The 9 Best Zero VOC Paints of 2022

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When it comes to home decorating projects, more people are looking to avoid that new paint smell that's caused in part by volatile organic compounds. VOCs are carbon-containing organic chemicals in indoor air that come from building materials, furnishings, and carpet and detach (also called off-gassing) from the product into the air.

Some VOCs have been found indoors at two to five times higher than outdoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to VOCs can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, damage to the central nervous system, and cancer. Some data shows that VOCs may be absorbed through the skin and absorbed into the blood.

Based on research and consumer demands, coatings manufacturers are introducing more eco-friendly lines. There are also organic and plant or mineral-based paint alternatives. To qualify as low-VOC under current standards, a paint (or primer or other coatings) has to have fewer than 250 grams per liter, while non-VOC products have less than 5 grams per liter.

These are a few of the best non-VOC paint options, which are all popular and readily available.

The Rundown
For more than 30 years, ECOS Paint has been helping consumers with chemical sensitivities spruce up their homes.
Since 2012, Behr has offered an affordable zero-VOC and low odor interior paint line.
Eco Spec® is the “greenest” interior premium acrylic paint from Benjamin Moore.
South Carolina-based Earth Safe Finishes has been making VOC-free paints for two decades.
The primer is Greenguard Certified to emit fewer chemical emissions.
These petroleum-free paints are neither acrylic nor latex but made of soy-based alkyd.
AFM SafeCoat products are ideal for anyone with chemical sensitivities, vulnerable groups, and children.
These paints and primers (before colorant) emit just 3 grams per liter of VOCs, according to the manufacturer.
A combination of milk protein, lime, and natural pigments, milk paint, creates a long-lasting muted color.

For more than 30 years, ECOS Paint has been helping consumers with chemical sensitivities spruce up their homes. Each paint is water-based, zero-VOC, low-odor, and manufactured in the United States. Each product includes a complete ingredient list and VOC test data. Looking to match your favorite paint color from a different brand? ECOS can do that, too.

Behr Premium Plus Low Odor Interior Paint

1 gal. Ultra Pure White Semi-Gloss Enamel Low Odor Interior

Since 2012, Behr has offered an affordable zero-VOC and low odor interior paint line. The self-priming product seals uncoated and previously painted surfaces. The mildew-resistant finish is 100% acrylic and has a quick drying time. It is highly versatile and available in multiple finishes. It’s Greenguard Gold Certified to meet standards for low chemical emissions. Check out their water-based, no-VOC Pro i300 line for larger projects.

What Editors Say

"I was skeptical about not needing primer, but Behr's Paint & Primer really does cover well. I used two very different shades in different rooms, and although I did need a second coat in both, I was very happy with the results." ~ Margaret Badore, Treehugger Senior Editor

With the phase-out of the Natura line, Eco Spec® is now the “greenest” interior premium acrylic paint from Benjamin Moore. It comes in three finishes—flat, eggshell, and semi-gloss—mixed with all available colors. It’s tinted with the company’s Gennex® zero VOC colorant system. It is Green Seal Certified, and also certified Asthma & Allergy Friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Earth Safe Finishes

Varnish Matte

South Carolina-based Earth Safe Finishes has been making VOC-free paints for two decades. They have a wall paint line for interior, and exterior applications, including one they claim is safe for babies. They also offer a no-VOC water-based varnish, zero-VOC stains and pigments, and sealants specially designed for furniture and arts and craft projects.

Sherman Williams Harmony Interior Acrylic Latex

Sherman Williams Harmony Interior Acrylic Latex

This Sherwin Williams product is a readily available primer that creates an excellent foundation for painting new walls, patches, or covering up old colors. The primer is Greenguard Certified to emit fewer chemical emissions. Top it off with the company's zero-VOC Harmony acrylic latex paint that features an anti-microbial ingredient to reduce the growth of mold and mildew. It’s a great duo to use in kitchens, bathrooms, and any other rooms that may have excess moisture.

Green Planet Paints

Green Planet Paints

Green Planet Paints are an eco-friendly interior and exterior paint line that comes flat and eggshell finishes, both with built-in primer. They are plant and mineral-based and zero-VOC and contain no heavy metals, biocides, or preservatives. These petroleum-free paints are neither acrylic nor latex but made of soy-based alkyd. You can choose from 48 zero-VOC colors that are also derived from clay-based and mineral pigments. Custom colors are also available.

AFM SafeCoat products are ideal options for anyone with chemical sensitivities, vulnerable groups, children, and commercial projects like hospitals, schools, and offices. This line was created in partnership with environmental medicine physicians and their patients to reduce air pollution and off-gassing. The company says that all its building products are formulated to meet high-quality performance standards with negligible toxic off-gassing.

Yolo Colorhouse

Yolo Colorhouse

These paints and primers (before colorant) emit just 3 grams per liter of VOCs, according to the manufacturer. In addition, they are free of methylene chloride, 1,2 dichlorobenzene, phthalates, isophorone, formaldehyde, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, along with the heavy metals antimony, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury. They are compliant with the Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, meaning they are suitable for use in certified green buildings.

Milk paint is an old-school method for adding color to surfaces. A combination of milk protein, lime, and natural pigments, milk paint, creates a long-lasting muted color. In 1974, the company started with eight colors to match the classic stylings of furniture and buildings in farmhouses in the early American colonies. Today you can choose from 32 hues.

What to Look for in Zero VOC paint

Ingredients

Choose latex or water-based options over oil-based as oil-based paints have higher petroleum levels and higher amounts of VOCs.

But keep in mind that there are still VOCs in Zero-VOC paint, just at lower levels. Paints marked as VOC-free will have VOCs totals under 5 grams per liter before the tint is added. Adding pigment adds to the full, so make sure any marketing claim that a product is no-VOC refers to the paint base plus coloring.

Non-toxic and natural options are primarily made by smaller paint companies and may be less readily available. They’re typically water, plant oils, plant dyes, milk protein, and minerals such as clay. These products tend not to perform the same way a mass-produced paint does, but they are VOC-free.

Certification

Check for a Greenguard certification, which indicates that a product has been tested for over 10,000 chemicals and VOC emissions. A label on this product means that it meets strict standards of low emission levels to maintain indoor air quality. A Greenguard Gold certification means that a product emits even fewer VOCs than the standard Greenguard certification.

FAQs

Are zero VOC paints safe for a baby’s room?

Choosing paint for a nursery is a fun part of preparing for the arrival of a little one, and water-based, lead-free, zero VOC paint can be a good option. When choosing paint for indoor use, review the product label carefully and ensure safety for children. Always paint when you can have good ventilation by keeping windows open during and after application. Letting paint dry and cure before you use the room can also be helpful.

Does zero VOC paint smell bad?

While zero VOC paints (including natural options like milk paint) have lower chemicals, they may still have a slight odor. It’s always important to paint in a well-ventilated area. Whether or not you’re highly sensitive to paint fumes, consider wearing a dust mask or a respirator to offering protection.

Does zero VOC paint last as long?

Most zero VOC paints made by large paint manufacturers are made to high-quality standards to be durable and provide good coverage. Zero-VOC paints tend to be water-based paints, which tend to be sturdier than latex paints. Water-based paints tend to be less durable than oil-based options, yet Oil (or petroleum) based paints have higher levels of VOCs.

Why Trust Treehugger?

Heidi Wachter has been writing about health and the environment for over a decade. She’s also a DIY home improvement enthusiast who is constantly repairing something in her 100-year-old home.

View Article Sources
  1. Indoor Air Quality Scientific Finding Resource Bank. “Volatile Organic Compounds.” Berkeley Lab.

  2. Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality.Environmental Protection Agency.

  3. Hurley, Robin A., and Katherine H. Taber. “Occupational Exposure to Solvents: Neuropsychiatric and Imaging Features.The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, vol. 27, no. 1, 2015, pp. 1–6., doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.270101