What is "No VOC"?

R. Anacan

Products that are touted as containing no VOC are products containing very low levels of volatile organic compounds. Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are carbon compounds which evaporate at room temperature and are released as gases from certain solids and liquids. Products that contain VOC include paint, solvents, cleaning products, adhesives, plywood, insulation and carpet. While many products may call themselves no VOC or zero VOC, the name may be slightly misleading as most low or no VOC products generally have a small amount of volatile organic compounds in them.


Studies have shown that exposure to VOC can be harmful to people. Short-term exposure may exacerbate the symptoms of respiratory conditions such as asthma and may also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It is also believed that long-term exposure to VOC can increase the risk of cancer and increase the risk of liver and kidney damage.

Volatile organic compounds are also believed to have a detrimental effect on the environment. As the compounds are released into the environment through evaporation, they may contaminate groundwater supplies and soil. In some areas, VOC emissions may also contribute to smog and air pollution. Some municipalities with air quality problems have legislated restrictions on products with VOC to reduce the potential for air pollution.

Although it is clear that volatile organic compounds can be harmful, their presence in products continues to persist because the compounds actually help products perform better. Taking paint as an example, paint is composed of three basic elements. The elements include the pigment, which gives it color, a binder, which helps the pigment stick to the surface that the paint is applied to and a solvent which makes the paint easier to apply.

VOC exists primarily in the solvent portion of the paint, although it may also be found in the pigment and binder. The volatile organic compounds are the very things that make paint easier to apply and more effective in covering the area being painted. When manufacturers created no VOC paints, they needed to remove and replace the very substances that made their paints work well. Consequently, no VOC paints were often derided as being of lesser quality while being more expansive than paints with VOC.

As consumers have become more aware of the potential hazards and consequences of volatile organic compounds, interest in products with no VOC, has grown. In turn, manufacturers have created now created low VOC products that rival the quality of products with the compounds. Products without VOC are still typically more expensive than products with volatile organic compounds, but as demands continues to grow and as manufacturers develop more products, the price of no VOC items should continue to decrease.

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