11 Non-Toxic Paints To Buy That Are as Safe as They Are Chic
Paint is one of those products many of us don’t think twice about, except when it comes to color. Once we’ve honed in on the perfect shade, our main priority is getting it up on the walls as soon as possible. While a freshly painted room may seem harmless, there are some chemicals in paint that can be toxic, many of which are grouped into a category called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
They’re what causes that “fresh paint” smell that gives some people headaches. You may be familiar with the name of one of the most common VOCs, formaldehyde. This and other chemicals have been flagged as potential health hazards, not just for humans but for the environment, too, which is why selecting a non-toxic paint is a good idea, especially in high-traffic rooms like your kitchen. But what are VOCs anyways? And if they’re so bad, why are they in some paints in the first place?
Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services at Sherwin-Williams, offered us some helpful advice and information on VOCs and what type of paint might be best for you and your home. So before you start painting your furniture, walls, or floor use this information as a primer for making an informed decision.
What is a VOC (volatile organic compound)?
“Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a variety of chemicals emitted as gases by a wide variety of products,” says Watson. “According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they may have short- or long-term health effects. They are emitted as gases by a wide variety of products. Products such as fabrics, cleaning supplies and building materials may contain VOCs that people are exposed to when spending time indoors.”
So why are VOCs in paint in the first place? These compounds can be useful in preventing the growth of mold and mildew. They also can help paint dry more quickly. As the paint industry has advanced, however, many new non-toxic paints are proving you really don’t need VOCs in a product for these performance reasons or professional looking results.
What is the Difference Between Low-VOC and No VOC?
Other than the fact that one has low VOCs and the other has zero, there’s not a straightforward answer. According to Watson, “VOC claims vary depending on who you ask, what rules you follow, and what category the product falls under,” he says. “There are federal regulations through the EPA, and there are several air quality districts like South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and Ozone Transport Commission (OTC). Each of these entities set standards on what is the maximum allowable VOC per product category in their respective areas.”
He also mentions that across industries and different locations, VOC requirements don’t always match up. For example, a product with 100 grams of VOC per liter is considered low to some, but 50 grams per liter may be the maximum for low VOC to another district. What about defining what no VOC means? That’s the job for the Federal Trade Commission.
“The FTC has designated what can and can’t be marketed using free-of claims in their published Green Guide under rule 260.9,” he says. “No VOC paints can still contain a trace number of VOCs (which varies per product), as long as they’re not at a level that would cause material harm.” So while some cans flaunt “zero” or “free of” on their labels, know it’s a likely possibility they may still have trace amounts.
There aren’t too many differences when it comes to deciding between paint types. Non-toxic paints are often looked over because of their accessibility and belief that they’re less effective, but Watson says otherwise. “No and low-VOC interior and exterior paints can work just as well as paint with higher VOCs if proper surface prep is completed (surfaces should be clean, dry, dull, and sound), and you’re using the right paint for the job,” says Watson.
Ready to get started? Ahead you’ll find paint brands that offer no and low-VOC paints, so you can complete your project (and dispose of your unused paint) with peace of mind.
10. Green Planet Paints
The name says it all: Green Planet Paints features plant- and mineral-based formulas. Striving to remove chemicals from all its products, the company also refuses to use any colorants that have VOCs, which is how many low- and no-VOC paints end up with the chemicals in their ingredients. Instead, they use mineral pigments and plant oils, so it’ll come as no surprise that its motto is, “So safe and natural you can bathe in it.”
Buy: Green Planet Paints, starts at $22.99 for one quart
11. AFM Safecoat
Fast-drying and no-VOC, AFM Safecoat’s paints have a unique background. The brand was initially created with physicians in mind, specifically ones who worked with patients that were sensitive to chemicals. Now, it’s meant for any household that’s conscious of their health and the planet’s. The formula features what the brand refers to as a “superior film formation” that’s so tight, it traps whatever off-gassing takes place beneath it.
Buy: AFM Safecoat, starting at $72 for one gallon