Eco friendly paint is house paint that emits little or no VOCs. These paints have also been formulated to either limit or completely eliminate many of the toxic chemical compounds found in standard paints, such as formaldehyde, ethylene glycol and heavy metals. They are water based products, and thus do not produce the harmful emissions found in oil based paint products.

What are VOCs?

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are carbon base compounds that are released as gases into the atmosphere. VOCs include an assortment of chemicals emitted from a variety of household products. Although not the only generator of VOCs, paint and paint solvents contribute to their overall production. According to the EPA, concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors than outdoors. The greatest concentration of volatile organic compounds from paint is released during application, but many paints continue to off-gas for extended periods of time.

Why Use Eco Friendly Paint?

Because of the low or zero VOC content, eco friendly paint does not emit significant amounts of harmful gases into the air. Growing concerns about toxins found in conventional paint products and their negative effects on health and the environment has created interest in these paints.

Benefits of using eco friendly paint include:

  • Low odor during application
  • No odor or off-gassing after cure
  • Friendlier to anyone sensitive to chemicals
  • Lower emissions from VOCs
  • Easy clean-up, no hazardous waste

Going Green

A growing demand among consumers coupled with increasingly stringent environmental regulations has led paint manufacturers to develop product lines of zero and low VOC paints. These eco friendly coatings are constantly evolving as technology improves. Most paint manufacturers sell low VOC or zero VOC paint products.

Low VOC Paint

Low VOC paint is paint product with reduced levels of volatile organic compounds. Units of measurement are typically listed in grams of volatile organic compound per liter of paint or g/l. The VOC content should always be displayed on the can and listed in the paint specifications. The current standards for low VOC paints advise that they should not exceed 50g/l for interior coatings and 100g/l for exterior coatings. The amount of volatile organic compounds may vary among different low VOC paint products.

Zero VOC Paint

The set standard for zero VOC paints may not exceed 5g/L. This does not take into consideration colorants or other additives that may contain volatile organic compounds. Many of the pigments used to tint paints contain VOCs. When these colorants are added to the paint, at the point of sale, they increase the total VOC content of the paint. Deep colors and ultra deep colors require larger amounts of colorants which increase the total VOC content to a greater extent. Some zero VOC paints use low VOC colorants.

Non-Toxic Natural Finishes

Natural finishes are the least toxic of all paints and finishes. Therefore they are the safest coatings available to maintain good health and a clean environment. They are especially a good choice for those with a high level of chemical sensitivity.

Non toxic paint and natural finishes include paints, penetrating oils, and waxes all made from natural ingredients. Milk protein also known as milk casein, along with water, is the main ingredient in milk paint. Water, clay, chalk, and cellulose are ingredients you might find in clay paint. Pigments, stains, and washes are produced from powdered earth and rock. Sealers and waxes can be made from organic plant based ingredients such as tree and plant resins, vegetable oils, linseed and other seed oils, essential oils, and citrus peel extracts. Bee’s wax is also used as a finish wax.

Environmental Organizations

Low VOC paints surpass the EPA’s standards, set forth by the Architectural and Industrial Maintenance (AIM) Coatings Rule to regulate VOCs. They also meet or surpass more stringent standards set by regional air quality boards.

The US Green Building Council was established in 2ooo to create environmental standards for building materials and applications. Observance of these standards is known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Master Painter’s Institute (MPI) is another independent organization that has created a set of standards known as Green Performance Standards. Many low and zero VOC products have been endorsed by Independent certifiers, such as the Greenseal and Greenguard.

Final Thoughts

Eco friendly paints have significantly improved in the past few years. That said, some of these paint products perform better than others. Look for the same qualities you would demand from conventional paint coatings. Gaining some knowledge about the many different products can help you choose wisely.

When painting walls and ceilings, you should expect coverage with a maximum of two coats. There are exceptions for some colors

When choosing non-flat eco friendly paints for trim and cabinets, the goal is to choose a product that is easy to use and has good leveling properties. Some low VOC paints dry too fast making them more difficult to work with

Selecting low VOC stains and clear finishes for trim and cabinets is somewhat more challenging. Most wood stains and clear wood finishes are solvent based coatings with high levels of VOCs. Non-toxic natural finishes offer a good alternative to the traditional finishing methods.

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Professional Painting, Inc. is a full service painting company serving the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988.