What is VOC Paint: Effects & Safety Tips When Painting Your House

With up to 34% of eco-conscious Singaporeans looking for green products, it’s no wonder paints with minimal volatile organic compounds (VOC) are much sought-after by consumers. Choosing low or zero-VOC paints for your next painting project is important if you want to reduce giving off unhealthy air pollutants! Read on to find out more about VOCs and if you can avoid them in paints.

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Introduction to VOCs in Paint

Understanding VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are toxic chemicals found in various products such as cleaning or building materials. VOCs emit harmful gases into the air and exposure to it can lead to serious health conditions.

Most common household products or items contain VOCs such as the following:

  • Carpets
  • Furniture
  • Cleaning agents
  • Air fresheners
  • Cosmetics
  • Paint and varnishes

Health and Environmental Impacts of VOCs

While some people may only experience short-term side effects from VOC exposure, such as headaches, burning eyes, or scratchy throats, others suffer far worse health issues. VOC toxicity can cause long-term health effects such as:

  • Cancer
  • Damage to kidneys, lungs, or central nervous system
  • Respiratory ailments such as asthma
  • Memory impairment
  • Visual disorders

VOC emissions from smoke, power plants and vehicles contribute to the accumulation of ozone in the atmosphere resulting in smog. VOCs contribute indirectly to climate change and chemical imbalances in the air which can also result in acid rain.

However, indoor VOC levels can be up to seven times higher than outside, making you more prone to air pollutants inside your home or office building.

The Evolution of Paint and VOC Regulations

Historical Perspective on Paint Composition

Forty years ago, all paints were oil-based with a high content of VOCs. However, governments worldwide are imposing stringent regulations to minimise the use of VOCs in paints. This has resulted in the development of water-based paint with low to no VOCs included.

Governments are now capping the VOC allowed in paints to reduce toxic emissions caused by these volatile organic compounds. Modern homes are now mostly painted with low or zero VOC paints to mitigate the risks of health issues associated with these harmful chemicals.

Current Standards for VOC Levels in Paint

Understanding how to read paint labels will help you to know the VOC level of the product. Flat or matte paints normally have low VOC levels – the label on the tin should indicate that there are less than 50 to 100 grams of VOC per litre of paint. Zero-VOC paints should have fewer than 5 grams of VOC per litre of paint.

In 2023, the Singapore Government spoke about limiting formaldehyde emissions in building and household products. Formaldehyde is a common VOC found in paints and manufacturers are required to provide proof that their products meet the emission limits stipulated by the Singaporean government.

Choosing the Right Paint: Low VOC and No VOC Options

Understanding Low VOC vs. Zero VOC Paints

Low VOC paints contain less than 50 grams of volatile organic compounds per litre. Zero VOC paints must contain less than 5 grams of these compounds per litre. This means you’ll still find levels of VOCs in zero or no-VOC paint products.

This misconception can lead to some consumers believing there will be no VOC emissions in their homes or commercial buildings. It’s equally important to understand that zero-VOC paints can still contain other harmful chemicals, especially if a colour has been added to the product.

Top Brands and Products in Singapore

The following top paint brands in Singapore are popular for their low- or zero-VOC products:

  • Nippon Paint
  • Raffles Paint
  • Benjamin Moore Paint

When a leading research and analytics firm, Forrester Singapore, decided to update its office design, it switched to low-VOC paints to cut down on harmful emissions in the workplace.

Choosing the Right Paint: Low VOC and No VOC Options

Application and Performance

Low or no-VOC paints need more than one coating to avoid a streaky appearance. Low-VOC painting projects often need to be repainted sooner than standard paints containing higher levels of VOCs.

Regular paints can be more durable than low or zero-VOC paints. However, manufacturers are improving the durability of no-VOC paints, although they’re more expensive.

Colour, Quality and Cost

The more colour you want from your paint, the higher the VOC level! Adding colorants to paint means adding more VOCs to enhance the colour richness of the product. When comparing the quality of low VOC paints with regular products, the former wins handdown with fewer contaminants, less odour, and less impact on the air.

However, low or zero-VOC paints are often more expensive than regular paint.

What Are VOCs: Effects & Safety Tips When Painting Your House

Safe Painting Practices

Use the following painting tips to reduce exposure to VOCs even if you’re using low to zero-VOC paints:

  • Keep the room well-ventilated and open all windows and doors to reduce paint fumes indoors.
  • Wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles and masks to minimise exposure to harmful gases.
  • Mop up any spilled paint as soon as possible and dispose of it in an outside bin.
  • Avoid consuming food or beverages or smoking while painting.

Special Considerations

VOCs are harmful for pregnant women and it’s best to avoid painting altogether during your pregnancy. However, if you have to paint your baby’s nursery before the birth, select low or zero-VOC paints and wear protective gear. Avoid painting rooms close to elderly inhabitants or sick occupants.

Keep children and pets away from painting projects and ensure that all paints and cleaning materials are securely locked away and out of reach from little hands.

The Future of Paint Innovations and Trends

Technological Advancements in Paint Manufacturing

With more awareness around VOCs, paint manufacturers are using technological advancements to reduce volatile organic compounds in their products. By reformulating their paints, brands such as Benjamin Moore can offer quality zero-VOC paints with fewer toxic ingredients.

Paint manufacturers are using advanced technology to produce sustainable or environmentally friendly products with less off-gassing when applied. Benjamin Moore is the only paint brand in Singapore that sells green paint that’s certified as “Asthma and Allergy Friendly”.

Predictions for the Paint Industry

With more consumers choosing eco-friendly paints, manufacturers are focusing on low or no-VOC paint options. Many countries, including Singapore, are paying attention to environmental matters such as climate change and are putting stringent regulations in place to lower carbon footprint.

This will have an impact on the ingredients used to formulate paints, with more focus directed towards green products with no or fewer volatile organic compounds in the future.


Regular paints may be cheaper than low or zero-VOC paints but they do pose serious health risks. Government regulations are focusing on reducing VOCs in products, including paints, to help minimise these concerns.

When choosing a low or no-VOC paint speak to our Painting Guy team using the two buttons below  – we can assist you with your green painting projects. We only use top paint brands for quality work and results! If you’ve found our article useful, please share.

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