Indoor air is 3- times more polluted than outdoor, and the EPA considers it one of the top 5 hazards to our health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes, releasing low-level toxic emissions for years after application. The source of the toxins is in volatile organic compounds (VOC) which – until recently – were essential to paint performance.

New environmental regulations and consumer demand have led to the development of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes. These paints are durable, cost-effective and less harmful. Reduced toxins benefit everyone, including those with allergies and chemical sensitivities. They reduce landfill, groundwater and ozone depleting contaminants – being deemed as non-hazardous waste. Low-VOC products perform well in terms of coverage and are water-based – making cleanup easy with soap and warm water. They emit minimal-to-no fumes, produce low odor during application and no odor once cured allowing painted areas can be occupied sooner.

Types of Non-Toxic Paints and Finishes

The term non-toxic is used in the broadest sense because any paint or finish will contain some small amount of toxins;  it is a matter of degree. There are three general categories of non-toxic or low-toxic paint you can chose from.

Natural Paints and Finishes are paints made from natural raw ingredients such as water, plant oils and resins, plant dyes and essential oils; natural minerals such as clay, chalk and talcum; milk casein, natural latex, bees’ wax, earth and mineral dyes. Water-based natural paints give off almost no smell. The essential oil-based natural paints usually have a pleasant natural fragrance.

Zero VOC is any paint with a VOC in the range of 5 grams per liter (g/l) or less.  It is important to know that with any zero-VOC that uses colorants or biocides, adding a color tint usually brings the VOC level up to 10 g/l which is still quite low.

Low VOC paints, stains and varnishes use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents.  To meet EPA standards, low VOC products can not contain more than 200 g/l.  Varnishes – in particular – must not exceed 300 g/l.  Low VOC paints will emit some odor until dry.  When an occupant is particularly sensitive, use paint that has fewer than 25 g/l of VOC.

So as you prepare for that next big paint job, it makes sense to think about using non-toxic paints and finishes.  Your nose, allergies and the environment will thank you.