How can I limit harmful offgassing from a recent coat of "non-green" paint?


How can I limit harmful offgassing from a recent coat of "non-green" paint?

Asked by Rebecca Ronn, Brooklyn, NY

I am considering moving into a house that has just been painted with "non-green" indoor paint. We have a new baby and I don't want to expose her to toxic offgassing. Is there anything I can do to reduce emissions from the new paint? (Remove it? Paint over it with a less toxic sealant?) Or should we just look for a different place?

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Nick Cope's picture

Before I answer your question, I think it best to briefly describe VOCs and offgassing for readers who are not aware of these issues. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are the nasty organic gases that evaporate from paints and finishes. They may cause short- and long-term adverse health effects. VOCs are part of the reason air quality is consistently poorer indoors than outdoors (by up to 10 times, according to the EPA).

It is wise of you to consider the health concerns of offgassing before selecting a new house. Fortunately there is a simple solution: repaint.

  • The toxic emissions that would normally be offgassed will be sealed beneath the new layer of paint.
  • It is essential to select a no-VOC paint and make sure to have your painter apply more than just a thin coat.
  • Ask your painter to sufficiently prime the surface with a product like AFM Safecoat's Transitional Primer designed to seal VOCs from previous layers of paint, then follow up with two coats of your chosen color.

VOC free paints

Below I have included a short list of premium paints that are VOC-free.

  • Mythic Paint is perhaps the least toxic paint available today. It performs well and comes in a variety of colors. Unfortunately, distribution is not up to snuff at this point; most of us have to order it by mail, which is not the greenest option.
  • AFM Safecoat is the brand of zero-VOC paint I use most frequently. It is a pleasure to apply, with almost no odor. However, it is a thin paint that sometimes requires an additional coat (depending on the color).
  • Benjamin Moore Aura is a low-odor, ultralow-VOC latex paint that leaves an incredibly rich finish, almost reminiscent of an alkyd enamel. It's self-priming and very durable.
  • YOLO Colorhouse is a Portland-based company that boasts a truly premium line of zero-VOC paints. Though custom color blending is not possible at present, the color selection is creative, highlighting elemental palettes like "stone" and "air."

Cleaning supplies have high VOC levels, too

Finally, I urge you not to stop with paint. Be aware of other products in your home that contribute to poor air quality.

Cleaning supplies, for example, often have high levels of VOCs.

I recommend a highly concentrated cleaning product called H2 that will literally replace every cleaning product in your house. A little 16-ounce bottle creates 48 gallons of organic, powerful, all-purpose cleaner that smells fabulous. Add two drops to an empty spray bottle, fill with water, and you're good to go. I use this product at home and on all my project sites.