With new rules regulating the use of
volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in spray paint now in effect, auto-body shop operators are under pressure to quickly convert from traditional solvent-based paints to newer water-based ones. While this is a bit of a hardship on many paint shop operations, there are a number of advantages the new coatings offering that should help small businesses justify the cost of making the transition.


In the United States, the federal rules governing the use of VOCs fall under the umbrella of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) guidelines (with individual states maintaining similar provisions). The EPA states that the health risks of VOCs include: “Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans.”

For those working in the repair and refinishing industry, those words should be fair warning to make the switch to waterborne automobile paints. Still, if further rationalization is needed, consider that the automotive industry releases about 210,000 tons of ozone-producing solvents into the atmosphere each year, with the manufacture and application of paint accounting for about 32% of all VOC emissions.

Ready-to-use conventional base-coats have a VOC solvent content of around 84% (and 16% solids), whereas a typical waterborne base-coat is composed of about 70% water (and 20% solids) and 10% solvent. So the reduction in solvent use in making the switchover is substantial.

The new federal and state regulations, essentially, mean that American paint shops will need to use waterborne paints in order to comply. Although many operators are reluctant to change, it may be a good thing for the industry for several reasons. The benefits of the regulations are:

  1.       Better for the environment: Less toxic paint is important, elevated concentrations can persist in the air long after painting or repainting is completed, according to the EPA.
  2.       Healthier for your staff: Waterborne paint reduces the emission of VOCs, improving air quality and supposedly reducing the health risk to all involved (see Study: Exposure to Solvent Fumes Can Impair Cognitive Ability Long After Retirement).  
  3.       New and improved products: Transition to waterborne paint has prompted paint companies to develop new products.
  4.       Less clearcoat needed: For multiple hues and striping,waterborne paint has an advantage when it comes to spraying due to a thinner application.  It takes less clearcoat to even out the surface for the different layers.
  5.       Cleaner/brighter than solvent-based paint: In painting with waterborne paint, wet paint tends to have a different hue from the true color. Once it dries, the waterborne paint will take on the true hue. Interestingly, when it comes to the actual color with waterborne, it comes out cleaner/brighter than a solvent-based paint.

So, if you’re considering making the switch, the investment in new equipment you will need is minimal.

You’ll need a stainless steel paint gun, to avoid rust and good air flow. To cut down on drying time, it’s important to have a large volume of clean air to enhance drying. (For a detailed look at how to go about making the jump to waterborne paint, check out: A Compressed Air Checklist for Waterborne Paint Conversion.) And you can’t do better than selecting a Mattei compressor for use in your new waterborne-paint application facility.

To learn more about choosing a Mattei compressor visit our site, or contact us, here.

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