Paints are going green, and it’s not about the color. From low-to-zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to avoidance of toxic pigments, it’s a fact that greener paints are better for the environment and your health. Learn about greener primers, paints and sealers and where to get them.

Paints are now safer than ever. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strictly regulates all types of surface finishes. Be aware that no-VOC listing regulations allow some chemicals to be present if under 5 grams per liter (250 grams per liter for low-VOC) and others do not need to be listed at all. Fungicides may also be added and not listed. True natural products have no (zero) VOCs. Research the product before purchasing.

It’s better to purchase natural or no-VOC surface finishes to protect your family’s health from toxic outgassing of VOC paints. Generally, if it smells bad, don’t use it. Look for the seal of approval by Green Seal or GreenGuard, independent third parties that measure VOCs.

Decide Primer

Primers are used on bare surfaces for better paint adherence. They are not always necessary, depending on the type and cleanliness of the material. ECOS makes a zero-VOC wood primer, as well as an undercoat for accent areas where a deep color is needed, such as moldings and trim. AFM SafeCoat transitional primer contains no VOCs and can be used on many surfaces.

Pick Paint

For conventional paints, water-based paints are overall less toxic than oil-based ones. Remember, the worse the smell, the more VOCs in the product. Many paints are more natural (e.g., milk, clay and lime) and can be made at home (check online for recipes) or purchased. Milk paint has a long history of use dating back to ancient Egypt and provides a textured finished. Clay paint gives an earthy adobe look to surfaces reminiscent of the Southwest and comes in mainly natural earth tones. Best used in dry rooms, such as living and bedrooms, as it does not hold up as well in bathrooms or other moist areas. Not a great paint if you have young kids, as marks and dirt on walls cannot be washed, but must be retouched with more clay paint. However, a low-VOC sealer may be used over the paint to allow marks to be washed off. Sold in a variety of colors, natural lime paint gives a glow to porous surfaces such as concrete, wood, brick and plaster. True natural paints have no chemicals at all. Try Tierrafino, California Paints, BioShield Paints, AFM or ECOS brands for a wide selection.

Add Color

Avoid synthetic pigments, which contain VOCs and other chemicals, and stick to organic ones. Your selection of paint tints may be decreased, but there is still a wide of colors to choose from, depending on the type of paint used and choice of eco-friendly brand. Valspar is one brand of no-VOC tints.

Get It

Nowadays, even big paint manufacturers make environmentally friendly paints. Low-VOC is becoming the norm. Check chain stores in your area to see their selection (Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Ace Hardware). Research area paint suppliers to see if there are any locally made brands. See a brand you like online? Ask a local green building or paint supplier if they carry it or can special order it for you. The more people ask for natural paint products, the more suppliers will carry them.


Originally Published at