Indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air,
and according to the EPA, is considered one of the top 5 hazards to human health. Paints and finishes are among the leading causes. Paints and finishes release low level toxic emissions into the air for years after application. The source of these toxins is a variey of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which, until recently, were essential to the performance of the paint. New environmental regulations, and consumer demand, have led to the development of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes. Most paint manufacturers now produce one or more non-VOC variety of paint. These new paints are durable, cost-effective and less harmful to human and environmental health.
Health. Reduced toxins benefit everyone, including those with allergies and chemical sensitivities.
Environment. Reduces landfill, groundwater and ozone depleting contaminants.
Effective. Low-VOC products perform well in terms of coverage, scrubability and hideability (covering flaws on previous coats).
Water-Based. Easy cleanup wtih soap and warm water.
Little or No Hazardous Fumes. Low odor during application; no odor once cured. No off-gassing. Painted areas can be occupied sooner, with no odor complaints.
Not Deemed Hazardous Waste. Cleanup and disposal greatly simplified.
Types of Non-Toxic Paints and FinishesThe term "non-toxic" is used here in its broadest sense. With paints and finishes, it's more a matter of degree. Even Zero-VOC formulations contain some small amounts of toxins. Here are three general categories of non-toxic (or low-toxic) paints: Natural Paints, Zero VOC, and Low VOC
Natural Paints and Finishes - These 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 oil-based natural paints usually have a pleasant fragrance of citrus or essential oils. Allergies and sensitivities to these paints is uncommon. These paints are the safest for your health and for the environment.
Unearthed Paints - nontoxic, vegan natural paints (including clay paint and lime paint), lime plasters and wood finishes that are 100% Zero-VOC. Made in Germany with fully disclosed ingredients. (www.unearthedpaints.com)
Aglaia - plant-based natural paints and finishes for many applications. Available throughout the UK. No US distribution. (www.aglaiapaint.com)
Livos - organic paint, stains, oils and waxes made using all natural ingredients. Coatings are linseed oil and citrus oil based, non toxic, low VOC and are designed primarily for wood. (www.livos.us)
Auro - solvent-free, water-based natural paints and primers, finishes, stains and adhesives. Ships to US and Canada. (www.aurousa.com)
EcoDesign's BioShield - line of natural paints and finishes. (www.bioshieldpaint.com)
Weather-Bos - line of natural stains, finishes and paints. Blends of natural oils and resins designed to adhere to the wood, forming a monolithic bond. (www.weatherbos.com)
SoyGuard - soy-based exterior stains, water repellants and sealers for wood surfaces. (www.soyguard.com)
Silacote - made from natural mineral compounds, for use on masonry, concrete and wallboard; interior/exterior. (www.silacote.com)
Anna Sova - natural paints from milk casein, titanium dioxide and food-grade ingredients. (www.annasova.com)
Green Planet Paints - high performance natural paints for interiors based on plants and minerals. (www.greenplanetpaints.com)
The Real Milk Paint Company - non-toxic paint made with milk protein, lime, clay and earth pigments.
Masters Blend - natural wood finishes based on tungnut oil, for woodwork, furniture, carvings, cutting boards, brick and concrete. (www.mastersblendfinish.com)
Zero VOC - Any paint with VOC's in the range of 5 grams/litre or less can be called "Zero VOC", according to the EPA Reference Test Method 24. Some manufacturers may claim "Zero-VOC's", but these paints may still use colorants, biocides and fungicides with some VOC's.
Adding a color tint usually brings the VOC level up to 10 grams/liter, which is still quite low.
Earthpaint - Nontoxic paint, wood finish, floor finish, deck stain. www.earthpaint.net
ECOS Paints - Zero-VOC and zero ethylene glycol paints, varnishes and wood stains. All odorless, organic, non-toxic and non-allergenic. Also specialty VOC absorbing paints. Ecos Paints is a leader in the field of VOC-free, organic paints, and ships direct to homes throughout the US and Canada, the UK, France and Germany. www.ecospaints.net
AFM Safecoat - Flat interior latex; semi-gloss interior enamel. www.afmsafecoat.com
ICI Lifemaster 2000 - Flat, Eggshell, semi-gloss interior; primer.(800 984-5444)
Best Paint Company - Zero-VOC Interior paints, primers and specialty products (faux glaze, varnish replacement, etc) and Low-VOC Exterior paints and primers. (www.bestpaintco.com)
ICI Decra-Shield - exterior zero-VOC paints. (800 984-5444)
Kelly-Moore Enviro-Cote - ENVIRO-COTE line of paints are zero-VOC. (916 921-0165)
Devoe Wonder Pure - odor-free interior acrylic latex paints. (www.devoepaint.com)
Enso- Ultra low odor, zero-VOC, ethylene glycol-free interior paints. Primer, flat, eggshell, and semi-gloss. Manufactured by Dunn-Edwards. (www.dunnedwards.com)
American Pride - Zero-VOC interior latex and acrylic enamel paints. (www.americanpridepaint.com)
Sherwin Williams - new HARMONY line of zero-VOC low-odor latex interior paints. Flat, eggshell, semi-gloss and primer. (www.sherwin.com)
Frazee Paint EnviroKote - line of interior zero-VOC paints: semi-gloss, flat, and primer.
Allied PhotoChemical - supplies zero-VOC, UV-curable paints, inks and coatings to manufacturers. (www.alliedphotochemical.com)
Olympic Paint and Stain - Zero-VOC Olympic Premium interior line.
Yolo Colorhouse - Zero-VOC, low-odor, premium interior paint. (yolocolorhouse.com)
Green Planet Paints - Zero-VOC, clay-based interior paints. (greenplanetpaints.com)
Benjamin Moore Pristine EcoSpec - Zero-VOC, under 1 gram/liter. Flat, eggshell, semi-gloss finishes and a primer.
Mythic Paints - Zero-VOC, interior and exterior paints, primers. (mythicpaint.com)
PPG Architectural Finishes - Pittsburgh Paints Pure Performance line
Homestead Paints - Zero-VOC, flat and low-sheen interior paints. (homesteadhouse.ca)
Vista Paint - Zero-VOC low-odor Carefree Earth Coat line
EarthSafePaints - Zero- and Low-VOC line of craft paints and finishes, marine finishes, home decor paints. (earthsafefinishes.com)
Low VOC - Low VOC paints, stains and varnishes use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents. As such, the levels of harmful emissions are lower than solvent-borne surface coatings. These certified coatings also contain no, or very low levels, of heavy metals and formaldehyde. The amount of VOC's varies among different "low-VOC" products, and is listed on the paint can or MSDS. Paints and stains, to meet EPA standards. must not contain VOCs in excess of 200 grams per litre. Varnishes must not contain VOCs in excess of 300 grams per liter. As a general rule, low VOC paints marketed by reputable paint manufacturers usually meet the 50 g/L VOC threshold. Paints with the Green Seal Standard (GS-11) mark are certified lower than 50 g/L (for flat sheen) or 150 g/L (for non-flat sheen).
Low VOC paints will still emit an odor until dry. If you are particularly sensitive, make sure the paint you buy contains fewer than 25 grams/liter of VOC's.
Benjamin Moore Aura - Low VOC, covers most surfaces in a single coat, durable, scrubbable.
Benjamin Moore Saman - Water-based wood stains
Cloverdale Horizon - Flat, Eggshell, Semi-Gloss interior enamels
Cloverdale EcoLogic - Low VOC, under 10 grams/liter. Flat, Eggshell, Semi-Gloss interior.
Miller Paint - Acro solvent-free interior acrylic line
OIKOS Paints - Interior and exterior paints, low voc, solvent-free. (www.oikos-paint.com)
Timber Ox Green - vegetable oil based, low voc wood stain and preservatives. (www.timberoxinfo.com)
VOC Absorbing Paints - these specialty paints contain an active ingredient that absorbs VOCs such as formaldehyde. The VOCs remain trapped (cannot be removed) within the product indefinitely. They are:
Atmosphere Purifying Wallpaint (APP) - a matt/flat finish wallpaint designed to absorb from underlying surfaces and also from the atmosphere in the painted room.
MDF Passivating Primer (MDFP) - a base-coat/primer for man-made or remanufactured wood type products (like MDF and ply) which typically off-gas formaldehyde and other VOCs.
Anti-Formaldehyde Radiator (AFR) Paint - new hot water radiators can off-gas formaldehyde for many months (sometimes as long as two years). AFR traps this before it can enter the atmosphere.
MDFP and AFR are remedial solutions for particular situations. APP is very commonly used over existing paints, or in spaces with new carpets or furnishings that are off-gassing. It is frequently applied to a ceiling (being a matt finish it looks like any other wall/ceiling paint) in cases where other items in the room are the cause of the problem.
APP, MDFP and AFR paints are available at ECOS Paints. ECOS Paints ships direct to homes throughout the US and Canada, the UK, France and Germany
Ethylene Glycol - a solvent used in latex paints, is listed as a hazardous substance and a toxic air contaminant under many federal and state regulations. A clear, colorless, odorless liquid, ethylene glycol and its vapor can be toxic to humans. Exposure may cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and allergic reactions are possible. Overexposure could lead to nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, coma, and respiratory failure. Repeated overexposure can permanently damage the kidneys. Ethylene glycol-free paints are available at Dunn Edwards.
Non-toxic Paint Strippers
Most paint strippers are caustic - they work by melting the paint. The active ingredient, methylene chloride, is a potential carcinogen. A new generation of biodegradable paint strippers is now entering the market. They are water-soluble and noncaustic. Some examples are:
CitriStrip - from Specialty Environmental Technologies, in Auburn Hills, MI.
Woodfinisher's Pride - from W.M.Barr & Co, in Memphis, TN.
Ameristrip - from Safe Alternatives Corp, in Ridgefield, CT.
Peel Away - from Dumond Chemicals, in New York. (212-869-6350)
RemovAll and Bio-Wash - from Napier Environmental Technologies in Vancouver BC.
The active ingredient in these products is N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP), an organic solvent. Rather than burning or melting, the compound chemically changes the paint itself, softening it for easier removal. While considered an organic solvent, NMP is still has potential health hazards. While the toxic effects of MNP on humans have not been well studied, MNP is toxic to the reproductive systems of male and female test animals. Based on the animal tests, you should treat NMP as a potential human reproductive hazard. Pregnant women especially should use extreme care or avoid using paint strippers entirely.
These new strippers are more expensive than their traditional counterparts, and they take longer to work.
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