Consumer News

Companies Painting VOCs with Broad Brush

VOC-free claims can be tricky for paint, paint stripper and other products.

Consumer News

Companies Painting VOCs with Broad Brush

With spring cleaning approaching, you may be thinking of sprucing up your abode with a fresh new coat of paint. But before you dip your brush, you may want to check out exactly what is in the can and any claims that a product are free of volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs.

Why VOCs matter

VOCs are emitted as gases at room temperature from various solids and liquids. Paints, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, glues, permanent markers, and thousands of other products all emit VOCs. Some VOCs may have adverse short- and long-term health effects, and they may also harm the environment by contributing to ground-level ozone creation and smog.

Because of these health and environmental concerns, many advertisers promote products as low-VOC or VOC-free. But are they really?

What does VOC-free mean?

The Established in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is the United States government’s primary regulatory authority in the area of consumer protection and anti-competitive business practices in the marketplace. Its Bureau of Consumer Protection assumes the lead in the Commission’s efforts to eliminate deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices at work in the economy. advises marketers that a product may be advertised as “VOC-free” if the product contains only trace amounts of VOCs, if the trace amounts aren’t harmful, and the VOCs weren’t added intentionally.

However, the FTC recently amended this after two paint companies — Sherwin-Williams and PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. — were accused of deceptive marketing for advertising paints that contained trace amounts of VOC as “VOC-free.” The FTC ruled that paints could only be advertised as free from VOCs if they aren’t adding any VOCs to the air.

Colorants are key

Plenty of base paints are advertised as free from VOCs or low in VOCs, and really are. But many stores make colored paints by adding a colorant to a base paint. And while the base paint may indeed be free of VOCs, the colorant could be loaded with them. So after tinting, your “VOC-free” paint will be anything but.

Consumers concerned about the environment or their health should check the labels of their paint, and be sure that tinted paint isn’t adding any VOCs to a low-VOC base.

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