May 11, 2009–Today’s Way: There are a number of toxic chemicals in a typical gallon of household paint, among them, ammonia, acetone, fungicides, biocides, heavy metals and solvents, and some are known carcinogens.  You can smell some of them in paint—those familiar fumes are the result of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)—which are slowly evaporating off into your home.  And you might think that because you can’t smell the fumes after the paint dries then the chemicals are gone, but they’re not.  In fact, you will be breathing in the VOCs which will continue outgassing over the next few years.  According to the EPA, the air quality indoors in the typical modern home is three times worse than that of the out-of-doors, and in our homes is where we spend most of our lifetimes. Much of that indoor pollution comes from paints, stains and carpets (we’ll talk about rugs and carpets in a future post).

Luckily, there are alternatives.  Beautiful alternatives, actually, and in more choices and brands than ever.  Natural paints make use of safe ingredients, and which contain low or no VOCs.  Of course, some brands are better than others.  It is my experience that if you stick to the brands and companies which have been in the natural paints business longest, the better the integrity of the products.  There are a lot of the mainstream, big name brands that have recently hopped on the “non-toxic” paint bandwagon, which is some improvement over traditional toxic formulas, but you will still want to do a bit of research and comparison before choosing your paint.  Beware of the broad term “Non-Toxic”…this can mean nearly anything.  Instead, look for the terms “ZERO VOCs” and “Natural Paints”.  These will be products that make use of a water base, with natural ingredients such as clays, natural pigments, resins, plant oils, beeswax and even milk—milk paints are made from the casein protein in milk, and give a rustic, flat wash of color.  These natural paints still offer all the colors of the rainbow, without the harmful pollution or environmental hazards from manufacturing through disposal.   Be on the lookout for the term “Low VOCs”, which will likely appear on those bigger brands with a “non-toxic” alternative line, but this is also a broad term and speaks nothing of the actual contents of the paint and do still give off low-level emissions over time.

My two favorite brands are Bioshield and AFM Safecoat, and for a very informative page on Natural vs. Non-Toxic paints, visit here.