This week we are introducing a series called Friday Fundamentals where we will explore some of the more technical aspects of paints, stains and finishes and share the “whys” behind of the things we do at CeCe Caldwell’s Paints.

This week we are going to look at colorants: what they are, what they do and the good and the bad that they add to paint. Not all colorants are created equal. I am fanatical about the colorants that go into our paint and I hope that after this post you will appreciate why I am. (Sorry, this is a very long and somewhat techie post.)

Most of you understand that the colorants in paints are the very concentrated liquid emulsions that are added in various rations to give paint base it hues. They are the largest source of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) within paint. Some colorants also include Alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APE or APEO), talc and other sources of respirable dust. Some colorant packaging (the used container) must be disposed of in a hazardous landfill.

I have looked at the technical information and Safety Data Sheets (SDS) of many different “no’ and “low’ VOC colorants. Boy, have I looked! Our colorants are very expensive! I would love to find a line of colorants that offer everything the ones we use now at a lower price point. I will not use colorants that have *VOCs, APEs or that their containers must go to hazardous disposal site.

So, what is a Volatile Organic Compound? Many think that VOCs are something that we can completely eradicate from this world. However, they are not. Plants give off VOC’s during photosynthesis. WHAT? If plants give them off, why should you be concerned about them in your paint?

So, technically, “VOCs are organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature. Their high vapor pressure results from a low boiling point, which causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate from the liquid or solid form of the compound and enter the surrounding air, a trait known as volatility. For example, formaldehyde, which evaporates from paint, has a boiling point of only –2 °F.

VOCs are numerous, varied, and ubiquitous. They include both human-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds. Some VOCs are dangerous to human health or cause harm to the environment. Anthropogenic VOCs are regulated by law, especially indoors, where concentrations are the highest. Harmful VOCs typically are not acutely toxic, but have compounding long-term health effects.[1]

Did you catch that last sentence? Harmful VOCs typically are not acutely toxic, but have compounding long-term health effects. What it means is if you splash some VOC-laden paint on you when painting, you are not likely to get sick. However, repeated, chronic exposure to VOC-laden paint (do you paint most days of the week or have painted furniture in your home?) can make you sick!

Please protect yourself!


So, what are Alkyl phenol ethoxylates? APE’s are a much lesser known class of chemical that are in many colorants and paints. To me, it is as important that my colorants do not contain APE’s as it is that they do not contain VOC’s, maybe even more so. They are endocrine disrupting chemicals: APE’s have the ability to interfere with the hormonally controlled processes in the body. Your body’s endocrine system controls so many functions: growth and development, metabolism, sexual function, reproduction and mood. Diabetes, MENS, obesity, certain types of cancer (breast, testicular, prostate) and fertility all can occur due to problems with hormones. Additionally, there are concerns within the medical community of a pregnant mother’s exposure to APE’s due to impacts on neurological development, ambiguous genitals in newborn boys, and precocious puberty.

If you are a messy painter like I am, you may have your hands covered in paint all day long. I do not want my skin to absorb APE’s, nor do I want you to be exposed to them.



A recent review of a SDS for a VOC-less colorant was looking pretty promising. I thought that I might want to try the line out. Then, near the end of the SDS, was the note that the container needed to be disposed of as hazardous waste. What concerned me is that the SDS ‘read’ pretty safe. It was a huge red flag that something was wrong! Oh yeah, I also do not want the added cost of paying for hazardous disposal.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is very true. I recently went to my local Lowes store to buy a couple of quarts of the Valspar®  Chalky Finish Paint. I wanted to see what the big box stores are offering. The can says, “This product contains less than 50 g/L VOC”. When the gentleman was adding the colorants, I asked if he was using the low VOC tints. He told me no, that the Chalky Finish Paint was not formulated for use with the low VOC tints. I asked if the “less than 50 g/L VOC” was before or after the colorants and he could not answer that question. If paint contains less than 50 g/L of VOC it can be labeled ‘low VOC’ and if it contains less than 5 g/L of VOC it can be called ‘no VOC’. My understanding is that base paints that are then colored at a store can be labeled “low VOC” even if the colorants that will be added to the paint will put it over the 50 g/L level.


If you have stuck with me this long, you surely know that CeCe Caldwell’s brand paints are no VOC, both the paint and tint. They always have been and always will be.









* Our colorants, according to the VOC definition as in 1999/13/EG, 2004/42/EG contain less than 0.07% of VOCs. Most paints contain 10% or less of colorants.

Valspar is a Registered  Trademark of The Valspar Corp and has no affiliation with CeCe Caldwell’s Paints.

[1] Source: Wikipedia