According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) they state the following in regards to paint’s impact on indoor air quality, “Most paints give off volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – chemicals that evaporate into the air – that could lead to indoor air quality problems”. Painting inside of a home where high levels of paint fumes will be produced is also been associated with causing health effects that can vary greatly – and is thus something important to consider before preparing to paint the interior of your home.
In this article we are going to discuss the risks associated with high levels of exposure to paint and paint fumes inside of a home and what can be done to reduce and eliminate potentially harmful paint chemicals from the indoor air.
Toxic Paint Fumes After Painting
Painting is one of the most common home improvement projects for a household, but it is also one that can potentially release many hazards into the air of this environment. As paint is applied to the walls in an indoor environment, the paint will begin to dry and as a result will produce strong-smelling paint fumes into the air. These paint fumes are actually the result of chemical off-gassing from VOC chemicals that are used within the construction of the paint – these chemicals as they acclimate to ambient temperatures will turn into a gas and be released into the air in what is commonly referred to as “fumes”.
When it comes to exposure to elevated concentration levels of VOCs in indoor environments from paint fume emissions, the health concerns can be heightened. According to the American Lung Association they found the following correlation between paint fumes and human health, “When individuals are exposed to high levels of VOCs in the air, it can cause a number of short-term health problems, from headaches, dizziness, runny nose, and itchy eyes. Additionally, longer exposure to elevated VOC levels can lead to nervous system and organ damage”. It is recommended to avoid areas in the home that have just been painted, where strong paint fumes will be present – it is suggested to open windows, increase ventilation, and limit exposure within these areas where fresh paint is drying.
How Long Does Paint Smell Last
Along with the hazards that come with paint fumes that are produced after painting within your home, there will also be a potent paint smell that will spread throughout the air space and taint the air of the environment. Often times, the odors that are produced from paint are the most undesirable to consumers who dread having their home reek of paint for days on end after the paint has been applied to the walls or surfaces in the home. When it comes to the duration of time it will take for this paint smell to dissipate in the indoor air, the length of the odor will vary depending on a multitude of factors including the type of paint used, how much paint was used in the environment, and the conditions in the home (ventilation, air flow, temperature, etc.).
The type of paint you use can dramatically impact the length of time that the paint smell will permeate in the environment for – as different types of paints use different chemicals that can contribute to an increased level of chemical odors in the air. The ingredients used to manufacture the paint is important to know, as these ingredients will play a major role in the severity of the paint odor and how quickly it will become dispersed into the air. The process of the odor evaporating from the painted surface can vary from days, to weeks, and even months.
Paint Ingredients: What Chemicals are Used in Paint?
The ingredients and composition of the paint is an important factor to consider before purchasing a paint for your indoor environment – as each paint will be constructed differently based on the type of paint, water-based or oil-based. Water-based paints are made using water as the solvent, whereas oil-based paints are made using organic liquids as the solvent. All paints will consist of the essential ingredients of resin or binders, pigments, and a carrier for the resin/binder and pigments to be dissolved or suspended within the paint. When the paint is applied to a surface, the carrier will begin to evaporate, and will result in a solid coating on the surface.
Oil-based paints consist of a carrier that is solvent, and this solvent is comprised of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that will adversely impact the indoor air quality when used in an enclosed indoor environment. Due to the severity of health risks that these volatile organic compounds can place in an indoor environment, the federal government has put a cap on the level of VOC content in paint at 250 grams per liter for flat finishes and 380 grams per liter for other finishes. In addition, after the increasing issues with toxic, high VOC paints, other paint manufacturers decided to develop alternative types of paint that will offer consumers a safer, less toxic paint solution. These newer paint options contain lower to trace levels of VOCs within the ingredients of the paint, these paints are called low-VOC or Zero VOC paint).
Types of Paint for the House
When it comes to selecting what type of paint to use in your home, there should be some preliminary research conducted to understand the potential effects that can occur in the environment from the use of these different types of paint. Often consumers will go with regular latex or oil-based paint that is the traditional go-to type of paint for the home, however, more types of paint alternatives have become available to select from including low VOC or zero VOC paints that offer a possibly less toxic option for your home’s air quality.
Below we are going to discuss the major differences when it comes to traditional paint vs low VOC paint vs zero VOC paint, to determine which is the best option to use in your home to reduce paint fumes and aid in the quality of the indoor air in the environment.
- Traditional Paints (Latex paint/ Oil-based paint): Previously for consumers the decision for paint to use in the home came down to either latex paint that is water-based or oil-based paint that use more chemicals within its construction and is much thicker than water-based paint. Latex paints are fast-drying paints that take only a few hours to completely dry. Additionally, this water-based paint will produce less fumes in the air, resulting in a low concentration of VOCs in the air than what oil-based paints emit into the indoor air. Oil-based paints are a thicker, more difficult paint to apply that uses more chemicals within its composition, as VOCs are the primary solvent used in these types of paints. Also, oil-based paints may produce toxic fumes into the air of an indoor environment that can last in the environment for an ambiguous amount of time following the application of the paint.
- Low VOC Paint: Low VOC paints are a type of paint that contain fewer than 50 grams per liter of volatile organic compounds within its construction per the EPA’s guidelines. However, the levels in each low VOC paint will vary depending on the manufacturer – and therefore a noticeable paint smell may be present indoors until the paint dries completely. Typically, low VOC paints are water-based, and will produce lower levels of VOCs in the indoor air when painting.
- Zero VOC Paint: Although zero VOC paint sounds like a dream for painting your home, the name of this type of paint can be a little misleading. These “zero” VOC paints actually do contain trace amounts of VOCs within its composition, but this will typically be less than 5 grams per liter in this type of paint. This type of paint is still an optimal choice for those who are trying to reduce toxins in their indoor environment and that are looking to be environmentally-conscious.
Although there are many benefits to using low VOC or zero VOC paint in your home, there are also drawbacks – as we have heard many experiences about the difficulty for these paints to dry, which will leave paint fumes present in the air of the home. This increased dry time is due to the lack of the VOCs/solvents within the composition of the paint – which in turn can create an paint odor issue in the air space that can last for an undetermined amount of time.
There are many people who will find that upon exposure to paint and the fumes that the paint produces into the indoor air that they will experience what seems very similar to an allergic reaction – leading us to wonder, ‘can humans be allergic to paint?”. When chemicals and other pollutants are released into the air as a vapor, it can trigger an allergic-type reaction in the human body that can lead to a bout of symptoms. Oil-based paints, in particular, is known to be one of the most toxic types of paints to use in the home, and therefore the symptoms that are elicited for the volatile organic chemicals released from this paint can vary significantly from acute to severe.
Paint Fume Allergy Symptoms
As we discussed earlier, the severity of human health risks will vary greatly on the type of paint that is used and the number of VOCs that are released into the air from the paint fumes. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the major symptoms that someone may experience when suffering from a paint fume allergy or reactions will include the following:
- Eye, throat, and lung irritation
- Vision problems
- And potential nervous system, liver, and kidney problems
How Long Do VOCs Last After Painting
After you have painted your home, you will most likely smell the strong scent of paint throughout the home, and many people will wonder how long will this chemical smell last? Unfortunately, there is no clear, definitive answer to this question – as each home and circumstance is different from one another. Paint VOCs that are emitted into the air following a paint application will linger in the air as the paint dries on the surfaces, in a process that is commonly known as off-gassing.
VOC off-gassing from wet paint will progress until the paint is completely dry on the surface and sometimes even after this drying process has concluded. However, over time these VOC emissions will decrease and fewer VOC concentrations will be left present in the indoor air of your home. There are several solutions that are recommended to use in your home after you paint to help speed up this chemical off-gassing in the air – this includes placing fans for increase air flow, open windows, increase ventilation in the areas where paint was applied, and even using an air purifier that is specifically designed to contain and neutralize VOCs that are produced into the air from paint fumes.
Paint Fume Filter for VOC Removal
The EnviroKlenz Air Purifier is your solution to removing a broad spectrum of noxious and toxic chemicals from the air, through the use of a patented earth mineral technology that works to actually contain and neutralize/break-down these compounds from the air space. EnviroKlenz® materials are capable of removing and destroying a wide range of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from indoor airspaces, the technology will physically absorb these compounds, rather than storing them on a filter media like many other filter technologies do (like carbon filters).
Placing the EnviroKlenz Air Purifier in an indoor environment where elevated VOC levels are present, such as after painting a home, will aid in the off-gassing process and removal of these harmful compounds from the air. However, no air purifier will be an immediate fix to your elevated VOC levels in your air, and will take time to work to contain the bulk of VOCs lingering in your indoor environment.
The chamber study found below illustrates the EnviroKlenz technology’s capability of removing a volatile organic compound from the air.
In this test a volatile organic compound was released in an environmental chamber under ambient conditions. The IQAir® was the air system that was able to remove the chemical the quickest, but since the system uses carbon media, the chemical has the potential to be released back into the atmosphere with an increase in temperature or changes to humidity and pressure. In some of our tests, we have seen carbon systems start to desorb VOCs as the temperature rises towards only 80 degrees. The EnviroKlenz® Air System out-performed the BlueAir® and Molekule® systems, while also offering more than just physical absorption. The EnviroKlenz® Air Cartridge works through a combination of physical and chemical mechanisms.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Addressing Indoor Environmental Concerns During Remodeling (link)
- American Lung Association: Volatile Organic Compounds (link)
- Environment, Health, and Safety Online: Paint Fumes: Health Dangers in the Paint in Your Home (link)
- Generic Latex Paint Products: Product Selection and Description (link)
- Australian Paint Approval Scheme (APAS): Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Limit (link)
- The Spruce: Eco-Friendly and Natural House Paints (link)
Mobile Air System
✓ Patented earth mineral technology works to attack VOCs and break them down on a compound level
✓ No chemicals or masking agents
✓ Will not release any chemicals back into your environment
✓ Safer and faster at removing VOC’s than traditional carbon filters and PECO air purifiers