You hear about smog and air-pollution on a regular basis. You can even see it as a purple haze over the horizon or exhaust blowing up from a truck. Although you can see (and smell) pollution outside, you are actually more susceptible to these toxins in your own home. Because indoor spaces are unable to provide the same kind of ventilation as the great outdoors, any airborne toxins that enter your home are generally there to stay. Research has shown that indoor pollutants can lead to everyday health disturbances, such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue and asthma, as well as life threatening conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
Some of the main culprits of indoor pollution are the airborne chemicals released in the process of painting a room (including stripping the old paint, repainting, and allowing the paint to dry). These potentially cancer-causing chemicals are referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are also present in cleaning products, pesticides and formaldehyde. These chemicals are most harmful during the painting process, but continue to emit toxins years after the paint has set.
If this isn’t enough reason to switch to eco-friendly paints, then you should at least consider the practical advantages. Both indoor and outdoor eco paints are easier to wash, stronger, and longer lasting.
Indoor Eco Paints
Indoor eco paints include low-VOC paints, clay paints, lime washes, and milk paints.
Low-VOC Paints are exactly what they sound like – paints with low percentages of VOCs. These paints are usually distinguishable by environmental certifications on their containers, which ensure that the paint has a volatile compound content of no more than fifty grams per liter of paint. Ultra low-VOC or zero-VOC paints have no more than 5 grams.
Clay paints, lime washes and milk paints are referred to as natural paints, because they contain no traces of VOC. While these are the safest choices for your home, they often come with a hefty price tag and special maintenance requirements.
As clay paints are made from… you guessed it… clay, their colors are limited to earthy shades. Clay would be a good choice if you want your earth-friendly remodel to be expressed by the colors of your walls.
Lime washes, derived from limestone and calcium, serve best on brick, wood, plaster and concrete surfaces. Due to the natural properties of calcium, lime wash paints sink into these porous surfaces creating uniquely antique finishes.
Milk Paint is milk-based and sold in powder form. This thick eco-paint can add an earthy and mild matte finish to any interior surface.
Exterior Eco Paints
Though you don’t have to be as concerned with paint pollutants when painting the exterior of your house (as the open air should mitigate the concentration of toxins), the fumes can still be troublesome during the initial painting process.
While lime washes and clay paints can be used on your exterior, these paints are needlessly expensive. A low VOC paint paired with the best paint sprayer for outdoor painting should be enough to get you through the painting process with negligible chemical impact. Of course, if you have any specific concerns, you can consult the experts at home good specialty stores, such as The Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Lynn Jackson is a graduate from the University of Southern California’s Master of Professional Writing Program. She regularly contributes guest posts to eco-friendly blogs and is interested in organic health, sustainable living, and saving the planet.
Photos: Eco Paints 1: Jennifer Horton; Eco Paints 2:Esprit Cabane