Your Health

Painting Your Home? Here’s What To Look For To Keep Those Paint Fumes From Getting To You

Find out about the surprise ingredients that might be making you feel sick

Whether you’re painting your new house, or just giving your home a makeover, the satisfaction of a good paint job is SO real (hello to a new area of the house that is now instagrammable!). However, during the painting process, let’s be real, the paint fumes suck and it’s really no fun having to run over to the open window to gulp a few lungfuls of fresh air before heading back in to paint. Luckily, there are safer paints on the market and simple things you can do to ward off those headaches and avoid the nasty fumes.

Top 3 Things to Look For Safer Paint

  • Look for low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) content and emissions: Look for paint bases that either contain low VOCs or no VOCs (chances are these paints aren’t entirely devoid of VOCs, but definitely contain less than your typical paint) (1). VOCs are toxic gasses that are released from solids or liquids (4). In the case of paint, VOCs are released into the air as a paint dries (2). Aside from eye, nose and throat irritation, long-term exposure to VOCs are suspected to cause cancer and damage to the liver, kidney and central nervous system (4). Indoor plants are a great way to decrease the VOC concentration in your house, but you don’t want them there in the first place! One thing that you may find surprising is that some colors of paint may have more VOCs than others! When specifying colorants, choose colorants that do not add additional VOCs (1). As a good rule of thumb, the darker the pigment, the more VOCs there are, so if you’re painting a large area, stick to lighter colors to reduce your VOC exposure (9).
  • Look for APE-free Paints: Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) are a group of chemicals that are suspected endocrine disruptors (a.k.a. these little guys mess up how hormones should normally work in the body) (1). APEs have been found in blood, urine and even human breast milk, so it’s even more important to avoid paints with APEs if you have children or are breastfeeding (1). Looking for an APE-free paint is easy, most paint labels will list if a paint is APE-free. Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams both offer APE-free paint lines, but if you’re looking into another paint supplier, chances are they also carry an APE-free paint line, just ask (1)!
  • Avoid antimicrobials: Antimicrobial paint sounds like a great thing, but in reality, these paints do more harm than good. To clear up any confusion that might exist, antimicrobials in paint (and in other household products) are not actually effective and more often than not, are used as a marketing technique (5). Not only are the antimicrobials used generally harmful to humans, but overuse of them can lead to antibiotics resistance, so when we really need antibiotics to work, they don’t (6). Avoiding antimicrobial paints is easier than you think. Paints are often advertised for their antimicrobials properties – if you see this on the label, just put it back on the shelf!

4 Things To Do When You Paint

  • VENTILATION, VENTILATION, VENTILATION (3). We can’t emphasize this one enough! Making sure that you’re painting with open windows and fans running is the easiest way to minimize your exposure to VOCs.
  • Avoid painting during July, August and September, which is peak smog season (3).
  • When you’re not using your paints (even if you’re taking a small break), keep the lid on your paints to prevent VOC emission. And when you’re done painting, seal all paint and solvent laden rags to prevent additional VOCs (3).
  • Keep little ones away if you’re painting, and if you’re pregnant, recruit some friends to help you out. Preventing VOCs exposure to you and your little ones is the best thing you can do for health!
  • Check out more tips here from the California’s South Coast Air Pollution Control Agency

Buy Paints with these Certifications or Standards

  • GreenGuard Certification: GREENGUARD certifies that a product meets thresholds for formaldehyde, total aldehydes and total VOCs (7).
  • Green Seal Certification: GS-11 establishes performance criteria for products, and helps protect air quality, health, and the environment by prohibiting harmful chemicals and limiting VOC content for base paints and colorants (7).
  • Some paints may not be certified but are known as super-compliant paints, where they comply with the most stringent VOC emissions standards in the United States of <10 g/L (8).