Paint is something we are surrounded by all day everyday and the ingredients in paint can have a big impact on our health!
As I have been working through some serious health issues the past few years, it’s been interesting to trace many, if not most, of my health flare ups to a toxic paint exposure! This has happened specifically 3 times for me in the past 5 or so years.
At the beginning of this year when we moved into our new house, I knew painting the house with non toxic paint was a top priority, and thankfully my husband agreed. While it is costly, the cost on my health is even more—I fully view my health as an investment not an expense. Since moving into our new house, I saw a dramatic drop in my symptoms and flare ups—less migraines, normal hormonal cycles, more energy even with added stress and less anxiety!
When researching paint, I quickly discovered that like with the beauty (and even food) industry, greenwashing is pretty prevalent. ECOS Paints was at the top of my list and a few friends sealed the deal—they were very open discussing their ingredients and the information they gave me regarding their process…plus customer service was quick and helpful!
We have totally loved ECOS paints so far and our painter agreed—no toxic smell at all and my migraines have greatly decreased!!! I hope this Q&A with ECOS Paints Marketing Director Emma is helpful for you and your home projects!
Choosing the best no-VOC paint for your home
Q: Paint is something we are surrounded by all day every day! Why is it sadly so toxic?
A: Unfortunately, the VOCs and other harmful chemicals that manufacturers put into conventional paint products were once considered essential to the paint’s performance. That, combined with a lack of understanding and awareness of the harmful health effects of VOC exposure, has contributed to the industry’s general resistance to making their products less toxic. Consumers are now more aware and engaged than ever, so I’m hopeful that other paint manufacturers will continue cleaning up their products and be more transparent about their ingredients.
Q: What are the most common toxic ingredients in paint we should be aware of and try to avoid at all costs?
A: The VOCs most commonly found in conventional paint products are formaldehyde, glycol, and benzene, so those are the primary ones to look out for. I’d also recommend asking manufacturers if they put VOCs in their pigments, as they may not be included in the product’s advertised VOC levels.
Q: Can you explain the difference between low VOC and zero VOC paint?
A: Sure! As the names suggest, both low VOC and zero VOC paints contain reduced amounts of volatile organic compounds, more commonly known as VOCs. VOCs are a class of organic chemicals that can easily vaporize and be released into the air, which is known as off-gassing. While there isn’t one federally regulated standard for low VOC paints, most low VOC paints contain fewer than 50 grams per liter (g/L) of VOCs, while zero VOC paints contain less than 5 g/L. A lot of people don’t realize that there can also be VOCs in paint pigments (which are added to the base paint for color), and oftentimes the amount of VOCs listed on the paint can are just for the base coating, without the added pigments. At ECOS, both our base paints and our pigments are VOC-free. Our “beyond zero VOC” philosophy means that we share product ingredient lists and VOC testing results with our customers.
Q: Greenwashing is sadly a big deal now, especially as the “non toxic” movement grows! What should someone look out for when it comes to greenwashing specifically with paint?
A: I won’t name names, but we have found that some of the more common green product certifications for paint are not particularly stringent when it comes to VOC levels. And the unfortunate reality is that many of the bigger paint manufacturers are simply tweaking their regular paint formulations by diluting or substituting harmful ingredients to turn their products “green,” mostly to achieve that ambiguous product certification. We think being transparent and sharing product ingredients is so important—you wouldn’t buy food or makeup without knowing the ingredients, so why should paint be any different?
Q: Let’s talk about off gassing—with conventional paints the toxic smell does go away after a few days however the toxins in the paint still continue to be released for years. How many years do paints continue to off gas and how does that work?
A: Yes, as conventional paint dries, VOCs are released into the air, which is known as off-gassing. The length of time really varies depending on the product, but a recent study found that only 50% of the VOCs may be released within the first year after painting. The EPA has also found that indoor VOC levels are routinely 10 times higher than outdoor levels. People don’t really think about what’s on their walls, especially if they haven’t painted in a while, but it’s something to pay attention to if you’re struggling with new or chronic health problems.
* Read an additional article that summarizes the initial study linked above.
Q: What are some health concerns associated with toxic paint both short term and long term? Often toxins create silent issues that we may not immediately realize!
A: When VOCs off-gas from products such as paint, they can contribute to a wide range of health problems, including nausea, dizziness, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches/migraines and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system (brain, energy response, alertness, etc). And from an environmental perspective, VOC emissions are not only detrimental to indoor air quality, they are also a major contributor to urban air pollution.
Q: I am a big fan of ECOS paint and we are so thankful we were able to paint our entire house with it. What sets your paint apart?
A: I’m so happy to hear that! Our products were developed over 35 years ago by and for people with chemical sensitivities who couldn’t tolerate the ingredients found in conventional paint products. We developed all our water-based product formulations from scratch, without the harsh chemicals and VOCs typically found in conventional products. We use a unique technology that combines sustainable ingredients and a proprietary mixing process to deliver best-in-class appearance and enhanced durability—with no harsh fumes or odors.
Q: I (and our painter) were shocked by the lack of smell to your paint, but we did notice a VERY minor ‘ammonia’ smell while painting in more enclosed spaces, closets and bathrooms, that went away quickly. It’s not a toxic smell but in case anyone else notices that, can you explain that and why it isn’t a red flag for concern?
A: That’s unusual to hear. We do use a small amount of diluted ammonia to disinfect the tap water that goes into our products. Many of our customers have multiple chemical sensitivities and are very sensitive to odors but detect nothing. That being said, we know people can react differently to certain ingredients, so we always recommend testing the product first if you have any concerns.
Q: If someone only has the finances to paint one room right now with non-VOC paint, where would you recommend starting and why?
A: That’s a tough one! Repainting your primary living space and/or kitchen can have an immediate impact on the shared space where you spend most of your waking hours. But, our bedrooms are also our sanctuaries, so starting with your bedroom, or your child’s room if you have kids, also makes a lot of sense. We actually have a line of paints designed specifically for baby nurseries and kid’s play areas called Lullaby by ECOS, which is how many of our customers first find out about us. They start looking for healthier alternatives when they are pregnant, choose our paint for their baby’s nursery, and then expand to other areas of their house when they’re ready.
For more information on safe, non VOC paint, check out ECOS Paints! I HIGHLY recommend them!