdoors.

In recent years, low-VOC and zero-VOC (No-VOC) paints have become widely available as safer, ‘greener’ alternatives. But how do their properties compare to conventional VOC paints? This comprehensive guide examines the key differences between traditional VOC and No-VOC paints to help you choose the best option for your next painting project.

What are VOCs in Paint?

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are carbon-containing chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. Many conventional paints contain VOCs, which are released as gases both during the drying process and long after application.

The most common VOCs in traditional paint include:

  • Alkyd resins
  • Aromatic hydrocarbons like xylene, toluene, and benzene
  • Glycol ethers such as ethylene glycol
  • Formaldehyde
  • Isophorone

VOC content is measured in grams per liter (g/L). The higher the VOC level, the more VOCs the wet paint emits as it dries. Typical VOC levels are:

  • High VOC: 250+ g/L
  • Medium VOC: 50 – 250 g/L
  • Low VOC: 5 – 50 g/L
  • No VOC/Zero VOC: Less than 5 g/L

Why are VOCs Harmful?

VOC exposure has been linked to a range of health issues:

  • Respiratory problems – VOCs can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and aggravate conditions like asthma.
  • Headaches, dizziness and nausea – VOCs affect the central nervous system.
  • Damage to liver, kidneys and central nervous system – With long-term exposure at high concentrations.
  • Cancer risk – Many VOCs like benzene and formaldehyde are known carcinogens.

VOCs also contribute to air pollution when released outdoors. Indoors, they degrade air quality and are up to 5 times higher than outdoor levels.

With tighter regulations on VOC content in paint, low-VOC and No-VOC options have increased. They emit fewer harmful VOCs, improving indoor air quality.

No-VOC Paint Overview

No-VOC paints contain 5 grams per liter or less of VOCs. They are the healthiest and most environmentally-friendly option, with no dangerous solvents or off-gassing hazards.

Many premium brands now offer No-VOC paint lines, using advanced technology to minimize VOCs without compromising quality. Common descriptors include:

  • Zero VOC
  • No added VOC
  • Low-emission
  • VOC-free

While VOC-free paints are ideal, a coating is still considered No-VOC if it contains trace VOC levels below 5 g/L. These ultra-low emissions have negligible impact on air quality.

No-VOC paints are unmatched for occupant health, especially for sensitive groups like children, seniors and those with existing conditions. They also enable quicker re-occupancy after painting.

Key Differences Between VOC and No-VOC Paint

While both types contain resins, pigments and additives, there are important differences:

1. Solvents

Conventional VOC paints use strong solvents to dissolve resins and create a usable liquid coating. These solvents are responsible for high VOC emissions.

No-VOC paints avoid volatile solvents. They may use:

  • Water
  • Safer glycol ethers
  • Blends with low VOC or exempt solvents
  • 100% solids with no VOCs

2. Resin Types

Traditional paint resins like alkyds, epoxies and polyurethanes require VOC solvents. No-VOC paints utilize newer resin technologies like:

  • Acrylics
  • Vinyl acrylics
  • Latex polymers
  • Water-reducible alkyds

These resins dissolve in water and cure by coalescence, not off-gassing.

3. Additives

No-VOC paints utilize additives to enhance performance without VOCs. These include thickeners for application properties, preservatives and agents that boost durability, hide and longevity.

4. Colorants

Tinting colorants are free of VOCs in zero VOC paints. Some brands use proprietary colorants systems with near-zero emissions.

5. Odor

Conventional VOC paints have a strong solvent smell during drying from off-gassing VOCs. No-VOC paints may have a faint acrylic-like odor for the first few hours but no lingering smell.

6. Coverage

Higher solid content in No-VOC paints produces excellent hide and coverage with less coating required. VOC paints rely more on volatile solvents for application.

Pros and Cons of No-VOC Paint

| Pros | Cons |
|Emits no harmful VOCs|Limited color options in some lines|
|No solvent odors|Not available from all brands|
|Safe for health and environment|Can be more costly than standard paint|
|Fast room re-occupancy |May require extra coat for full coverage|
|Excellent durability and washability|Some limitations for specialty applications|
|Good hide and touch-up|Longer drying time for some sheens|
|MPI-approved options available|Certain colors may fade faster|

No-VOC Paint vs. Low-VOC Paint

Low-VOC paints have modestly reduced VOC levels – usually under 50 g/L. They offer a compromise between performance and lower emissions:

Low-VOC Paint

  • VOC range: 0-50 g/L
  • Uses some VOC solvents
  • Lower odor than regular paint
  • Lower cost than No-VOC
  • Good durability and coverage

No-VOC Paint

  • VOC range: 0-5 g/L
  • Non-VOC solvents only
  • No solvent odor
  • Premium performance
  • Safer for health and environment
  • Higher cost

For health-conscious consumers or painting in occupied, environmentally-sensitive spaces, No-VOC paints are the optimal choice over low-VOC options.

Types of No-VOC Paint Finishes

No-VOC paint technology is available across different paint sheens:

No-VOC Matte/Flat Paint

Best for: Walls and ceilings in low-traffic areas. Provides a non-reflective, velvety finish.

No-VOC Eggshell Paint

Best for: Walls, trim, doors. Combines low sheen with stain resistance and easy cleaning.

No-VOC Satin Paint

Best for: Areas that need mild scrubbing/cleaning. Provides a smooth, pearl-like glow.

No-VOC Semi-Gloss Paint

Best for: Bathrooms, kitchens, molding. Glossy and quite durable and washable.

No-VOC Gloss Paint

Best for: High-wear areas like trim, cabinets, furniture. Super shiny and ultra-scrubbable.

No-VOC Paint Brands

Many top brands now offer zero or low-VOC paint lines:

  • Benjamin Moore – Natura No-VOC
  • Sherwin-Williams – Harmony No-VOC
  • PPG – Pure Performance No-VOC
  • Behr – Behr Premium No-VOC
  • Valspar – Reserve No-VOC
  • Glidden – Lifemaster No-VOC

Look for ‘zero VOC’ or ‘no VOC’ labels when shopping for the healthiest paint options. Some hardware stores also have their own No-VOC private label brands.

No-VOC paints are also commonly used in:

  • Green building projects
  • LEED-certified construction
  • Environmentally preferable purchasing
  • Health care settings
  • Schools and universities

Cost of No-VOC Paint

No-VOC paints are priced as premium products, typically 40-50% higher than conventional VOC paints.

However, the health and environmental benefits outweigh the marginally higher upfront cost. Prices also vary based on brand, sheen and volume purchased.

Many homeowners and consumers are willing to pay more for No-VOC paints because of their safety and low emissions. Using less paint also helps offset costs due to higher coverage.

In commercial and institutional settings, No-VOC coatings support health initiatives and environmental goals. Their high performance also reduces lifecycle costs.

Application and Coverage

No-VOC paints apply, spread and touch up much like conventional paints. Due to higher solids content, they may feel slightly thicker.

Tips for best results:

  • Stir thoroughly before use – to fully incorporate solids.
  • Use proper primer – for maximum adhesion and hide.
  • Apply two coats – first coat acts as primer.
  • Lightly sand between coats – ensures smooth finish.
  • Clean rollers/brushes promptly – before paint fully dries.

Due to higher solid content and resin technology, No-VOC paints provide excellent hide and coverage with less coating required. This helps compensate for their higher cost per gallon.

Proper surface prep and priming will ensure best results. Some dark colors may require an extra coat for full opacity.

Dry Times

No-VOC paints generally have longer dry times, especially for glossier finishes. This is due to lack of VOC solvents that speed drying in traditional paints.

Tack-free times can range from 1-4 hours, compared to 30-60 minutes for conventional paints.

  • Allow at least 2-4 hours between coats.
  • 12-48 hours for full return to service after final coat.
  • Extended times in cooler or more humid environments.

The longer dry time is a reasonable tradeoff for zero VOC emissions and superior durability. Proper airflow helps accelerate drying.

Cleaning and Maintenance

No-VOC paints deliver excellent stain resistance, scrubbability and washability. This allows easy cleaning using soap and water, especially for glossier sheens.

Best practice is to allow at least 2 weeks after final paint coat for full curing. Avoid abrasive cleaners during this period.

Proper prep and primer ensure maximum durability and longevity. No-VOC coatings resist yellowing and have excellent color retention.

Touch-ups blend seamlessly, with no flashing or visible differences between new and existing paint.

Health and Environmental Benefits

No-VOC paints offer tremendous health advantages by eliminating irritating and toxic VOC off-gassing. This is especially beneficial for:

  • Children and infants
  • Pregnant women
  • Seniors
  • Those with respiratory conditions like asthma

Safer than conventional paints, they also help protect the planet by reducing smog-forming emissions.

No-VOC coatings support green building standards and sustainability initiatives in construction. They minimize impact on indoor air quality.

With ultra-low VOC levels, painted spaces can be occupied almost immediately after application. This allows faster return to service in commercial buildings.

Limitations of No-VOC Paint

While VOC-free paint technology has improved tremendously, there are some limitations:

  • Fewer color options – though many brands now offer 1,000+ custom colors.
  • Limited availability of specialty finishes like elastomerics, epoxies, and stains.
  • Not offered by every manufacturer yet.
  • Longer drying times.
  • Potential for faster exterior color fading with some pigments.

However, No-VOC performance continues to advance quickly, with more choices and better quality than ever.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is No-VOC paint more expensive?

Yes, No-VOC paints are more costly, usually 40-50% higher priced than conventional VOC paints. The extra cost is well worth the health and environmental benefits for many consumers. Improved coverage also helps offset the marginally higher price per gallon.

How long does No-VOC paint take to dry?

Drying times are longer for No-VOC paint, ranging from 2-4 hours between coats and 12-48 hours for full drying. The lack of VOC solvents means a slower dry. Proper airflow helps accelerate drying.

Does No-VOC have an odor?

Unlike conventional VOC paints, No-VOC options have little to no odor when drying. At most, there may be a very faint acrylic-like smell for the first few hours.

Can No-VOC paint be tinted to any color?

Many No-VOC paint lines offer over 1000+ customizable colors. But some very deep shades may not be achievable due to limitations on tint load with certain pigments.

Is No-VOC paint good for kitchens and baths?

Yes, No-VOC paints are great choices for kitchens, baths, and any high moisture areas. Their durability, scrubbability and stain resistance allow easy cleaning using just soap and water.

Does No-VOC provide good coverage?

Due to higher solid resins, most No-VOC paints provide very good hide and coverage. In some cases, they may cover better with less coating required compared to conventional VOC paints.

What’s the difference between No-VOC and Low-VOC?

No-VOC contains less than 5 g/L VOCs, while Low-VOC paints have modestly reduced levels between 5-50 g/L. No-VOC has zero emissions for the healthiest indoor air.


When choosing interior paints, No-VOC coatings offer immense health and environmental advantages. They virtually eliminate irritating VOCs and off-gassing hazards with no solvent odors.

Advanced resin technology provides excellent application, coverage, washability and durability. No-VOC paints are ideal choices for green building, residential uses and occupied spaces.

While marginally costlier than standard VOC paints, they offer outstanding performance with minimal impact on indoor air quality. As No-VOC paint technology continues to progress, these coatings will only increase in quality and color choices.

VOC Paint vs No-VOC Paint Comparison Guide

Table of Contents

  • What are VOCs in Paint?
  • Why are VOCs Harmful?
  • No-VOC Paint Overview
  • Key Differences Between VOC and No-VOC Paint
    • Solvents
    • Resin Types
    • Additives
    • Colorants
    • Odor
    • Coverage
  • Pros and Cons of No-VOC Paint
  • No-VOC Paint vs. Low-VOC Paint
  • Types of No-VOC Paint Finishes
    • No-VOC Matte/Flat Paint
    • No-VOC Eggshell Paint
    • No-VOC Satin Paint
    • No-VOC Semi-Gloss Paint
    • No-VOC Gloss Paint
  • No-VOC Paint Brands
  • Cost of No-VOC Paint
  • Application and Coverage
  • Dry Times
  • Cleaning and Maintenance
  • Health and Environmental Benefits
  • Limitations of No-VOC Paint
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Conclusion