Whether you like the color green or not, painting your home with “green” or eco-friendly paint is an important step in maintaining healthy indoor air.

Conventional paints give off large amounts of toxic vapors when they are wet, but there are also concerns that such paints may continue to out-gas chemicals even after they are dry. & So what’s so bad about conventional paint? Here are some things to think about as you choose your paints.

VOCs

You may have seen paint with “low-VOCs” or “VOC-free” on the label. This refers to volatile organic compounds, chemicals in paint that are partially responsible for the nasty odor and headaches experienced by many who breathe them. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), VOCs can out-gas from liquids or solids, implying that dry paint is not necessarily safe.

Exposure to VOCs can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation. It affects the central nervous system, resulting in lack of coordination and headaches. Even the digestive system may react negatively to VOC exposure, with nausea and liver damage. While many people complain about the sick feeling they get from the “new paint smell,” they may not realize they could be doing actual damage to their bodies.

Pigments

The pigments in conventional paints are usually synthetic. For chemically-sensitive people, this can present a problem. Eco-friendly paints usually have natural pigments such as earth clays, which poses much less of a problem for those with chemical allergies.

Solvents

The solvents used to clean brushes and rollers contain toxic chemicals as well. Mineral spirits are a petroleum-based solvent, and the odors are often strong. Turpentine is derived from a natural substance (pine), but it has an extremely strong odor and has been known to cause sleepiness and headaches.

Fortunately, many of the mainline paint manufacturers offer a line of “green” paints. Some of these have clay-based pigments and are 100% organic. Others are simply low-VOC or VOC-free. Always look for VOC-free paint, although low VOC content is better than high.

There are also manufacturers that only make eco-friendly paint. These companies produce “green” paints with natural clay pigments, paints with a milk-protein base, and other natural options.

Be sure to buy water-based latex paint so you do not have to use paint thinners and solvents. And while you are engaged in eco-friendly painting, make sure you make other aspects of the experience green, too. For example, use a reusable drop cloth instead of a disposable plastic one. You can also buy biodegradable drop cloths, usually for less than $5.

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