Inside Consumer Reports Test Labs: How we test low-VOC interior paints

Consumer Reports News: March 18, 2010 11:26 AM

As you can see in our March 2010 report on interior paint, nearly all the top-scoring paints are among the lowest in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are linked to pollution, smog, and respiratory problems. They contain no more than 50 grams per liter (g/l), much less than the 380 g/l once common in the most-used low-luster paints. They're also within the tougher federal VOC limits we called for in our March 2009 report on interior paint, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose this year, and meet stricter regional limits in California, such as those in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Watch the video (right) to see how we test low-VOC paints.

Some paint brands promote their green cred on their cans, highlighting certifications that are self-awarded or from independent groups. But those certifications don't guarantee top performance, as you can see below.
Greenguard
This independent organization requires manufacturers to measure off-gassing from drying paint and allows only trace levels of VOCs, including formaldehyde and styrene. Companies pay Greenguard to have paint tested along with at least $3,000 to use the Greenguard logo. Freshaire Choice has it. But it scored at the bottom of our ratings of interior paint (available to subscribers) in two out of three categories.

Green Seal
This group, also independent, limits VOCs (50 g/l for flat paint, 100 for nonflat; with colorant, 100 g/l got flat, 150 for nonflat), prohibits certain other hazardous substances, and assesses performance. Companies pay Green Seal $2,500 to $10,000 to have paints evaluated and to use the Green Seal logo. VOC levels are from manufacturers; no currently tested paints have the logo.

GreenSure
GreenSure certification was created by Sherwin-Williams, is self-regulated, and covers only the company's products. Paints with the GreenSure logo must have VOCs of 50 g/l and be free of certain other chemical substances. The logo is on Sherwin-Williams Harmony and Duration lines, which generally rank low in our ratings of interior paint (available to subscribers).
 
Green Promise
Green Promise was created by Benjamin Moore, covers only its products, and requires VOCs of 50 g/l or less. It also requires paints to use zero-VOC colorant, according to the company. It's on Aura and Natura paints, which were very good overall but were outscored by lower-priced paints.

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