The Bad News
The level of air pollution inside your home is greater than the air pollution outside, even in urban settings. What’s up with that? Beyond the fumes from your gas range and cooking aromas, and beyond the air “fresheners” to cover up those and other smells, your interior surfaces and furnishings are polluting your home. Your walls, floors, rugs, furniture, accessories, and bedding all likely contain or are treated with chemicals that can be absorbed through your skin and off-gas into the air you’re breathing inside your own home.
Start with Paint
Your interior walls compose the largest surface area in your home. The paint you select to finish that surface provides color, and possibly texture, to your space, setting the mood and affecting how you feel. It can also affect your physical health via the air you breathe, even long after any fresh-paint smell may have faded away. Choosing a paint that looks great and won’t harm you, your family, or your pets, is the first step toward a healthy home and probably gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
What’s It Made Of?
Basically, paint consists of solvents, resins for binding and adhesion, and pigments. Within these components there may be volatile organic compounds (“VOCs”), which are chemicals commonly used in commercial paints as stabilizers, driers, thickeners, and preservatives. These toxic vapors are extremely hazardous to your health — we’re talking about asthma, organ damage, certain cancers, and reproductive harm.
Look for Certifications
Some paints that are labeled “non-toxic” aren’t necessarily so, and you can’t count on product labels and online ingredient lists to be comprehensive. It’s best to check for independent testing certifications; in the U.S., these include GREENGUARD and Green Seal, which guarantee certain standards set by the EPA.
Look for paints that are 100% free of VOCs. There are low-VOC paints, but even paints labeled zero-VOC are allowed to contain small amounts of VOCs. The impact can be significant, as just one gallon of paint used can release up to 5 pounds of VOCs into the air.
It’s true – most wall paints are not vegan! Dairy cows, robbed of their babies and hooked up to machines, are forced to produce milk for human consumption and paint! So, don’t forget to also screen paints for casein, as well as ox gall, also from cows, and shellac, which comes from the female lac beetle.
The Good News
Choosing the right paint for your home’s interior involves more than just picking a color that you like (although this part is also very important). By doing research to find paints that are free of toxins, you are not only protecting your health and your loved ones, you are making choices that are also safer for the environment. So many wins!