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Community and Q&A

Low-VOC or No-VOC furniture paint and finish

smokey11106 | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

Hi. I’m having some cabinets built for my house by a cabinet maker, and when I went to check out one cabinet that had been completed I was surprised that I didn’t notice very much odor from the surface of the painted cabinet.

When I asked him what type of paint it was, he stated it was water-based. The paint can was covered with paint, but I could make out that the VOC was 95. Is this classified as a low-VOC paint (I’m in NY)?

If it isn’t, can anyone recommend a durable furniture wood paint and wood stain finish that is Low or No VOC?


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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    The GBA Product Guide has a section on paints and finishes:

  2. Riversong | | #2

    According to the US EPA, standards for low VOC latex paints are 250 g/l and 380 g/l for oil-based paints. However, look for the Green Seal and you’ll see the standard for latex paint is 50 g/l. Most LOW-VOC paints will have around this level, not the EPA level of 250 g/l.

    These levels apply to the base paint only. If a manufacturer adds pigment, preservatives or pesticides, the VOC content will be higher. Until recently, many water-based paints added mercury as a preservative. The Green Seal means no toxic chemicals were added.
    NO-VOC Paint

    Even paint that is marketed as NO-VOC can contain VOC’s as soon as pigment is added. At under 10 g/l, this is a good option but it is not likely to be VOC-Free unless you get a plain white paint with no additives.

    Natural Paints or Non-Toxic Paints contain ingredients from natural sources. Some sensitive people might react to terpines and citrus oils in these paints. They emit naturally occuring VOC’s.

  3. Eric Schroeder | | #3

    Thanks again, Martin, Robert. The paint that is being used on my kitchen cabinets is actually called Promar 200 by Sherwin Williams. The MSDS lists the VOC @ total = 0.18 to 0.23 g/l and "Less water" VOC @ 0.40 to 0.73 g/l. Does that sound right? Could it be that low, almost no VOC? Am I reading it wrong?

  4. Riversong | | #4

    Yes, you're reading something wrong. Promar 200 has about 100-500 g/L, depending on surface finish (flat to gloss).

  5. Eric Schroeder | | #5

    I'm looking at the MSDS right now and the sheet says: for flat white (the color I chose) - B30w201 "Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Total - (lbs./gal) - 0.18 - 0.23". Then next line: "Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) - Less Water - (lbs./gal.) - 0.40 - 0.73". I can email the MSDS to you if you wish. I plan on calling Sherwin Williams tomarrow to ask.

  6. Riversong | | #6


    That's pounds per gallon. All the VOC standards are in grams per liter (g/L).

  7. farfigngn | | #7

    Well called SW today and they gave me MSDS for exact paint - flat white. I guess the white is bettter without the tints. Does this classify as low VOC and which number is the do I pay attention too? Thanks.
    VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOC Theoretical - As Packaged)
    0.46 lb/gal 56 g/l Less Water and Federally Exempt Solvents
    0.16 lb/gal 20 g/l Emitted VOC

  8. Riversong | | #8

    You use the higher number, which is the ratio of VOC (by weight) to the volume of solids (excluding water and other "thinners").

    Be aware, though, that these numbers, and the air quality regulations on which they're based, count only ozone-depleting VOCs and exempt some - such as acetone - which are unhealthy to humans but benign to the air. So you still need to examine the entire MSDS for other toxins.

  9. farfigngn | | #9

    Thanks, Robert. Good Stuff! I will look at the MSDS again.

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