Green Paint…

filed under: Green Building posted on May 21st, 2009

Happy woman painting.

Whether you are about to undertake a complete remodel or just sprucing up your digs, you can make a huge impact without spending a fortune.  Color!  Wall coatings add so much to your decor and the colors you choose can have a dramatic effect on your emotional state.  Cool colors relax and subdue the anxious mind while warm colors give you energy and can bring sunshine into your home even on the darkest day.  But, colors are not the only choices you have to make.   There are many different brands of paint offering endless shades but some also offer VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds harmful chemicals that contribute to poor air quality and can cause respitory irritations or worse if one is particularly sensitive.  The solvents in paints can include benzene, formaldehyde, toluene and xylene, which are known carcinogens or neurotoxins. Oil-based paints rely on VOC-emitting solvents such as mineral spirits to control their drying time, but conventional water-based latex paints aren’t necessarily milder: They can contain such VOCs as formaldehyde and the suspected carcinogen acrylonitrile, as well as ethylene glycol ethers associated with lowering sperm count, and fungicides and preservatives to combat mold and mildew.

Here’s some examples of paint alternatives from The Green Guide;

Natural paints, which tend to cost more, are usually made from citrus and other plant ingredients, milk protein or clay. They are better for the environment because most do not use petrochemicals or produce smog and are free of preservatives and biocides. While they take a lot longer to dry, are more difficult to apply and often need to be layered in several coats, the environmental and health benefits associated with natural paints are worth the extra time. Natural paints are best suited for drier areas, as they are less resistant to mildew and molds.

Clean Air Counts, an initiative to reduce ozone-causing emissions in Chicago, recommends using paint with VOC limits within those set by SCAQMD. These limits state that flat paint VOC levels should not exceed 100 grams per liter and non-flat paint (semi-gloss, gloss, eggshell, or satin), not exceed 150 grams per liter. Often labeled “low-“or “no-VOC” these latex paints are water-based and emit fewer harmful fumes than regular latex paint.

While they generally cost more, “VOC-free,” “no-VOC,” or “zero-VOC” paints are less toxic than conventional low-VOC paints, and are virtually free of chemicals listed as carcinogenic under the California law. Because most still contain toxic preservatives, chemically sensitive people should avoid areas exposed to VOC-free paint.

Biocides such as preservatives and fungicides are commonly added to conventional latex paints to fend off mold and mildew, extending shelf-life. “Low-biocide” paints are 90 to 95 percent free of biocides, but may still have high VOC levels. They are best suited for use in indoor dry areas because they are more susceptible to mildew.

“‘Natural milk‘ paints are virtually odorless and are made using the milk protein casein and lime to which are added earth pigments.” They contain no solvents, preservatives or biocides, though some do have synthetic ingredients like acrylic and vinyl. They come in powdered form and once opened or mixed with water, they should be used quickly, as they can mold if left to stand for a few weeks.

Whitewashes,” which only come in white, contain only lime paste, water and salt. They are a low cost option that, like milk paints, are more fragile and are best applied to plaster, cement or stucco walls.

Recycled paint,” often a bargain at under $10 per gallon, is created when a few types of paints are consolidated into one. According to the Waste Watch Center, recycled paint should have a minimum of 50% recycled content and be available in consistent colors. However, because several paints are mixed together, recycled paint is often best suited for areas where consistent color is not required.

What to look out for

Alkyd- or oil-based based paints, whose entire carrier (which keeps the paint in liquid form) is a volatile organic compound, contain much higher levels of smog-generating VOCs than do latex paints. (“Environmental Building News Feb 1999 “Paint the Room Green”) While oil-based paints can be marketed as low-VOC, their VOC content is usually much higher than that of latex-based paints. If you must purchase an oil-based paint, make sure it does not contain any of the ingredients listed below:

acrolein, acrylonitrile, antimony, benzene, cadmium, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, etylbenzene, butyl, benzyl, phthalate, formaldehyde, hexavalent, chromium, isophorone, lead, mercury, methylene chloride, methyl ethyl ketone, methyl isobutyl ketone, naphthalene, phthalate esters, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, toluene, and vinyl chloride.

So where do you go to find these air-friendly products.  From the Green Guide:

To find the VOC content of a paint, check the back of the paint can. Also look at the manufacturer’s material safety data sheet (MSDS), which most manufacturers provide on their websites. The MSDS contains detailed information about the ingredients found in the paint, as well as its VOC levels.

The paints below are either no- or low-VOC formulated to reduce air-polluting emissions. Most are only available at retailers that specialize in environmentally-friendly products (See Retailers). If you can’t find a particular brand, call the manufacturer for a list of distributors (See Company Contact Information).

Brand Natural VOCs Potentially Hazardous Solvents Price Use
AFM Safecoat Eggshell Zero VOC by AFM   No None   Interior
Air-Care Coronado   No None $21/gallon Interior
Auro Paint Yes No None $70/gallon Interior/Exterior
BioShield Clay Paint Yes No None $40/gallon Interior
BioShield Solvent-Free Wall Paint Yes No None $34/gallon Interior
Ecological Paint by Innovative Formulations Company   No None $20/gallon Interior/ Exterior
EcoSpec by Benjamin Moore   Low (<50 unthinned) None $25 to $30/gallon Interior
Enviro-Safe Paint by Chem-Safe Products   No None $29.95/gallon Interior/ Exterior
Genesis Odor-Free Interior Latex Flat Wall Paint by Duron   No None $26.70/gallon Interior
Kelly-Moore Enviro-Coat Enamel   No None   Interior
LifeMaster 2000 Interior Flat Paint by ICI Dulux   No None $25/gallon Interior
Old Fashioned Milk Paint Yes No None $43.95/gallon Interior

Company Contact Information

AFM,, 800/239-0321


Auro Paint,, 883/302-9352

Benjamin Moore,, 800/344-0400

BioShield,, 800/621-2591

Chem-Safe, 210/657-5321

Coronado Paint,, 800/883-4193

Duron Paints & Wallcoverings,, 800/72-DURON

Kelly Moore Paint Company,, 650/592-8337

ICI Dulux,, 216/344-8000

Innovative Formulations Company,, 520/628-1553

Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company,, 978/448-6336


Environmental Construction Outfitters,, 800/238-5008

Environmental Home Center,, 800/281-9785

Green Home,, 415/282-6400

Natural Home Products,, 707/824-0914

NEEDS,, 800/634-1380

New Century Paints,, 413/528-4319

Nirvana Safe Heaven,, 800/968-9355

Planetary Solutions,, 303/442-6228

Brighten your environment while maintaining your indoor air quality.  This can also be a great selling point when you are marketing your home.  Don’t forget to let prospective buyers know about this valuable addition you have added to your home.

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