It’s springtime and for some, this means painting the inside or outside of the home. If that’s the case, choose non-toxic paints for your task, and bypass the ‘fresh’ paint smell, which is really the smell of toxic chemicals in the paint evaporating and polluting the air and your lungs.
Chemicals found in conventional paints (such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), acetone ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde) ‘off-gas’ or evaporate at room temperature. These chemicals are potential carcinogens and can lead to short and long-term respiratory problems, not to mention that the waste from toxic paint can get into water systems and damage aquatic ecosystems. So what are your options if you want to stay healthy and not pollute the air or waterways?
- Natural paints: made from natural raw ingredients such as clays, milk and minerals
- Zero VOC paint: contains 5 grams per litre of VOCs or less, though this may not include colorants, fungicides, biocides or other additives
- Low VOC paint: 200g/L or less of VOCs, though most are at about the 50g/L mark; again, this may not include colorants, fungicides, biocides or other additives
- Zero and low-VOC paints are better than conventional paints, but you should still ventilate and even wear a respirator (either one fitted with organic-vapor cartridges for brush or roller application, or one suitable for spray painting) if you are sensitive to chemicals.
- Natural paints are the preferred alternative, since the fungicides and biocides in low or no-VOC paints can contaminate the air for up to five years after use.
- Always ventilate after painting, to increase airflow and decrease indoor air pollution.
- If your house was built before 1960, and even as late as 1978, your paint may contain lead, so have it professionally tested; if it does, it may be best to leave it, as removal will release particles containing lead into the air, facilitating inhalation.
- Some great brands of natural paints are BioShield, American Clay, and AFM. Speaking from personal experience with BioShield, the colors are great, and it didn’t give off that toxic smell even when I practically stuck my nose in the paint bucket.
- Look for paints that are certified by Green Seal. This non-profit certifies interior flat paints that contain a maximum of 50 grams of VOCs per liter of paint and interior non-flat paints that contain a maximum 150 grams of VOCs per liter of paint. There are also state-specific and other local voluntary certification schemes, but this is the most widely used at the moment.