Painting is surely one of the easiest and most budget-friendly decorating tricks to brighten up your home. And if you use paint that’s safe for both for you and the environment, you can’t go wrong (except, of course, when the color looked so different on your wall than it did in the store … ).
Traditional paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fungicides to prevent mold and mildew growth, and synthetic chemicals called biocides as preservatives to extend the product’s shelf life. VOCs, like ethylene glycol and the carriers in many pigments, can trigger skin rashes, asthma, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. VOCs also contribute to ground level ozone. Biocides are lesser known than VOCs, but they can be detected in the air five years after painting. And fungicides can be toxic.
It definitely worth the extra legwork and expense to find paints that don’t contain these chemicals, for the environment’s sake as well as for your health.
5 tips on what to look for in nontoxic paint
Look for paints that are made with zinc oxide as a safer fungicide.it is easier to find no-VOD or low-VOC paints these days.
- Avoid vinyl. Vinyl paints are known to be less expensive, but vinyl it is a powerful endocrine disrupter and suspected carcinogen.
- The term “latex” for paint does not mean the latex from the rubber tree. For paint it means water-based and a number of different synthetic polymers including acrylic, vinyl acrylic, and vinyl styrene.
- Look for 100 percent acrylic binders. The higher the acrylic content, the less acrylic vinyl and vinyl styrene (and usually the higher the cost).
- The safest synthetic paint is zero-VOC with no vinyl, fungicides or biocides.
- Milk paint and whitewash are free of VOCs, biocides and fungicides, and both allow the material being painted to breathe, reducing the growth of mold and mildew. Milk paint is made with milk protein casein and lime; whitewash is made with lime and water (and sometimes casein). Natural earth pigments are used for coloring, as they are in natural plaster.
How to make basic milk paint — an indoor-outdoor formula
You can buy milk paint pre-made (see Where to Buy Nontoxic Paint below) — or you can make your own. Here is my best formula for milk paint. It’s an indoor/outdoor formula, and an adaptation of one found in a Lime Institute brochure called “Whitewash and Cold Water Paints.”
2 ½ pounds casein
7 gallons warm distilled water
25 pounds mason’s hydrated lime
1 ½ pounds borax
Natural earth pigment (optional)
Soak the casein overnight in a large tub filled with 2 gallons of the water.
In a separate tub, combine the lime and 3 gallons of the water; stir to blend.
In a third tub, thoroughly combine the borax in 1 gallon of the water; add this to the lime mixture, then stir into the casein mixture.
Add pigment if desired. Add more water if needed.
Makes 8 gallons.
Shelf Life: A few days, once the dry ingredients have been mixed with liquid.
Where to buy nontoxic paint
The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s Safepaint combines milk protein and lime with pigments. It arrives as a powder and you add water. $45.95 per gallon.
Mythic Paint has no VOCs and is also, the company claims, free of carcinogenic chemicals. About $38.95 per gallon.
AFM Safecoat’s new zero-VOC Ayurveda Essence line is intended to help you find balance through colors that suit your personality. (The colors are wonderful and unexpected.) From $38.90 per gallon.
Yolo Colorhouse divides its no-VOC palettes into categories like air, grain, and petal. There’s also a “little Yolo” line, and tinted or white primer. Yolo, $39.95 per gallon, little Yolo, $10.95 per gallon.