Choosing a Non-Toxic Paint

Of course you want the paint you put onto your home's walls to be beautiful, stylish, colorful, and easy to apply. Don't you also want your paint to be non-toxic to the humans and animals in your home? Paints and finishes are among the leading causes of polluted indoor air, and when you consider that indoor air is three times more polluted as outdoor air, and is considered by the EPA to be one of the top hazards to human health, using non-toxic paint seems like an easy fix. Paints and other surface finishes can add low level toxic emissions into the air for years to come in the form of volatile organic compounds. Because consumers have begun demanding low VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes, more and more paint manufacturers are offering one or more varieties of these healthier paints. The new, non-toxic paints are durable, beautiful, cost effective and much less harmful to humans and the environment.

Choosing Your Non-Toxic Paint

Even zero-VOC paint formulas have a small amount of toxins, but, in general, there are three categories of non-toxic or low-toxic paints: Natural paints, zero VOC and low VOC. Natural paints and finishes are made from water, plant oils and resins, plant dyes and essential oil as well as clay, chalk, talcum, milk casein, natural latex, bees' wax and earth and mineral dyes. Water-based natural paints will give off virtually no smell, rather giving off a mild, pleasant odor of citrus or essential oils. It is quite uncommon for anyone to have an allergic reaction to these natural paints, making them safe for your health and for the environment. The Real Milk Paint Company manufacturer a paint which is comprised of milk-proteins, lime, clay and earth pigments and is completely non-toxic to humans and animals. Green Planet Paints offer high performance natural paints made with plants and minerals, while Masters Blend has natural wood finishes based on tung-nut oil, giving your woodwork, furniture, carvings, cutting boards, brick and concrete, beautiful new life.

Zero VOC

The EPA allows any paint which has VOC's in the range of 5 grams per liter or less to be called zero VOC. Adding color tints to such paints will generally bring the VOC's up to approximately 10 grams per liter, which is also considered to be very low. Devoe Wonder Pure offers odor-free interior acrylic latex paints with zero VOC's, as do Green Planet Paints, Homestead Paints, Olympic Paint and Stain and American Pride. Dunn-Edwards offers Enso, an ultra-low odor, zero-VOC, ethylene and glycol-free interior paints in flat, eggshell and semi-gloss, while Earth Safe Paints offers zero and low VOC craft paints and finishes, marine finishes and home décor paints.


Low VOC paints, stains and varnishes use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents, making the levels of harmful emissions lower than solvent-borne surface coatings. Low VOC paints and finishes offer no, or very low levels of heavy metals and formaldehydes. To meet EPA standards, Low VOC paints and stains may not contain VOC's in excess of 200 grams per liter, while varnishes cannot contain VOC's in excess of 300 grams per liter. Be aware that Low VOC paints will still emit a "paint" odor until dry, so if you are particularly sensitive to chemicals, make sure you go for the zero-VOC paints. Benjamin Moore offers a low VOC paint which covers in one coat and is both durable and washable and also has a water-based wood stain with low VOC's. Miller Paints offers a solvent-free interior acrylic line of paints, as does OIKOS and Cloverdale. Timber Ox Green has a line of low VOC wood stains and preservatives which are vegetable-oil based.

No matter which paint or varnish you choose, it is just as easy to choose a low or zero-VOC product as not, and your family can gain significant health benefits through a relatively easy choice.