In Exterior Painting, How To, Interior Painting, Paint FAQ's, Painters Advice, Painting FAQ's, Painting Tips

Fifty years ago paint was a solvent-based product believed to be the strongest and most durable.  Paint technology today has advanced incredibly making water-based paints a.k.a. acrylics as equal in their ease of application and durability as the almost extinct solvent based paintspaint cans

Paints today have fast dry times, are very durable, environmentally safe to use high quality paint products.  Gone are the days of the toxic fumes and odors that use to cause serious health issues.  Most paint manufacturing companies now produce paint products that do not emit any toxic fumes or odors, are safe to use around children and pets, have little to no VOC’s and are environmentally friendly.

What Is The Difference Between Water Based Paints and Solvent Based Paint

The difference between solvent based or also referred to as oil-based and water based paints also known as alkyd paints is that the solvent based paints have high levels of VOC emissions.  Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are gases that can be found in many everyday household products.

Solvent based paints were easy to apply and considered to be extremely durable on painted surfaces, the down side of using the solvent oil-based paints was that they released strong odors and toxic fumes that impacted homeowners and the environment.

Government regulations have now become stricter and require paint manufacturing companies to reduce the VOCs in the paints they produce.

Homeowners today, along with reliable painting companies tend to always chose the safer, eco-friendly water-based paints for all their interior and exterior painting projects.  Little to no VOC emissions, no toxic smells or fumes, makes it the first choice for homeowners and painters alike.  Homeowners like the fact that there are no strong lingering smells and within a few hours all their furniture can return to its original place in the room.

Painters appreciate using the water-based paints as it avoids having to wear a mask to protect them from the toxic fumes that used to cause headaches, trouble breathing, nausea, dizziness and made everything smell like a harsh chemical.  In the 1970’s lead based paints were a hazard to work with because of their level of lead containment.

Solvent Based Paints

Oil-based paints a.k.a. solvent-based paints contain natural oils such as linseed or a synthetic alkyd, and are made up of pigments, resin and a solvent thinner.  Once the solvent thinner begins to evaporate or paint begins to dry, the resin element in the formulated paint creates a hard coating.  The resin of an oil-based paint creates a hard coating that is not breathable, and helps to resist stains and rust over time.   They take longer to dry and oil-based solvent paints are harder to remove from flooring, skin or clothing.

The solvent based paint products emit strong toxic fumes and strong odors that make it difficult for painters to use without wearing a mask.  These odours and fumes were and still are very noticeable when entering commercial buildings or spaces as the oil based paints are most preferred to use as they are provide stronger and longer durable coatings factor.

Homeowners used to paint with oil paints back in the 1970’s as they were popular for painting kitchens and bathrooms where the moisture and humidity were more prominent than any other rooms around the house.

Although not as popular anymore in today’s interior home painting oil paints are sometimes used to paint trim, baseboards and doors,  especially exterior doors as it will give the utmost in strength and durability.

The best painting companies today will recommend the use of a semi-gloss paint finish for exterior and an eggshell sheen  finish for interior walls and on the trim, baseboards, cove molding and interior doors.

Oil-based paints are extremely durable and can withstand rough contact making them ideal for moldings and trims.

Water Based Paints

Water-based paints also named latex or acrylic paints have a quick dry time, little to no smell and are environmentally safe.  They are made up of a pigment, a binder and a percentage of water.  They adhere well to the drywall surface if properly prepped and are easily used to paint over existing oil-based paints.

Because water-based paint products dry quicker than the solvent-based paints and produce very little to no odors or fumes, the homeowner can safely stay in the same room while the painter is painting.

When painting any room it is recommended to use a water based paints as the enviro safe way to go.  With a never ending selection of paint colour choices and paint finishes that have long durability and easy wash factors, today’s water-based paints are the better choice than their solvent-based paint predecessor.  The elimination of the strong emissions from the volatile organic compounds (VOCS) make water based paints the safer choice for humans and the environment.

How To Tell The Difference Between the Water Based and Oil Based Paints

A quick way to tell the difference and to know if the paint on your current walls is oil-based or water-based is by wiping it with a rag that is wet with either soap and water or alcohol.  After wiping the wall surface, if there is any paint on the rag it means that the paint is water based, on the contrary if there is no paint colour rubbed off on the rag that is a sure clear sign that it is an oil based paint.

What is Paint Made Of

Paint is made up of pigments, binders, and liquids that are compounded together.  Pigments are fine powders or particles like that of titanium dioxide and provide the different paint colours and shades along with the coverage details.

Binders are plastic polymers that bring the pigment together to form a durable coating.  Latex or water-based paints have 100 percent acrylic binders while the oil-based paints have linseed or synthetic alkyd oils.

Liquids are the mineral spirits used in oil based paints that bring everything together to create a tough and durable coating or film.  While liquids in oil paints evaporate those of the latex or water-based paints stay flexible yet durable.  The water liquid helps latex paints to keep its colour most noticeably when used on exterior surfaces that have exposure to direct sunlight.

What Are Volatile Organic Compounds VOCS

Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are gases that are emitted from both solids and liquids and can be found in many household products.  These chemical gases can have short or long term health effects.

From cleaning products to furniture to flooring and even cosmetics many of the products we use in our everyday lives emit VOCs.

Where Do Volatile Organic Compounds VOCs Come From

VOCs can be found in our everyday lives from the products we use around the house.  Many household products emit these volatile organic compounds while using them and even while in storage.  To get an idea of what some of the simple everyday products we use that emit these gases are, here is a short list of a few.

Products that emit VOCs include:

  • paint, paint strippers and other paint solvents
  • varnish
  • dry-cleaned items stored inside the home
  • aerosol sprays
  • cleaning products
  • disinfectant products
  • glue
  • air fresheners

Other products that can also emit VOCs  include some of the furniture in our home, flooring whether that be carpet or hardwood, they all emit gases inside our home.  These VOC gases are released inside our homes and may result in short term or long term health issues such as headaches, breathing difficulties, asthma, eye nose and throat irritation, nausea, loss of balance or co-ordination, fatigue, dizziness and in more severe cases can lead to liver, kidney or central nervous system damage.

Health Canada website has more information on indoor air contaminants and volatile organic compounds – VOCs.  The EPA – Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. provides information on steps to reduce exposure and the impact on indoor air quality and can be useful if you have been experiencing any of the above mentioned symptoms.

If you have unused chemicals around the house, garage or shed dispose of them properly.  Paint can be stored and saved for a little while but if you have old leftover paint you should dispose of it safely by checking the City of Ottawa website for the hazardous waste collection for collection dates.

Choose an Enviro-Friendly Painting Company

If you are doing your own DIY painting it may be reassuring to know that today’s paint manufacturers like Benjamin Moore Paints has been approved and certified by the Asthma Society of Canada (ASC) as a Asthma & Allergy Friendly because of its low emission of VOC’s,  and it exceeds performance standards, to ensure the lowest possible if not non existent allergenic and sensitizing chemicals are omitted such as that of their Natura Paint.

Whether it’s water-based or solvent-based always buy the best quality paint you can afford.  Consult with painting companies near you for your next project.

Contact us and rest easy in knowing that todays house painters in Ottawa use the highest quality paint products for all our painting services.


This post was originally published on December 29, 2020 and updated on August 29, 2021