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Seven Tips for Healthy Painting

by Margie Kelly
Communications Manager
Healthy Child Healthy World
www.healthychild.org

There’s nothing like a fresh coat of paint to improve the look and feel of a room. In the process of making your home beautiful, however, you don’t want to contaminate the air you breathe for days or even years by choosing paints that aren’t healthy for you or the environment.

A major health concern when painting is the increased presence of volatile organic compounds – or VOCs. VOCs are primarily synthetic compounds emitted by paints, cleaning supplies, cosmetics, vinyl, air fresheners, and more that make your throat hurt or eyes itch; over the long term, they are suspected to cause cancer in humans.

Even when you’re not removing or applying paint to your walls, the levels of VOCs in your home average two to five times higher indoors than outdoors, according to the EPA. Painting and stripping off old paint raises the levels of VOCs in your home considerably.

Bottom line: VOCs should be kept to a minimum so no one gets hurt.

Consider these other tips to make your painting experience healthy for everyone in your home.

1. Check for lead. If you’re in a home built before 1978, there’s likely some lead paint in there. Don’t ever sand lead paint; lead dust is super-toxic and you don’t want to start spreading it around your home. Take extra precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones, including your pets, from lead exposure.
2. Stripping is dangerous. According to the EPA, immediately after paint stripping, indoor levels of VOCs 1,000 times higher than background outdoor levels. Be sure to ventilate the space and take extra precautions outlined in this publication from the CPSC & EPA before starting to strip paint.
3. Look for low- or zero-VOC paint. They may still have an odor but these paints are much safer than standard latex or water-based paints. (And avoid using oil paints inside, period.)
4. Sneaky BPA shows up in paints, too. Believe it or not, toxic chemical bisphenol A, better known for its appearances in baby bottles and canned foods, is sometimes used epoxy-based paints. Be sure to look for BPA-free paint.
5. Pick your color carefully. Sometimes finding the perfect paint color can change the way you feel about a room. But don’t let a pretty color lead you down the path to higher VOC levels. Light colors have fewer VOCs so take that into consideration before falling in love with a color.
6. Only buy what you need. You can always go back if you need another coat. (Check out this paint calculator to get started) And, since you really don’t want old paint buckets rotting away in your basement or garage, donate your leftover paint to a school, church, or community group. Diane @biggreenpurse has great ideas about how to get the most out of the paint you use.
7. Keep the air moving. Use fans and keep your windows open when painting to help prevent your home from filling up with paint fumes. Take breaks from painting to go outside for fresh air. Chemicals stay in the air long after the paint dries, so keep the house well-ventilated for two to three days after painting to keep your indoor air safe.

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