Description: Indoor air pollution is often significantly worse than outdoor air pollution, and paints and finishes are a large contributor to this problem. Non-toxic paints and finishes, although more expensive, can greatly reduce harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds), toxic compounds which, in conventional paints, can pollute the air for years after application. However, even “non-toxic” paints and finishes contain some minute amount of toxins; therefore, ventilation and air purification during and immediately following new paint jobs is essential.

There are three general categories of non-toxic paint: “natural,” low-VOC, and zero-VOC. Natural paints are made from earth-based, natural ingredients such as plant oils, plant dyes, clays and other natural minerals, bees wax, milk and casein, and mineral dyes. Water-based natural paints give off almost no smell, while oil-based natural paints often have a pleasant aroma, and some are even aromatherapy-based, using essential oils. These natural paints are the safest for your health and the environment.

Zero-VOC paints have less than 5 grams/liter of VOCs. Adding a color tint usually brings the level of VOCs up to 10 grams/liter, which is still very low. Although these paints are labeled Zero-VOC, they may still use additives that contain VOCs.

Low-VOC paints are water-based, rather than oil-based, and have less than 200 grams/liter of VOCs. The amount of VOCs varies, and is labeled on each individual paint can.

What to look for: The safest paints are all-natural, plant- and mineral-based. Read the paint label to determine the ingredients and VOC level, which ranges from 5 – 200. The lower the number, the safer the paint. Also on the label is the solids content – the higher this number, the less VOCs are in the paint. Water-based paints are generally less toxic than oil-based paints. When buying conventional paints, look for paint manufacturers that offer products that adhere to new safety standards set for public building projects, such as schools and healthcare facilities. Be sure to buy only as much paint as you will need; one gallon covers about 400 square feet. Try to give away leftover paint, rather than sending it to the landfill.

Uses:Indoor and outdoor use for a variety of surfaces. Be sure to provide ample cross-ventilation when painting indoors, especially while painting ceilings which trap odors, and are more difficult to air out. It is not necessary to clean brushes and rollers – simply wrap tightly in plastic and reuse for up to a week. When job is complete, clean with turpentine in a glass jar.

Where to find: Many home supply stores now offer low- and zero-VOC paints. Online resources are abundant. High quality paints are being imported from Germany, which contain 99% food-grade ingredients.

Avoid: Paints which have been registered with the EPA, OHSA, or DOT, contain toxic ingredients which must be monitored. Consider avoiding these paints. Avoid paints with VOC levels above 25 grams/liter, especially for anyone with a chemical sensitivity.