So, you are thinking about adding a splash of color, maybe you are getting a room ready for a new child or repairing some old walls. Being the mindful person you are, you’re probably considering one of the many Low/No VOC paints we see on the market today. I’m here to help you weed through the labels and find the truth regarding these paint options.
Typical household paint may contain upwards of 300 known toxic chemicals (half of which have been linked to cancer) and a total of more than 10,000 total chemicals. Yikes. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are the worst offenders in the paint chemical category. VOCs continue to seep out into the air we breathe for many years after being placed on a surface. How’s that for “new nursery smell”? (Image by Napalm Filled Tires on Flickr under CreativeCommons.)
Tidbit to remember: If you purchase a low/no VOC paint, you lose all bonus points once the paint is tinted using a standard colorant. So, generally speaking, low/no VOC paint is only good if you keep it white. Ask your paint counter employee for more information. I’ve found they are generally knowledgeable and will give it to you straight!
Well, now you are thinking that ruins your green minded remodeling plans doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to. I’ve been researching paint for some time, we are moving into a new to us home (built 40 years ago versus new construction because reuse is more environmentally friendly). This home is OUTDATED and we need to paint every wall, replace every floor, update kitchens and baths. That’s a lot of work! I certainly don’t want my (excessively large) family breathing in VOCs and other toxins.
Here are some “green”, “No VOC”, “Green Seal Certified” paints on the market and the interesting facts about the finished product to help you make a green-informed decision.
Earth Friendly Paint #1- Olympic “Green Seal Certified” Paints. Claim: “Our Olympic Premium Interior paint products combine an outstanding quality Zero VOC formula that is better for the environment and dries with no lingering odor…”. Well, that would lead any (not fully informed) individual to grab a can of Olympic and head to the paint counter with their color swatch. Perhaps they should add a disclaimer on their site about colorants and VOCs. The current wording is HIGHLY misleading. I looked at this paint while at a home improvement store last night. The store (like most) only carries standard colorant and the paint employee was happy to discuss the VOCs in the colorant with me. This paint (at least at the stores I’ve found) isn’t low or no VOC once colorant is added. (Even if the store carries VOC Free Colorant for another product line, they can’t use it in a paint other than the intended product line.)
Earth Friendly Paint #2- Natura by Benjamin Moore. This one is truly VOC FREE even in colors! I can hear the Angels singing (in my head, hey, this is a big deal!). This paint uses a VOC Free base and VOC Free colorant. Currently, this paint product is available in WA, OR (yay!), CA & TX, however it is set to be available nationwide this Spring. I called around to some local paint retailers and many don’t carry this paint yet since it is a new product. However, I was able to locate a paint store within 20 miles of my home that carries the paint base, confirmed they also carry the VOC Free colorant for the base and advised that the sheens are Eggshell, Satin and Semi-Gloss. One gallon will cost you about $45. (Well worth not developing paint toxin related cancer.)
Earth Friendly Paint #3- Mythic Paint. This one is also completely VOC Free. Mythic paints can be purchased online directly from the company if there is not a retailer within 15 miles of your zip code. Otherwise, they require the retailers to use a VOC Free colorant in the paint. I called our local stores to verify and was advised of the process (a Mythic Paint Representative travels to the store location to set up the special colorant system, which is separate from the standard colorants and Free of VOCs). This paint starts around $40 a gallon in stores, online a gallon of eggshell will run $50.99 (with free shipping).
Earth Friendly Paint #4- The FreshAire Choice (Home Depot). This paint and colorant are 100% VOC Free. There are 65 colors and 3 sheens available. The prices start around $33 per gallon at our local Home Depot store. This is the least expensive of the VOC Free Paint Base and Colorants I have found.
The nitty gritty. If the colorant is not VOC Free (and most aren’t) then your final paint will not be VOC Free. That means, you will still be breathing in all those nasty cancer causing toxins and polluting the environment. You will pay more for a quality VOC Free paint, but we are used to paying more for quality. Fresh food costs more than packaged food filled with colors and other artificial nasties. Plastic furniture is cheaper than quality natural fiber furniture. In the end, as with most things, you get what you pay for.
Ask your retailer about their colorant process before making any paint purchase. As with the Olympic paint, you might end up with something other than what you think. Most paint counter associates are informed and helpful with the process and are happy to discuss colorants and VOCs with you (at least in my experience).
As for the rest of our renovation plans, we are keeping it green by using reclaimed flooring, refinishing cabinets (vs. replacing), using natural (long lasting) materials and other resources like Habit for Humanities ReStore. Our “new” furniture purchases will (like always) be through sources such as Craigslist. Not only does this save us money, it also allows us to get high quality furniture without using virgin resources.
There are also many ways you can improve your indoor air quality for free removing existing VOCs.
I’d like to make a note about the Freshaire Paint, we used it to repaint our kitchen and were hesitant at first because the color samples they have at Home Depot have a tendency to look dull and dark. But after painting our kitchen, with the Evening Peruvian Lily and Delightful Daffodil, it is actually very vibrant. The paint is affordable and appears to stand up to crayons pretty well so far.
Thank you so much for this post – very informative! We will probably be doing some painting this summer and now I know which VOC paint’s I can use. Luckily Home Depot is right down the road.!
Jamie Ervin says
Carlota- Thanks so much for sharing your experience! We haven’t gotten to the painting step, so its great to hear from those who have already used these products! Personally, I’m thrilled that truly VOC free paint is getting easier to find!
Natura by Benjamin Moore – Currently, this paint product is available in WA, OR (yay!), Can you tell me where in Oregon? I live in the Portland area and have been looking for a VOC free paint to paint our childrens bedrooms.
J. Mclusky says
Jamie, you have a few things wrong. One note on the Olympic Paint you mentioned (disclaimer: I work for the company). You claim that Olympic is not low-voc once tint is added, but this is not true. Low-VOC is generally considered to contain fewer than 50 g/l. The lighter the color, the fewer tint is added. Most light colors will contain between 0-10 VOC g/l, while medium shade colors will be from 10-35 VOC. The darkest colors (requiring the greatest amount of tint) will generally be under 50 as well, but still low-VOC. Most paints start out with 150-250 VOC g/l and post tinting can be upwards of 300 g/l.
Note 2: you also say that the other paints listed are “Green Seal Certified” but Olympic is the only one that holds that distinction from your list. You can check out the green seal website for paints that actually are “Green Seal Certified.”
Note 3: The only price you forgot to mention was that of Olympic’s. You mentioned the rest of the paints (ranging from $33-45.) Olympic has a price tag of $16-21 per gallon. Whether or not spending twice the price for a “zero-VOC color” versus a zero-VOC or (at worst) a low-VOC color is good info for a green consumer to have.
Note 4: Olympic was given the March 2009 Consumer Reports Top Low-VOC distinction, as well as two Best Buy recommendations, something no other zero-voc paint was given.(In fact, CR found that all zero-voc paints contained at least some amount of voc’s.).
I think it’s great to inform readers about Green products out their, but I also think accuracy is important (mainly the misinformation about the tinting process and green-seal certifications as well).
Hopefully you can use some of this information to revise your claims in the future. Thanks!
John Wilson says
Is there any particular reason you did not include Safecoat paint from AFM? We’ve used it many times over the years, and because of chemical injury (originally from formaldehyde) we have to be very careful. It’s made in San Diego and pretty widely available.
Also note that some of the paints mentioned in the article above are not made in the USA, but in China. Be aware of what you are purchasing, make informed choices. For example, FreshAire from Home Depot is made in China. Be educated, be informed and be curious!
Thanks for sharing Jessica. I was debating between purchasing a Freshaire paint or one by Yolo Colorhouse which is about $3 more but made in Portland, Oregon. I’d much rather support a made in USA paint supplier. I’m picking it up at a local home remodeling place, but turns out that Home Depot also sells Yolo Colorhouse online. Go figure.
Jessica- this is not true. Freshaire Choice is made by Akzo Nobel Paints, and their plants are in the United States. Get your information straight before misinforming people.
This is for Jessica,
The Freshaire Choice isn’t made in China. It is made in Ohio actually. Just letting you know. I toured the plant. Later!
Great Article! as a matter of fact a new product arrived to the United States finally, developed in Europe with an actual no-VOC even in the presence of color additives, it reduces pollution, yes you read it right! it reduces pollution through a photo-catalytic process with UV rays, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-mold, self-insulated and self-cleaning, interior or exterior.
Ecogreen-Plus was deemed as one of the 50 top most innovative products in the world by Time magazine, like many new inventions the reduction of pollution capability was discovered by acccident.
If you are concerned about the environment and do not want a paint that only bounces back or is passive about pollution research our product and find out why Ecogreen-Plus will cause an environmental revolution in the United States.
Angie Glover says
I used ECOtrend to paint my home. I liked the fact that they used recycled eggshells in their paint. Ancient people used eggshells in some of their paints too.
Give me lead based paint anyday…Green this…
Just curious if you checked these paints for other chemicals like for example mercury, formaldehyde, formaldehyde precursors, crystalline silica or other known toxic materials or suspected carcinogens? Also wondering how safe the following chemicals found in Freshaire paint are kaolin, clay
titanium oxide, titanium dioxide, vinyl acetate/acrylic copolymer vinyl acetate/acrylic copolymer. thanks
Tint Colorant Correction from article: Actually, Lowe’s now uses Zero-VOC tint colorants as of 2010, which makes Valspar Signature and Premium Interior Paints all Low VOC, and Olympic Premium Interior Paints are Zero-VOC. Without the tint, both products still remain either Low VOC (Valspar) or Zero-VOC (Olympic).
Several random comments…
I used the Valspar from Lowe’s (which I thought was VOC-free, not “low”-VOC), and the coverage/opacity was poor.
On the Home Depot site, a search of VOC-free paint quickly sent me to the YOLO Colorhouse line with no hint of Freshaire. The YOLO line clearly states that it doesn’t function as a primer, nor are there any suggestions here for priming – when it’s needed or who sells VOC-free primers.
The Home Depot website showed a tint of white that is closest to what I want, but it didn’t show up when I filtered the search by “white” tint, so you have to overcome the listing problems.
The YOLO line is only available online.
Another sign of Home Depot website problems: when I typed “Freshaire” into the search box, I was directed to sales pitches for Freshaire. I had to visit 6 pages before finding a local store – and that is 9 miles away.
Finally, the downside of buying Freshaire is that you apparently have to buy it from Home Depot, whose corporate policies are not exactly people, animal or earth-friendly.
Freshaire Paint (solely distributed through Home Depot by Glidden) has unfortunately been discontinued.
Jessica Pfohl says
This is a good overview of conventional low/zero-VOC paints on the market, but unfortunately you didn’t include any natural paints. All of the paints on your list are made with highly processed petrochemical ingredients (i.e. ingredients that started out as crude oil). There are plenty of great natural paints out there that are zero-VOC and made with minimally processed ingredients such as clay, lime, and casein (milk paints). Natural paints are easy to use and are the most ecologically sound and healthiest way to paint your home. Our company, Unearthed Paints, has a wide selection of natural paints, plasters and wood finishes.
Out of all the homes I’ve painted my worst experience has been with Olympic paints, It was stringy, did not cover, had to apply 3 full coats and some touch ups, I guess that the old saying of you get what you pay for is true.
Gee who cares Rick…
Erica J says
This was a very informative article. Thanks for writing and bringing the information to the forefront!
Karen Oliver-Paull says
Over Christmas I painted the ceiling in our bathroom using Valspar No VOC kitchen and Bathroom paint untinted. Even with the windows and door open it burned my throat and bronchial tubes so badly I had to see a doctor. This guy was young and cocky and ignored me telling him about the paint and said I had a bad case of acute bronchitis and put me on antibiotics which did no good whatsoever as it wasn’t an infection. I had tinted paint to use on the rest of the bathroom so I had windows open, fans blowing and still today I have the same irritation I had from the untinted paint on the ceiling. Until recently I’ve used Behr regular old VOC laden paint and never had any problems. What good is No VOC paint if it kills you while you’re painting. At least with the old paint it only kills you over time instead of all at once.
Low VOC OR NO VOC does NOT mean CHEMICAL-Free. This is an advertising ploy. For paint to be chemical free, it has to say NON-TOXIC PAINT. OTHERWISE YOU ARE STILL BUYING TOXIC PAINT.
Jennifer Lance says