You may not experience the off-gassing of toxic chemicals into your home at first. But over time, volatile organic compounds (VOC) used in paint, thinners, and stains can render the air quality inside your home three times worse than what you'd experience outdoors. Today's green or sustainable paints don't cost appreciably more than traditional interior flat or semi-gloss paints.
Reactions to VOCs include respiratory ailments, allergies, chronic headaches, irritability and dizziness. The Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for measuring VOC content paints for use in the home. Measured in grams per liter ranging up to 250, products with VOCs tallying 5 grams or less per liter receive the zero VOC designation.
Top American manufacturers have begun to add a line of non-VOC paint to their product lines. Examples include Harmony Interior Acrylic Latex by Sherwin-Williams, Natura Waterborne Interior Paint by Benjamin Moore or Olympic's Premium Interior Paint. All come with a low- or non-odor base.
Low-VOC paints are based with water, rather than petroleum or solvents. They may carry an odor while drying, but the scent goes away afterwards. The stains bearing the low-VOC distinction have 25 grams or less per liter. Major brands include Benjamin Moore's Aura, Cloverdale EcoLogic, Behr Premium Plus Ultra, and Glidden Premium.
Natural Paints and Finishes
You'll find an extensive, ever-expanding assortment of paints, stains and finishes made from natural plant resins, soy, food-grade dyes, beeswax, milk casein, mineral compounds and essential oils. These paints when made from a water base emit no smells, while those made from citrus or linseed oils have pleasant fragrances. Manufacturers include Unearthed Paints, LIVOS, Anna Sova and Real Milk Paint, Co.
Paint Pro Magazine reports on a new generation of biodegradable paint removers, citing the lines of soy-based products that are springing up across the DIY landscape. Top marks went to Motsenbocker's Lift Off, a product that separates paint from surfaces without melting or dissolving it.
Safer biodegradable strippers were found to take longer than caustic strippers to do the job because they dry more slowly than thinners with methylene chloride, a chemical known to cause cancer that off-gasses volatile elements as it dries. Other non-toxic strippers include Peel Away, Citristrip and Woodfinisher's Pride.
This list should get you started in your search for non- or low-VOC paints. They clean up easily and manufacturers have solved some of the coverage issues found with previous versions of these family-safe products. I recently read that 2012 kitchen colors borrow from nature. So why not use paints that borrow nature's elements?