Rooms need a new coat of paint every once in a while, to keep them looking fresh and clean. While it can really help spruce things up, new paint can be hazardous for people in close proximity to it.
Paint is essentially pigment dissolved in a liquid called a solvent. Some types of paint have water as their primary solvent, and some use other types of liquids. As paint dries, the solvent evaporates, releasing chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. These chemicals are responsible for the distinctive smell of paint fumes, and they can be detrimental to air quality and harmful to human health.
The dangers of volatile organic compounds
Volatile organic compounds have been found to cause a wide variety of adverse health effects. Their severity depends on the amount of chemicals present in the air, the length of exposure and the vulnerability of the person exposed.
Immediate symptoms of VOC exposure can include headaches, eye, throat and lung irritation, dizziness, breathing difficulties and vision problems. Chronic exposure (e.g. painting professions) can lead to nervous system, liver and kidney damage, as well as certain types of cancer.
Vulnerable groups such as pregnant people, babies and children, seniors and those with breathing problems may be at higher risk for negative outcomes of VOC exposure.
Air purifiers can be used to help mitigate the effects of paint fumes, but it’s important to note that not all types of air purifiers are effective against VOCs. The most popular type of air purifier on the market uses HEPA filters, which work extremely well when it comes to physically trapping fine particles, but are powerless against the effects of chemical off-gassing.
Activated carbon filters
Activated carbon filters remove pollutants from the air through a process called adsorption. As air moves through the filter, gas molecules stick to the carbon, which has been activated to create tiny pores that increase its surface area.
Air purifiers with activated carbon filters are very effective at trapping VOCs and odours from paint fumes and other sources such as cigarette smoke, but the filter will eventually become saturated and need to be replaced for the device to maintain its effectiveness.
UV light air purifiers use a process called photo-oxidation to break down volatile organic compounds and render them harmless. The devices are equipped with specialized lamps that emit UVV rays in order to degrade chemicals and odours. There are smoke removal air purifiers on the market that are specifically designed to reduce VOCs as well as other airborne pollutants.
In addition to certain types of air purifiers, there are other methods you can use to reduce your risk of VOC exposure while painting. Water-based paint tends to release fewer chemicals than oil-based paint, so it’s worth keeping that in mind when selecting which product, you want to use.
Furthermore, no-VOC and low-VOC varieties of paint and other products that are usually prone to chemical off-gassing are now being released. Reading product labels carefully and selecting these varieties wherever possible can help protect both you and your loved ones.