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Painting is an inexpensive way to creatively have an impact and change the look and feel of a space, without the larger investment needed for other types of remodeling projects. Conventional paints, coatings, paint removers and thinners, however, often contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic compounds. VOCs are a variety of chemicals that evaporate into the air causing smog and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. VOCs on other compounds used in paints and coatings may have significant short- and long-term adverse health effects.

Fortunately, low-toxicity paint and coating options are easier than ever to find. Most large paint and coating manufacturers, both local and national, now have lines of paints and coatings that have low amounts of regulated VOCs. These products are readily available in most hardware stores, paint stores and boutique green building suppliers. By selecting less toxic options and taking careful precautions, you can avoid compromising indoor air quality and your personal health.

In addition to the VOC content, look for paints and coatings that have GreenSeal-11 certification. For more information on choosing materials, check out the Green Product Buying GuideDownload PDF 500 K.

Paint and coating choices

Paint and Coating Type

What Makes This Product Green?

Other Considerations

Paints

Low- or no-VOC interior paints and coatings for walls, doors, window casements and trim

Reduces VOCs released into your home

Even with low VOC products follow good practices for ventilating during application.

Natural wall coloring products including clay, milk and lime paints

These are breathable, mold-resistant, hypo-allergenic and low-toxic

Some of these products are not as durable or forgiving as standard latex paints, so choose the right place for their use or consider a low-VOC sealer to add to the durability.

Wood finishes

Low VOC, water-based stains and clear wood floor finishes

Less odor and irritation caused because water is used as a solvent instead of oil. Low VOC versions reduce emission of other respiratory irritants.

Water base sealers take more coats than oil based, but are less irritating to apply and the space can be occupied much sooner after application.

Natural wood finish products made from waxes, oils, and plants

Natural products that take less energy and chemicals to produce. Avoids environmental impacts of urethanes and other synthetic binders used in water based sealers.

These products also take additional applications and more frequent reapplications. As a bonus it is very easy to touch up scratched or worn areas without refinishing.

Other coatings and sealers

Low VOC concrete, tile and grout sealers

Virtually eliminate toxic and irritating air pollutants.

Low VOC caulks and sealants

Can be very low in VOCs and work great

Painting and finishing considerations

  • Open windows and turn on a fan while painting, and continue to ventilate the room or area after each coat of paint or coating/finish. Isolate other rooms from the area being worked on with closed doors or plastic sheeting. This protects your health and helps prevent other absorptive materials such as drywall, cabinetry or furnishings from retaining fumes to later remit. Keep the cap on the paint when not in use.
  • Consider what colors will best enhance natural daylighting. Use light colored paints and stains to help daylight bounce around a room and brighten the space. Natural daylight can reduce the amount of artificial electric lighting needed in a space.
  • Reduce waste through better planning. Consider using paint lines that provide large wall swatches so you don’t have to buy sample quarts. Buy only what is needed. There are numerous planning tools to help you determine the right amount of paint for each job.
  • Properly dispose of excess and used paint and coatings to keep unused paint from impacting your home during storage. Latex paint and stains can safely be put in your garbage at home, as long as the paint is dry or solidified first and the lid is off. Stains, spray paint and oil-based paints must be disposed of at a household hazardous waste site.

Paints and coatings resources

Related information

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King County Solid Waste Division mission: Waste Prevention, Resource Recovery, Waste Disposal