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Paints and Finishes Part I

Paints and Finishes Part I

Paints and other finishes (like stains and varnishes) are some of the most notorious violators of indoor air quality in our homes. One reason for their bad reputation is that paints, stains, and other finishes often release (outgas) substantial quantities of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs). Because of out-gassing, the early months of inhabitation can be taxing, indeed even harmful, to one’s health. For people who are chemically sensitive, the effect can be devastating.

To minimize, or better yet, eliminate the outgassing problem, a number of companies are producing low- and no-VOC finishing products. Virtually any commercial product that is stocked on the shelf of local paint stores-even varnishes and stains-can now be replaced by a low-impact, people-friendly alternative. In addition, most alternative paints and finishes are water soluble, which makes for easy cleaning.

To protect yourself and your workers, the very least you can do is to purchase a low- or no-VOC latex paint. Glidden’s Spred 2000 is a low-VOC paint. It is readily available in the U.S. and other countries. I’ve seen it in large homebuilding outlets including Home Base and Home Depot, independent paint stores, and many of the large discount stores such as Kmart-and at fairly decent prices. Another paint to look for is Benjamin Moore’s no-VOC paint, Pristine.

Low- and no-VOC paints are great, but many of them still contain mercury or lead. To address this drawback, manufacturers such as Wellborn Paint in Denver and Miller Paint Company in Portland, Oregon, produce low or no-VOC paints made without lead or mercury.

Unbeknownst to many, paints contain chemicals to extend their shelf life. Many paints also contain small amounts of chemical fungicides and mildewcides. Although the concentrations of these chemicals are relatively small and are believed to pose no health risk, you may want to order biocide-free paints, especially if you are chemically sensitive. Check out the SafeCoat paints and stains produced by AFM Enterprises in San Diego. The company sells a complete line of people-friendly paints, stains, and finishes, as well as sealers, cleaners, and adhesives. Their products contain no formaldehyde, fungicide, or mildewcide, and meet the strictest VOC emissions standards currently in place. Although they cost more, they may be worth the extra expense. Be sure to check out Miller Paint and BioShield paints, too. They contain no formaldehyde, heavy metals, or biocides.

For those who want to use all-natural products, the Old-fashioned Milk Paint Company in Groton, Massachusetts, is a family-run company that produces paints from milk protein (casein). Their products contain no biocides, are popular among chemically sensitive individuals, and are available in sixteen colors.

Another line of products worth strong consideration are the oil-based paints made by Livos. Don’t be alarmed. I did say oil-based, but what I meant was oil from orange peels. Livos manufactures a complete line of paints from undercoat or primer to wall paint for interior and exterior use. The company even sells a natural organic paint stripper.

Read more: Crafts & Design, Green Home Decor

Adapted from The Natural House, A Complete Guide to Healthy, energy-Efficient, Environmental Homes, by Daniel D. Chiras. Copyright (c) 2000, by Daniel D. Chiras. Reprinted by permission of Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
Adapted from The Natural House, by Daniel D. Chriras.

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Annie B. Bond

Annie is a renowned expert in non-toxic and green living. She was named one of the top 20 environmental leaders by Body and Soul Magazine and "the foremost expert on green living." - Body & Soul Magazine, 2009. Learn Annie's latest eco-friendly news on, a website dedicated to healthy and green living.

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+ add your own
12:57PM PDT on Sep 9, 2011

Thank you

9:35AM PDT on Jul 30, 2010

And if you truly want zero VOCs and the most healthy and safe wall covering, check out American Clay earth plaster wall finish (replaces paint, resists mold, sound attenuating, zero waste, textures only limited by your imagination, 100s of matchable colors, beautiful).

11:27AM PST on Jan 14, 2008

Baby Safe Finishes makes a great Zero VOC, low odor paint. We used it in our entire house! Really high quality paint! Their website is

8:56AM PDT on Aug 15, 2007

our local garbage dump has a recycling program that accepts those items. maybe yours does too?? :)

8:16AM PDT on Jun 12, 2007

I'm too late for no-VOC paints. I just used an oil-based primer on my deck. I used mineral spirits to clean up with. Where should I throw out the mineral spirits?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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people are talking

So cute. She may be dreaming she plays with a ball !

Not to mention that massive fishing operations that sell to the companies that make such useless sup…

Thanks for sharing.


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