Eco-Friendly or Green Paint: What is it and How to Identify Them?


A home is a haven for you and your family. It is a place where you can be protected from external elements and physical dangers. This, however, has not always been the case. For many years, harmful chemicals like lead, made their way into our homes through paints, asbestos, etc, causing numerous health problems for the occupants. Taking note of this, modern interior design is pushing for the use of more eco-friendly paints that are good for the environmental health and safety of the residents.

Generally, varnishes, paints, carpets, and furniture made from chemicals, plastic, or other synthetic substances are toxic and give off fumes that cause health issues like asthma, allergies, and headaches. Green paints are especially important when children are involved as they are more vulnerable to toxins and poisons. Efforts are being made all over the world to make buildings more water and energy-efficient, as well as to employ environmentally-friendly methods and materials in their construction. Due to these measures, we now live in a world with more healthy options for the well-being of ourselves and our families.

In this article, we will have a look at what eco-friendly paints are and how you can identify which paints are the healthier choices. But first, let’s learn about the ingredients that make paint toxic.

01. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Volatile Organic Compound

VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are the main components of paint that make it harmful to health. These compounds are added to paint to prevent them from drying too fast, and allowing for a smoother finish. They are carbon-based chemical compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature. There are more VOCs in oil-based paints than in water-based paints, as VOCs are the main solvents for the former. Although water is the main solvent for water-based paints, they still contain some VOCs.

Depending on the type of paint, VOCs release fumes for weeks and can cause health issues like dizziness, irritation of the respiratory tract and eyes, nausea, damage to the kidneys, lungs, or heart, and even cancer in some cases. VOCs can also leak into the external environment and contaminate the outdoor air. They are known to contribute to the climate change crisis.

02. Biocides and Fungicides

Biocides and Fungicides

Paints often contain biocides and fungicides to prevent the growth of mildew and extend the product’s shelf life. Fungicides and biocides can contaminate indoor and outdoor air, just like VOCs, and can be detected in the air even five years after the paint is applied to a surface. The toxic biocides and fungicides can seep into the groundwater if the paint is not disposed of properly.

03. Paint Pigments

Paint Pigments

Chemical pigments, the substance used to give the paint its colour, also contribute to the toxicity of paint. Pigments are hazardous because they can be easily inhaled and certain pigments are poisonous.

What are Eco-Friendly Paints?

Eco-friendly paints are those that meet three main requirements: low levels of VOCs, low levels of biocides, and natural paint pigments. These paints actively work towards reducing the impact of harmful emissions on the environment and the health of the users and occupants. Eco-friendly interior paints are mostly natural paints such as cow dung paint. The best eco-friendly exterior paint is the one that contains zinc oxide as a fungicide.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued some sustainability considerations for greener paints:

  1.  Reducing or a completely eliminating of toxic ingredients like formaldehyde, odour masking agents, ammonia, VOCs, fungicides, and biocides.
  2. Has recycled content.
  3. Contains salvaged excess paint, for example, by remixing excess paint into another colour.
  4. Alternative or natural paint pigments like clay, milk casein, lime, and earth-based pigments.
  5. Durability aspects.
  6. Manufacturer or retailer offering take-backs and recycling options for excess or unused paint.

How do You Identify Eco-Friendly Paints?

01. Check the Label for VOC levels

Check Label for Voc Levels

The best way to check for green paints is to check the label for VOC content. There are different types of VOC levels:

  1. Low-VOC paints: Paints that have “low-VOC” on their labels should, according to the Green Seal guidelines, not have more than 50 grams/liter of VOCs.
  2. Zero-VOC paints: “Zero VOC” refers to paint that has 5 grams or fewer VOCs per liter.  However, non-VOC paints are a very healthy option, especially for those with allergies and those who can’t tolerate strong smells.

Note: Remember that there are no universal standards for defining these labels. Stay cautious because they can be misused by marketers.

02. Check for Natural Ingredients

Check for Natural Ingredients

If you are worried about even the slightest traces of VOC in your paint, you can always look for paints that are made of natural ingredients. Check the label for natural ingredients like plant dyes, resins, chalk, water, essential oils, clay, bee’s wax, and milk casein. If your chosen paint has these components, then you don’t have to worry about heavy metals or harsh chemicals and compounds. Natural paints are so basic that you can even make them on your own.

03. Check for Certified Seals

Check for Certified Seals

If your paint has a Green Seal® certification, it means that it is free of carcinogens, mutagens, reproductive toxins, ozone-depleting compounds, and hazardous air pollutants. Green Seal® is a global non-profit organization that has been working to set rigorous standards for health, sustainability and product performance. The certification signifies that the product meets the highest benchmark of health and environmental leadership.

The GREENGUARD label and GreenWise seal are other certified seals you can consider. The latter, however, is less credible as it is issued by an association of paint manufacturers called the Coatings Research Group Inc.

04. Check the Manufacturer’s Website for More Details

Check Manufacturers Website

Be aware of some products labelled “natural” as they may come from unethical sources. Check the websites of the manufacturers for more details regarding their products and their policies.

Common Concerns about Eco-friendly Paints

01. Lack of Choice

Lack of Choices in Eco-friendly Paint

A common concern is that eco-friendly products have a small selection of colours. This is, however, not entirely true, as eco-friendly brands offer many colour options, albeit limited.

02. Poor Quality

Poor Quality Eco-friendly Paint

Another major concern is that greener paints wash or rub off easily as they are organic and water-soluble. This was true till a few years ago, but paint manufacturers have come a long way and found a way to overcome this issue. You can now get high-quality eco-friendly paints that are just as durable as their conventional counterparts.

03. Slow Drying

When it comes to drying, green paints do take a longer time.

To conclude, your living spaces are a great contributor to the well-being of your family and yourself. Eco-friendly paints are even more important when you have a family, as you will want child-safe paints for their health and safety. We hope that this article has been helpful in informing you about greener paints and how to go about identifying them.

Image Courtesy: Image 5, Image 7

Author Bio

Andrea Noronha – Andrea Noronha is a content writer and editor with over 4 years of experience. Although she comes from a finance background, Andrea is passionate about blogging about interior design. Her other interests include travelling, baking, and digital marketing.

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