VOC and health benefits, marketing tools?

A look into just why companies want to keep getting away with flagrant marketing, and what it means for consumers.

How much can we rely on the facts and slogans relating to toxicity, health and sustainability?

We all start with great intentions when considering painting and want the best for our walls. We often do some research and find some paints we like. Most of the time we stop reading after we hear Zero VOC or Low VOC or statements to that effect, which is a reasonable way to react to that marketing. Rest assured, that is what manufacturers want us to do. Paint manufacturers like to keep it short and most important of all keep it opaque by using words that suggest good health characteristics while not saying anything specific or in many cases provable.

There are some manufacturers in this field using words like super premium eco-paint or “Hypoallergenic Formula” combined with ” Odourless additive-free formula “. From another company first-grade anti-stain. My favourite is odor technology, close to the water’s smell. There are so many of these “facts” that are pretty much useless as a measure of the health or quality of paint.

They are to some degree backed up with some certification or test that is obscure and often unrelated to the region where the product is sold or used. In short, you could conclude that they are backed up by nothing you can relate to or know much about. In fact, practical testing by a third party that is applicable to where you purchase and apply the product rarely exists. When they do exist, even if not local, none really explain or confirm the declaration of the stated super efficiency and over-the-top health and safety claims.

Worse still…

Worse still, not any of these statements carry any real liability or responsibility by the ones making them or the ones using them to promote and sell their products. There is no governing body no real consumer organization that protect consumers. So, companies can keep stating what they feel like. Invent the most healthy and good sounding phrase and sell paint on these flimsy one liner health declarations.

Take this statement for example:

“It can resist 11 kinds of bacteria and 11 kinds of fungus, reducing the risk of infections.” We do not know what bacteria or fungus and we should put it in the relation of total number of bacteria and fungus.

This is an abstract of an article in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health talking about the total number of bacteria.

A modified biological species definition (BSD), i.e., that bacteria exchange genes within a species, but not usually between species, is shown to apply to bacteria. The formal definition of bacterial species, which is more conservative than the modified BSD, is framed in terms of DNA hybridization. From this I estimate there are a million species of bacteria in 30 grams of rich forest topsoil and propose that there will be at least a billion species worldwide.

This is an abstract of an article in US National Library of Medicine National dealing with number of fungi.

Fungi are major decomposers in certain ecosystems and essential associates of many organisms. They provide enzymes and drugs and serve as experimental organisms. In 1991, a landmark paper estimated that there are 1.5 million fungi on the Earth. Because only 70000 fungi had been described at that time, the estimate has been the impetus to search for previously unknown fungi. Fungal habitats include soil, water, and organisms that may harbor large numbers of understudied fungi, estimated to outnumber plants by at least 6 to 1. More recent estimates based on high-throughput sequencing methods suggest that as many as 5.1 million fungal species exist.

So, by taking these studies as a reference the product in question will resist, expressed in %, 0.0000011% of bacteria and 0.0002157% of fungi. Is that something worth highlighting? Is it something, as we do not know what type they might prevent, we should consider a benefit?

We should also be aware that many bacteria and fungi are actually good for us and needed, while many others are not harmful at all. But there are those that are dangerous and those are the ones we should protect us against.

The true and honest question we should ask. Can we blame the companies for doing this? Or should we rather blame ourselves?


Of course not! We could never be directly responsible for the choices manufacturers make, however, we are responsible for letting it continue, without stopping it. At the end of the day, we are the one’s buying it and we are the one’s using it.

As long as we keep buying based on the (mis)information, the companies will not change.

Should we go to any of these companies and ask what it actually mean when they say super premium eco-paint, odor technology, first grade anti-stain and so on. If we all decided not to buy based on these flimsy one-liners and in most cases the lack of solid explanations they will soon disappear. Just like the VHS tape did. Businesses are driven by sales and their activity and public relations are all tailored after what we want and what makes successful sales.

Imagine a market place where we could compare brands equally against each other. An independent organization establishing the standard that all paint providers have to comply with for the benefit of consumers and the environment. Its just a thought, perhaps it’s a concept that interests you?