Ultimate Guide to Non-Toxic Paint

This is the first of three in a series of "Ultimate Guide" to different types of paint. Check back for the Ultimate Guide to Water-Based Paint and Ultimate Guide to Oil-Based Paint!

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air that we breathe indoors contains two to five times more contaminants than outdoor air. Consequently, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) rates as one of the top five hazards to human health. The paint in our home has a significant effect on IAQ. Conventional paints-- made from a petrochemical base-- release low levels of toxic emissions called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) into the space. Data shows that VOCs cause breathing problems, headaches, nausea, and eye irritation. Some VOCs have even been linked to higher incidents of cancer.

Many manufacturers added VOCs to their paint to slow drying times and prevent paint from freezing during transportation. Responding to concerns about the health and environmental impact of VOC, the EPA issued regulations that require paint manufacturers to develop low VOC and zero VOC paints solutions. Regulatory and consumer demand for green products have motivated manufacturers to develop “nontoxic” paints that have small amounts to barely traceable VOC levels.

Volatile Organic Compounds Limits

Currently, the federal VOC limits are set at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paints and 380 g/l for other paints and finishes. Depending on the state where you live, your local government may have adopted stricter VOC limits. For example, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, California, and the District of Columbia limit flat coatings to 100 g/l and non-flat coatings to 150 g/l.

Types of Non-Toxic Paint

Today, manufacturers have over early reliability issues and a color selection that was limited to a few pastels and earth tones. You can use non-toxic paint anywhere you would use conventional paint. Non-toxic paint also comes in a wide range of finishes, including interior and exterior eggshells, masonry paints and primers. The available non-toxic paint options include:

Natural Paints

Natural paints do not contain VOC and have little or no odor. If you are bothered by the strong odor of paints, suffer from allergies, plan to stay in your home during renovation, or simply want an eco-friendly alternative, you can choose a natural paint from among a wide variety of natural ingredients, including:

  • Water
  • Chalk
  • Clay
  • Milk casein
  • Plant dyes
  • Natural latex
  • Beeswax

Zero VOCs

Any paint in the range of 5 grams/liters or less can be called "Zero VOC". Remember, some paint manufacturers may brand their paint as “Zero VOC”, but the product may contain color tints, fungicides or biocides with some VOCs.

Low VOC

Low-VOC paints and finishes use water as a carrier, which results in a lower level of harmful emission compared to solvent-borne surface coatings. 

Remember, tinting the base paint can increase VOCs levels up to 10 grams/liter.

How to Choose a Non-Toxic Paint Product

Look for the VOC level listed on the label in grams per liter, which can range from 5 g/l to 200 g/l. The product with the lowest VOC content will have the lowest overall risk. As you look for non-toxic paint, keep in mind that even zero or low VOC paints may have minute levels of ingredients such as ammonia, formaldehyde, acetone, and odor-masking agents, which contributes to indoor air pollution. If you are unsure about the contents of the paint ask your dealer for specific information.

Five Star Painting provides interior and exterior paint services for residential and commercial customers. Our experienced estimators can help you choose the correct non-toxic and other paint products to make any design dream into a reality. You can trust that our team stands ready to deliver a high-quality paint job and top of the line customer service.

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