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Ready to freshen up your home’s nursery or playroom with a new coat of paint? The good news is that finding a paint that won’t compromise indoor air quality has never been easier. Thanks to stricter regulation and consumer demand, companies have reformulated paint products to reduce VOCs, which are a class of chemicals that can cause indoor pollution. Low or no-VOC paints also claim to be low odor — another great benefit.  So what do you need to know in addition to counting VOCs to choose a safer paint for your family and the environment?

Every VOC counts.

Look for paints that have 50 g/liter of VOC content or less. Manufacturers measure VOC content before colorants are added, and they often contain VOCs of their own. So to minimize VOCs, make sure to ask the paint dealer about the VOC content of their pigments. Many brands have certain color ranges that have reduced or no VOCs.

What do the different “green” certifications mean?

Some paint brands promote their “green cred” on their cans, highlighting certifications that are self-awarded or from independent groups. Look for third-party certifications including Green Seal and Green Wise.

Use high quality, durable paint.

A paint job that lasts years is better for the environment. Repainting after only a short time is a waste of resources, energy, and money! Research to make sure you have the right paint for the job, and consider Consumer Reports or other established rankings to help evaluate products.

Test for your tolerance.

If you are chemically sensitive, purchase a quart of the paint you are considering and paint a test area. If the odor doesn’t bother you, you can feel more confident about painting a whole room.

Take care of mildew at its source before you paint.

Increase ventilation and lower humidity in problem areas. It’s important to thoroughly clean existing mildew before painting over it. Many paints include fungicides and mildewcides to inhibit fungus and mold growth. Check the MSDS sheet or ask the manufacturer to verify the ingredients. Ecohaus offers brands that do not include these chemical additives.

Prep precaution.

Be very careful with old lead paint when remodeling. Hire a contractor certified in lead abatement to remove it for you. (For Washington state residents: here is a list of contractors in Washington.) When sanding or removing even lead-free paint, wear a dust mask or respirator and keep the area well ventilated since this process can generate carcinogenic crystalline silica dust.

Store paint properly so it doesn’t go to waste.

Keep all paint products in their original containers. Cover the top with plastic wrap, ensure the lid is securely closed and store it upside down, which keeps the paint fresh by creating an airtight seal. Store your paint like you’d store a fine wine, not too hot and not too cold.  Freezing paint will dramatically reduce its usefulness.


Most importantly, to minimize disposal, learn how to properly estimate paint needs.  For proper disposal, leave the can open to dry the remaining paint, and dispose with your household trash. (For King County, WA residents: Latex paints are no longer considered hazardous waste.) For more information on disposal, check out this guide on recycling paint.