How to Select Low-Tox Paint for Your Home

The walls and ceilings in our homes take up a massive amount of surface area in our personal space—which means whatever we build them out of will greatly impact the overall indoor air quality of our home, so it’s no wonder that selecting a low-tox paint is at the top of my list of things you can do to improve the overall health of your home.


It’s hard to determine the long-term effects of VOC exposure and illness is usually caused from low-level exposures compounded over a long period of time. Unless you are chemically sensitive, then you will be quick to notice the chemicals you’re being exposed to.


Selecting a healthier-for-you, low-tox paint can be confusing because there’s so many manufacturers out there claiming to be low VOC, Zero VOC, natural, mineral, clay, and “Green.” Let’s dive into better understanding VOCs and see how we can be our own best detectives in selecting a healthy paint.



What is a VOC?

A VOC stands for a Volatile Organic Compound. These are carbon-based solvents that are emitted as gases from a solid or liquid that are found in most building materials. Essentially, they are organic materials that turn to gas/vapor at room temperature. Don’t be fooled by the word “organic” as these gasses can have a variety of long-term and short-term health impacts.


The EPA’s “TEAM Study” shows that indoor levels of VOCs are 2-5 times higher than outdoor air in a big, polluted city. It also concluded that people can be exposed to VOCs long after the activity is completed.


Although it’s hard to determine exactly which long-term effects these chemicals can cause, we do know that exposure to these toxins are increasing our toxic load, increasing our chances for serious health effects. Click here to see some of the short-term effects that are caused from exposure to VOCs and click here to learn more about some of the common VOC types and where you can find them.



Is ZERO VOC Paint Safe?

A common misconception is that a paint that has a Zero VOC label on it means that the paint is healthy and non-toxic. This is not the case. Zero VOC was a label termed by the EPA to say that it does not contain VOCs that create ground-level ozone production (which is harmful to the environment). This does NOT mean that the paint does not contain any VOCs—it just means that the paint falls below the government’s permissible VOC levels. Paint can be labeled as ZERO VOC if it contains 5 grams of VOC per liter. Adding color to this can increase the level of VOC to about 10 grams of VOC per liter.


Zero-VOC is a legal term and only encompasses certain chemicals that have been determined to react negatively to create ozone in the atmosphere, but does not account for the other toxic ingredients that might be hiding in the can.



Other Hidden Chemicals for Concern


Below is a list of some of the other chemicals that might be found in paint that aren’t categorized under the ZERO-VOC label.

  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) Surfactant used in acrylic paint and can disrupt the hormone system.

  • Mildewcides

  • Additives

  • Preservatives


Considerations When Selecting Low-Tox Paint


There are so many paints on the market today and it can be very confusing to know which ones to select. Here’s some things you can look for to make sure you’re selecting a healthier option.

  1. Look for the Greenguard Gold seal. This certification certifies that the paint has very low emissions.

  2. Avoid a paint that has Mildewcides. Paints containing biocides that are meant to prevent mold are actually not great for humans either. We are living, biological organisms, just like fungus, so chemicals intended to harm fungus will likely be harmful to humans.

  3. Look into natural paint options. Mineral paints are a great option when looking to go with something more natural. There are so many brands on the market today which makes opting for something more natural much easier.

  4. Consider using a clay/lime plaster finish. Plaster is making a comeback as it rightfully should. Clay has the ability to breath and regulate the humidity within a space which makes it a wonderful finish for an interior environment.

  5. Use your nose. Sounds simple, but one of the best ways to determine the health of a paint is to smell it. If it has a strong odor, you might consider opting for something else. I always recommend testing samples prior to purchasing. We all have different tolerance levels, so it’s important to know that the paint you select works for you.

Selecting a healthy paint is one very important aspect to creating healthy indoor air quality. It’s easy to think that because it is a well known brand it means it’s safe, but the truth is these chemicals aren’t well monitored. We have to be our own best detectives when it comes to selecting health finishes for our homes. Additionally, if you ever need recommendations or want more information on the best options for paint or other finishes we offer 1x1 Strategy Sessions to help you select the best materials for you and your family. Head over to our website to learn more and book a free 20 minute Discovery Call.




This piece was written and contributed by:

Ashley Spanovich

Awakening Spaces




Ashley, the founder of Awakening Spaces, supports environmentally susceptible and health-conscious individuals in creating safe, healthy, and beautiful environments. As a licensed Interior Designer, she combines her expertise of the construction industry with her knowledge of health and wellbeing to support and empower you along your own journey in creating a healing environment. Ashley is currently pursuing a triple certification in Building Biology and will soon be certified to assess your home for mold, electro-magnetic radiation, and other harmful environmental toxins. Awakening Spaces offers both Full Service Interior Design as well as Environmental Health Coaching services for those looking to improve the health of their home. Ashley finds inspiration in her work through nature and is most grounded when spending time outdoors and exploring new places.


@awakeningspaces | www.awakeningspaces.com

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