What "green" paint options are there?

Thinking of going green for your next paint project? What exactly does that mean? Is there even such a thing as environmentally friendly paint? So many questions! Luckily we have answers.
Thinking of going green for your next paint project? What exactly does that mean? Is there even such a thing as environmentally friendly paint? So many questions! Luckily we have answers.

There is no doubt that the greening of America is exerting an increasing influence over our behavior and purchases. As people become more informed about the environmental damage inflicted by everyday products, they are demanding more eco-friendly options. This change is being felt everywhere from the automobile assembly line to food packaging, and paint is no exception.

One of the downsides of green products in general is that they typically cost more. Most people committed to creating a more eco-friendly world have shown a willingness to pay more for green products, and manufacturers are happy to comply. While green paints are typically more expensive, advocates argue that the health and environmental benefits of eliminating toxic chemicals far outweigh the nominal price increase.

To choose environmentally safer products, you’ll need to know some of the terminology:

VOCs or volatile organic compounds: these compounds evaporate as paint dries and release all sorts of demons into the air. Common in almost all paint products, including strippers and solvents as well as paint, these compounds may include formaldehyde, benzene and other irritants. These are the culprits that give you that dizzy, headachy feel when you breathe paint fumes.

Biocides: used to fight the growth of fungus before sale and after paint is applied.

Toxic pigments: pigments are what give paint its color. Toxic pigments, which are particularly dangerous for children, include substances such as lead, cadmium and heavy metals.

Selecting an Environmentally-Friendly Paint

Your contractor will be able to recommend eco-friendly paint products, but if you are buying the paint yourself, there are several things you should look for:

Low VOC paints: The EPA has issued guidelines that impose a limit on the amount of VOC content in paint products designated as Low VOC. In general, water-based paints will have a lower VOC than oil-based paints.

Certifications: There are several organizations that offer green paint certifications.
  • Green Wise: The Coatings Research Group
  • MAS Certified Green: Material Analytical Services
  • Green Seal
Eco-Friendly Paint Alternatives

Natural Interior Paint
Natural paints and wood finishes are made from ingredients such as water, plant oils and dyes, natural minerals such as clay & chalk, milk, wax, and earth and mineral dyes. Let’s take a closer look a few examples.

Clay Paint
Made of earth based minerals and water, clay paints will give your walls an earthy, adobe look. Clay paint colors are somewhat limited, ranging from earth tones to a mixture of blue, white, and orange tints. One drawback of clay paints is that they cannot be washed or even wiped down unless you finish the paint with a low-VOC sealer. Otherwise, to clean soiled walls you will need to use touch-up paint.

Lime Wash
To create a lime wash, limestone is mixed with water, which creates a unique surface glow in a range of colors. Lime wash does not adhere to drywall or painted surfaces and is best suited for brick, wood, plaster and concrete, limiting its use as an interior paint.

Milk Paint
With a history dating back to ancient Egypt, milk paint has been around for a long time. Thankfully there have been some improvements. Milk paint is now sold in a dry, powdered form. While traditionally thought of as having a thick consistency, some companies have improved the formula to create a thinner finish. Milk paint will have texture when dry, giving your walls (or furniture) an antique look.

These are just a few examples of natural paint, and as the green movement expands companies will refine and add to their line of eco-friendly products.

Exterior Paints and Finishes

The natural paints used inside a home are rarely strong enough to hold up against Mother Nature’s mood swings. Since VOCs aren’t as harmful outside as they are inside, the standards are somewhat less stringent to qualify as eco-friendly.

While the durability requirements limit the truly eco-friendly products on the market, your best options are low VOC water-based paint, stains, finishes and lime wash. As with interior paint, the options will grow as manufacturers continue to create new, environmentally safe products.

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