When Zero VOC Does Not Mean Zero VOCs: Beware the Tints

Tom Lent | February 25, 2010

So, you picked a low- or no-VOC paint or high performance coating (HPC) and it still smells. What went wrong? It might be the tints.

Listings of the VOC level in product literature for paints and HPCs generally only account for the un-tinted base product. Each ounce of colorant added to tint your paint or HPC may contain anywhere between 5 and 20 grams of VOCs. For a subtle off-white tint, requiring an ounce or less of colorant, this may not significantly affect the overall VOC content of the coating. A rich or dark-tinted color, however, could require 5-10 ounces of colorant, and the impact could be significant, adding 100 or more grams of VOCs per liter of paint or HPC.

Furthermore, some manufacturers add substantially more VOCs to the base products designed for deep colors, effectively doubling the VOC content before tints are even added. In the Pharos Project, the net result could be to drop a product by up to four (4) points on the IAQ and other Toxic User Exposure (UseTox) scale.

What to do? If you are selecting a deep or dark tint, confirm that your base is still low- or no-VOC. Then, ask your distributor for VOC-free tinting. Several paint and HPC manufacturers now offer VOC-free colorant lines. Some examples are AFM Safecoat, Benjamin Moore, ICI Freshaire, and Mythic paints and International Building Products high performance coatings.