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My husband and I just moved to a new place and we wanted to paint our daughter’s room. The first thing came to our mind was how to deal with strong smell of a paint for our daughter during and after painting is done. Also paint must contain tons of chemicals right? Is it going to be harmful? Is something going to off-gas from the paint so my daughter inhales the toxic fumes? We had to find out. In this post, I share with you how paint can be toxic and what non toxic paint options are available.
How Paint Can Be Toxic
Household paint usually contains up to 10,000 chemicals, of which approximately 300 are toxins and 150 have been linked to cancer. That is a lot of chemicals and a lot of carcinogens! Paint finishes release toxic chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air for years after application. They off-gas only half of its VOCs in the first year. These chemicals are carcinogens, heavy metals and reproductive toxins. Some examples of chemicals are formaldehyde, nitrogen, benzene, gasoline, chlorine, bromine, acetone and sulfur. They are also air pollutants that harm our environment. Studies have found that indoors have 2 to 5 times higher VOCs than outdoors due to VOCs emitted from various products including paints on the wall or furnitures. Also, during or several hours right after painting or paint stripping, the indoor VOC levels are 1000 times higher than outdoor levels. We breathe in these toxic chemicals released from paint. (How Low VOC Paint Works) (Volatile Organic Compounds’ Impact On Indoor Air Quality)
Non Toxic Paint
So is there non toxic paint available? Yes, there are low VOC, zero VOC or natural paint available. (However, I only recommend zero VOC or natural paint. You will read why later.) Until recently, some solvent or VOC contents were needed to deliver high performance of a paint. Therefore, some non toxic paints didn’t perform well as the traditional paint did. However, the performance has improved over the years. Nowadays, natural paint, zero VOC or low VOC paint are easy to apply and clean. They dry quickly, have low or no odor and have excellent hide and coverage. So what are natural paint, zero VOC or low VOC paint? Let’s take a look!
Low VOC Paint
Paint can be divided into two categories: Oil-based paint or water-based paint (latex-based). One of the main difference between the two is that water-based (latex-based) paint uses no or significantly less amount of solvents. Solvents are petroleum-based chemicals and used as a paint thinner. They are toxic and there are no safe solvents. All solvents including natural or synthetic solvents are toxic. Solvents can damage skin, respiratory tract, eyes, damage internal organs such as the liver and kidneys and cause narcotic effect on the nervous system. Some of the examples of toxic solvents include benzene, acetone, gasoline, acetonitrile, dioxane, hexane, kerosene, methanol, phenol and toluene. These are volatile organic compounds that are emitted from a paint. (Oil-Based or Latex Paint – Which To Use For Your Home) (Solvents)
Low VOC paint has less VOC contents than traditional paint so it releases less VOCs. However, it still contains and emits VOCs. Federal government requires the VOCs in paint to be less than 250 grams per liter for flat finishes and 380 grams per liter for other finishes. Local requirements are different. California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District has set VOC content limit at 50 grams per liter. Other states have set their standards somewhere in between. Low VOC paint usually contains fewer VOC contents than 50 grams per liter for flat paint and 150 grams per liter for non-flat paint. This is by Green Seal standards. (Important Information Regarding California Law Changes)
However, 50 grams per liter is not the only VOCs a low VOC paint has. When you choose a color for a paint, colorants needs to be added to make that color. Therefore, colorants are added to a base paint. Adding colorants to a low VOC base paint will usually bring the VOC level up to 10 grams/liter. Therefore, you should also check is if the colorants used are zero VOC colorants. Usually, darker colors require more colorants so they will have to higher VOC levels than lighter colors.
There are better options than low VOC paint: natural or zero VOC paint. Natural and zero VOC paint have significantly lower VOC amount than traditional paint or even low VOC paint. Since natural or zero VOC paint has no or less VOCs, there will be no or very little VOCs released from them. Therefore, I would choose a natural or zero VOC paint. Let’s take a look at them below.
Zero VOC Paint
Zero VOC paint usually have VOCs fewer than 5 grams per liter. It still has a little VOCs in it but at a significantly lower level. It also has a very little smell during application but no smell once cured. Smell disappears within about an hour so you don’t have to leave the house for hours until smell is gone. Zero VOC paint nowadays perform well too, not like in the past. It is easy to apply and clean. It covers marks well and doesn’t come off easily. (Finally Good Looking Non Toxic Paint?)
Here are some zero VOC paint brands below.
Colorhouse Paint – Non Toxic Paint
Colorhouse paint is a zero VOC paint. Their untinted base paints and primers have zero VOC emissions 14 days after application.
Colorant: Colorhouse uses COLORTREND 808 colorant system which is low VOC and APE free. It also has low odor and excellent rheological properties.
Afm Safecoat Paint – Non Toxic Paint
Afm Safecoat paint is zero VOC and uses zero VOC pigments. Doctors will write prescriptions for AFM paints to their allergy and chemically sensitive patients. Their paint has a very durable finish. The paint dries within a few hours and once dried, it is completely odorless.
Colorant: zero VOC pigments
Ecos Paint – Non Toxic Paint
Ecos Paint is zero VOC paint and has almost no ordor. Their founder ate a spoonful of ECOS paint to demonstrate how pure and safe their paints are to UK’s Health and Safety Executive. Ecos Paint has no dded antimicrobials, pesticides, or fungicides.
Colorant: Ecos states that they import their pigments from Europe and their pigments are eco-friendly.
Mythic Paint – Non Toxic Paint
Mythic Paint is used on the Pentagon, Google Headquarters and the World Trade Center. They developed a paint that would not smell or cause illness to employees of Pentagon when repainting Pentagon after 9/11. Their primer as well as colorants are completely ZERO VOC and Non toxic.
Colorant: zero VOC
Rust- Oleum Paint – Non Toxic Paint
Rust-Oleum Paint is zero VOC. It has a fast dry time, you can recoat in one hr.
Benjamin Moore Ultra Spec 500 Paint
Benjamin Moore Paint is zero VOC and has a low ordor.
Colorant: It uses proprietary Gennex zero colorant system. Gennex zero colorant system is a zero-VOC waterborne tinting system. Their paints remain zero-VOC even after being tinted with Gennex colorants.
KILZ Clean Start Paint – Non Toxic Paint
KILZ Paint is zero VOC and it has low odor.
There are also natural paints. Natural paints are made with natural, raw ingredients such as marble, clay, chalk, plant oils, tree resins, milk casein, beeswax, and plant, earth & mineral dyes. They use natural binders, fillers and pigments instead of petrochemical or synthetic ingredients. Since ingredients are natural, natural paint are biodegradable and it doesn’t contain VOCs. Natural paint includes lime paint, milk paint and clay paint. Natural paint is even safer than the zero VOC paint. Usually water-based natural paint has almost no smell and oil-based natural paint uses essential oils for its smell. (Non-Toxic Paints)
* I listed milk paints below since they are really popular as a natural paint option. However, I actually recommend to go for a zero-voc paint. Producing milk consumes tremendous amount of energy and produces enormous waste. Also, animal cruelty occurs at many daily farms to produce milk. Therefore, consider zero-voc or other forms of a natural paint.
Old Fashioned Milk Paint
Old Fashioned Milk Paint is made from milk protein, (also known as casein) and lime, (also known as calcium), plus the earth or mineral pigments.
Colorant: earth or mineral pigments
Miss Mustards’s Milk Paint
Miss Mustard’s Milk Paint has only 5 ingredients: milk protein (casein), limestone, clay, chalk and pigments.
Colorant: They use natural pigments.
Real Milk Paint Company
Real Milk Paint Company paint is made from iron oxide pigment, milk casein and lime.
Colorant: Real Milk Paint uses pigment powders that do not contain binding agents; these powders are pigment only and are mainly composed of iron oxides and earth color.
For the most non toxic paint option, choose a natural or zero VOC paint. Natural paint has no VOCs at all and zero VOC paint has VOCs less than 5 grams per liter. If you are choosing a zero VOC paint with a color, colorants have to be added to a base paint. Adding a color can bring VOC level up to 10 grams per liter. Lighter color will have less colorants and it will have less VOCs. Therefore, look for also a zero VOC colorant if you are choosing a zero VOC paint with a color. Colorhouse uses low VOC colorants to their zero VOC base paint. Benjamin Moore, Mythic, Afm Safecoat, they all use zero VOC pigments for their color. Natural paint uses natural pigments. Zero VOC or low VOC paint didn’t performed well as traditional paint did in the past. However, zero VOC manufacturers has worked hard to improve zero VOC paint over the years and they perform very well nowadays. Zero VOC or natural paint are a healthy choice for your indoor paint needs with no or very little added toxic solvents. My husband and I feel a lot safer knowing my daughter won’t breathe in so much toxic carcinogens from a paint.