Summer is the time for home projects, and spring is the time to plan them. Painting is an inexpensive way to transform a room, your exterior or furniture into something fresh. You can create a new environment without moving!
I love painting! I have painted every home I’ve ever lived in and long before there was non-toxic paint. I never had health issues. My asthma never even acted up. A few years ago, I was getting ready to sell my house and touching up all the paint. I painted an interior window frame with paint I had used on the past. Soon after, my heart started beating irregularly.
Reasons I choose non-toxic paint
I didn’t connect the two events, until I ran into a friend of mine who is severely chemically sensitive. She knew I’d been working on my house and, having thoroughly studied the ill effects of the environment, she asked if I’d been painting. When I said yes, she asked if it was low VOC paint (VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound). It wasn’t, and she said the toxic paint was the cause of my heart issue.
This irregularity went on for about ten days. I went to the doctor, and he said the results of an EKG showed that this was a common issue (three beats instead of two each time) and was not life threatening.
Later in the summer, I was desperate to get my house finished. I wondered if I could paint the exterior doors (outside, lots of ventilation) without any problems. No. The answer was a loud No. What a fool I was. At least I am here to write about this!
What are VOCs?
The VOCs in paint are caused by toxic chemical compounds, such as mercury, lead and benzene. Additives like fungicides prevent mildew, and biocides, such as formaldehyde, are used as preservatives. As if that’s not enough, pigments are also sourced from toxic chemicals. Oil-based paints are more toxic than water based paints. VOCs off-gas for years after the paint dries, and concentrations can be ten times as high indoors as out.
VOCs are known to cause respiratory issues, eye irritation, nausea, dizziness, and cancer. They also cause heart, lung and kidney damage. There was my problem. I had no idea. I was more concerned with my asthma, which was not aggravated. Aside from health issues, VOCs reduce (read: ruin) indoor and outdoor air quality. They simply are not good for the environment in any way.
Environmental standards and VOC paint
The EPA limit for VOC content in paint is 250-380 grams per liter (g/l), depending on the type of paint (non-flat or flat, respectively). Low VOC paint contains less than 50 g/l. It still has some chemicals in it. Zero VOC paint contains less than 5 g/l. Its name is misleading.
The solvents in both are from water instead of petroleum products. Call the manufacturer for a fact sheet if the information on the can is not clear. Third party certifications are not always reliable, since the base paint may be Low VOC, but the tint may not be. Check with the manufacturer!
It seems obvious to me that the safest route is to use natural paints with natural pigments. They are derived from plants, minerals or milk, but they can contain terpenes, which are VOCs derived from plants.
Non-toxic paint options to consider
Since my health issues around paint, I have used Benjamin Moore’s Zero VOC Natura paint without a reaction. The colors were rich and vibrant. Some people think, like with all ‘natural’ and ‘green’ things, that they are dull and lifeless. Not so. My daughter’s room is two beautiful shades of purple with a rich green trim.
In my bedroom, I used BioShield paint. This is from a company right here in Santa Fe. I bought a 5-gallon bucket of a base white and added a powdered natural pigment for a pale lavender color. This paint smells chalky and earthy. I love that! It rolls on like you’d expect paint to roll on, and the coverage was great over a darker color.
I think I will use milk paint in my other daughter’s room. The history of milk paint goes back thousands of years when only natural ingredients were available. Milk, lime and earth pigments were combined for rich, natural colors.
The colors of Colonial America were created with milk paint. VOCs were unheard of until the Industrial Revolution and the mass production of petroleum-based, canned paint. Today’s milk paint is the same as the old. It has no VOCs, is biodegradable, and offers a wide variety of colors.
Other companies I have heard good things about but have no experience with are:
- AFM Safecoat
- Sherwin Williams (paints made of recycled PET bottles!)
- Green Planet Paints
- Mythic Paint
Painting – take care of your health!
I might even try to make my own paint, since I’m kind of a DIYer. If I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, take care of your health! I can’t believe what an idiot I was about painting! Once you lose your health, you lose everything. Use VOC-free paints and stains to protect yourself and the environment. What’s good for one is good for the other!