By now, you’ve probably heard about all the dangers of indoor air pollution. Within the closed doors and windows of our homes, the fumes from paint and cleaners, dust and a myriad of other factors all contribute to a problem that is five to ten times worse than even outside city air.
Interior house paints — whose ingredients can include solvents, toxic metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — are among the main culprits that lead to poor indoor air quality. The smell of a freshly painted room may dissipate within days, but the off-gas release of that paint can contribute to the indoor air pollution for up to five more years.
Some people are more affected by paint fumes than others. In addition to the young and elderly, pregnant women and people with chemical sensitivities, allergies or asthma also tend to be more vulnerable to paint’s off-gas release. Fortunately, there are green alternatives to regular interior house paint — see the three primary green paint options below. And while none will provide the full range of shades and durability of their more conventional cousins, your options are not as limited as you might first have thought.
The first option is the so-called Zero-VOC paints. While they don’t quite produce zero emissions, they come close – with less than 10g/l volatile organic compounds (versus 5-10% in regular water-based paints and as high as 40-60% in solvent-based paints)1. Zero-VOC paints provide the closest substitution to regular paints and are available in a wide range of colors in flat, satin and glossy finishes. They are easy to apply and durable. They are also sold in most major paint supply stores and home improvement centers. Keep in mind though, that with this alternative, lighter shades of paint produce fewer VOC emissions than darker/deeper colors.
The second option is clay paints. They are made up of all natural ingredients that include water, mineral pigments, soy and other plant-based components. They are biodegradable and have a nice “side effect” of absorbing odors. Although it may be difficult to apply, a clay-based paint will readily adhere to most interior surfaces and provide a pleasing suede-like finish, but the color selection is limited to mostly earth tones. Because a surface that is painted with a clay-based paint cannot be washed, scrubbed or wiped, you may want to apply a protective sealer coat over the paint.
The third alternative is milk paints. This group contains the most organic, most environmentally friendly ingredients of your options for interior paints and is the best choice for those most likely to have problems with other paints. In addition to being completely biodegradable, milk paint also helps clean the air inside your home by absorbing carbon dioxide2 – an unexpected but nice side effect (to learn more about carbon dioxide, see http://www.acoolerclimate.com/carbon-dioxide ). This paint is sold in a powdered form that must be mixed before using. It is available in a very limited selection of colors and when dry, it may give your walls an uneven, mottled faux-finish look. Like clay paint, milk paint only comes in a matte finish and you may want to add a protective sealer coat over it to increase its durability.
We spend so much time indoors, and while it’s not possible for most people to build a totally green home (although one family is doing it – see here), green house paints can help dramatically reduce the overall toxic load on your and your family’s health.
Photo by alancleaver_2000
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