One of the worst parts of painting a room is the smell that lingers even once your brush has been cleaned and the tape has been removed. Not only does paint smell awful, but it can have a serious impact on the quality of your indoor air. John McKeon, MD, CEO of Allergy Standards, explains that while indoor paint much better than it used to be, the chemicals it emits into the air can be harmful, particularly if you have asthma, allergies, or other sensitivities.
“Paint can impact indoor air quality in a couple of ways. Perhaps the most obvious one is the fact that when you paint a room, there are compounds released into the air as it dries,” says Dr. McKeon. “These are called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and while some of them may be harmless, there is a lot of water in most modern paints, some of them can irritate airways.”
The best low-VOC paints
Allergy Standards tests products to be certified Asthma and Allergy Friendly, and they’ve released a list of approved paints. Among paints available in the United States, Benjamin Moore Natura Interior Paint and EasyCare Ultra Premium Interior Paint were given the stamp of approval. Though many paints claim to be low-VOC or no-VOC on the label, Jennifer Whelan, COO of Allergy Standards, explains that that isn’t always the case. The paints they approved have been tested to ensure that VOC emissions deplete soon after application.
“When we test paints for our certification, we test them at 24 hours after being painted and 48 hours, and then we push it all the way out to two weeks to make sure that basically from the 24 to 48 hour time period that very minimal VOCs are left,” she says. “And that if you push that out to two weeks that it’s at an extremely low level, beyond which we won’t accept it.” Additionally, they test to ensure that the chemicals in the paint won’t irritate your skin if it drips on you while painting.
Aside from VOC emissions, Allergy Standards also tests for chipping.
“You want a paint that’s going to dry fully onto the wall in a reasonable timeframe,” says Whelan. “You want a paint that’s where it’s going to be possible to scrub the wall or to abrade the wall if you want to remove a stain or something like that and be confident that there isn’t material in the paint that’s coming off onto your hands or onto the cloth that you’re using.”
Ways to limit VOC emissions after painting
Even in the best of paints, there is going to be some VOC off-gassing. To keep it minimal, Whelan says to open the windows to ensure that the space is well ventilated. Additionally, you’ll want to cover or remove any furniture. “[Chemicals that are off-gassed from a paint] can actually be absorbed a little bit by other furniture and soft textiles in the room,” she says. “Sometimes there might be a sense that there’s still being chemicals given off by the paint, but actually what’s happening is they’re [coming from the furniture].
If you’re using an air purifier, be sure to run it while you paint and then change the filter, Whelan says, as that scent can linger in the filter.
If anyone in your home household has any sensitivities to paint, they should probably try and be away from the area you’re painting for a bit even if you’re using the asthma-and-allergy-friendly paint. But even if no one has any sensitivities, it can’t hurt to use a low-VOC paint.
“The bottom line is that a healthier indoor air environment is good for everyone,” says Dr. McKeon. “It might not cause some people medical issues to breathe in paint fumes, but I think everyone can agree that they would prefer not to breathe in those fumes if they had a choice. And sometimes people without diagnosed respiratory issues can still feel the physical effects of VOC exposure, like irritation in the eyes or respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness.”
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