As a result of a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) crackdown on companies that make misleading “green” claims, two of the nation’s leading paint companies—Sherwin-Williams Co. and PPG Industries, Inc.—have agreed to stop advertising that some of their paints are free of the potentially harmful chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

According to an agency press release, the two companies have agreed to settlements “requiring them to stop making the allegedly deceptive claim that their Dutch Boy Refresh and Pure Performance interior paints, respectively contain ‘zero’ [VOCs].” As stated in the press release, “while the VOC-claim may be true for the uncolored “base” paints, it is not true for tinted paint, which typically has much higher levels of the compound, and which consumers usually buy.”

The proposed consent orders settling the FTC charges would “prohibit the companies from claiming that their paints contain ‘zero VOCs,’ unless, after tinting, they have a VOC level of zero grams per liter, or the companies have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the paint contains no more than trace levels of VOCs.”

Alternately, the companies can advertise that their base paints are VOC free and add a “prominent disclosure that adding tints to the base paint may increase the paint’s VOC level, depending on the customer’s color choice,” FTC said.

The orders would also prohibit the companies from authorizing independent retailers and distributors to advertise their Dutch Boy® and Pure Performance® paints as VOC free, and would require Sherwin-Williams and PPG to remove ads making those claims and place corrective stickers on paint cans with those advertisements.

“Environmental claims, like the VOC-free claims in this case, are very difficult, if not impossible, for consumers to confirm,” said David Vladeck, Director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “That’s why it’s so important for the FTC to give clear guidance to marketers, like the Commission’s recently revised Green Guides, and to police the market to ensure that consumers actually get what they pay for.”