At one time you had to pick either a paint color you really wanted or a color that was just ok, but had fewer chemicals. Today you can have both. Environmentally friendly paints now come in more colors than ever before. More paint companies are mixing in fewer chemicals and some have reverted to using earth and food materials. Using an environmentally friendly paint will help lower or eliminate volatile organic compounds and you won’t add pollutants to the air indoors. What should you look for when buying an eco-friendly paint.
Low or no-odor – If your main concern is what happens to you while you’re painting, go for low- or no-odor paints. Anyone with chemical sensitives or is prone to headaches needs to be cautious when using paint. Low- and no-odor paints have no odor once dry and no off-gassing. These are a good idea when you need to use the room soon after it’s painted.
Zero VOC – Expect to pay more for paints with the least amount of VOCs (5 grams/litre or less). Be aware that added biocides and color tint will raise the level of VOCs listed on the paint can. Look at the label when buying paint to read the precise number of VOCs. For a truly environmentally mfriendly paint avoid ingredients like acetone, ammonia, and crystalline silica (a known carcinogen).
Water-based paints – Enjoy a lower-odor painting experience with water-based paints, rather than oil-based paints. You can wash these paints from brushes and rollers with water, no extra solvents required.
VOC content – Don’t just go by a big “low-VOC” label on the front, which is the paint equivalent of “low-fat” label on cookies and crackers in the snack aisle. Read the details of the VOC content on the paint label. A paint with up to 250 grams per liter (g/l) of VOCs can be labeled low-VOC.
Seal of approval
Since government regulations and industry standards have been slow to match consumer fervor for environmentally-friendly paint, finding an environmentally friendly paint can be hit or miss.
A number of non-profit organizations set specific environmental standards for different products, including interior paints. The organizations independently certify products and brands meeting those scientifically-tested standards with a seal. Look for products with certification from any of these organizations when buying an eco-friendly paint: Green Seal or GreenGuard.
* Paint like an Egyptian – One option is to look to the earth. Paints made with a mix of water, porcelain clay, chalk, and pigments are eco-friendly and natural.
* Go vintage or retro with milk paints – Milk paints, used in Colonial America are an eco-friendly option. They also gained popularity in the 1970s. The paints use milk casein, combined with other ingredients including food-grade bamboo cellulose and food emulsifiers. Some ancient wall paintings were made with a combination of milk, lime, and earth pigments.
* Bees’ wax, mineral and plant dyes, and essential oils – Other natural paint products use these natural ingredients. If you want a naturally good scent while painting look for an eco-friendly brand containing essential oils. Typical scents tend to be in the citrus family, with refreshing aromas of lemon or grapefruit.
Paulette Rossi, “VOCs: It’s More than the Odor,” Northwest Renovation
Joe Barrios, “Three Certified Eco Friendly, Low VOC Paint Brands,” Eco Village Green
“Non-Toxic Paint – No-VOC Paint,” Greenhomesofmaine.com