Eco-Friendly Paint: How to choose the right paint for your Green Home, Baby Nursery, and Child’s Bedroom

Remodeling baby’s room is a time-honored ritual that women have used to make those last few months of anxious waiting move by more quickly. Picking out just the right décor and furniture makes the experience real, soon a little angel will be smiling from those covers in that freshly painted room. It makes a mother’s heart flutter to think of it. Common sense would tell most that you would not want to put baby in a freshly painted room that still smelled like fresh paint, but many do not know that even after the paint is dry, it continues to emit harmful VOCs for many years.

The following will explore issues that affect the mother who wants to remodel and the hazards of many common items involved in remodeling that may be harmful for your baby. Many of us do not think about paint on a daily basis, but it can be full of hidden dangers, just like the dust bunnies lurking underneath the couch. Let’s see if we can uncover the hidden truths about paint and bring them into the light.

Paint
If you have been to the local hardware store recently, you know that finding a paint color to match your needs is not a problem. They literally have thousands of colors and options. The problem with paints is that they emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). That is what causes that distinctive wet paint odor. VOCs are really nasty stuff and long-term exposure can have long-term health effects, including contributing to asthma and cancer. Short-term effects are headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Most of us know this from experience. The problem with VOCs is that even after the paint is dry, VOCs can be emitted for years. This was the reason for the development of low VOC or No VOC paint. In the past low VOC paint was considered inferior to regular paint. It tended to need re-painting often, particularly after washing for spot removal. However, newer versions have solved many of these problems and they are for the most part, as durable and washable as their VOC containing counterparts.

I asked one of the attendants at a local paint store what eco-friendly options were available. Surprisingly, he pointed me to several eco-friendlier options for paint. One option was clay paint. This option is made of naturally occurring minerals and water as the primary solvent. This is one of the oldest forms of paint. It has an earthy, adobe-type finish, but your color options are limited. If your design includes earth tones such as white, blue, and orange, then clay paint may be a good choice. It is also an effective odor absorber, due to the high clay content. They are water-based and can only be used indoors. It cannot be washed, without a quick touch-up.

Another organic paint option is lime wash, this used to be known as white wash in the days of our great grandmothers. Lime wash is created from crushed limestone and water. It can be used indoors and outdoors. It comes in a variety of colors and can be used on porous materials. It sinks into the materials and leaves behind an antiqued finish. This would be a great option for older homes. Like clays, they were once difficult to wash and tended to fade quickly. However, technology has fixed these problems and the newer versions are much more durable and easier to maintain.

The third option that was possible, but not as easy to find through traditional hardware stores as the other two is milk paint. This is a time-tested paint that is made from powered milk mixed with water, clay and earth-based pigments mixed into a thick, soupy paint. It is just like tempera paint. It is not that different from what Leonardo DaVinci used to paint the Mona Lisa. It is bought in a powered form that must be mixed with water and used immediately. If not, the paint may clump and not be as smooth as expected. However, you do not have to mix up the entire batch at once. It does not come in many finish options. Matte is the only finish available.

Exterior Paints
You may have notices that all three eco-friendly options available have one key drawback: they are water-based and cannot be used outside the home. I would also question using them in high moisture areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, but ask your local supplier about your particular situation. The problem with interior paints is that they are soft. Chemicals are needed to harden paints so that they can be used outside. There are fewer green options for outside paints than for inside jobs. Luckily, VOCs rapidly dissipate in the outside air, unlike indoor situations where they can build up without proper ventilation.

However, this does not help when you want to do your part to avoid contaminating the atmosphere. Stain and lime wash are the only two truly environmentally friendly options for outdoor paint. They do make low VOC outdoor paints, but the EPA gives them a wider fudge-factor than they do for indoor paints. Ask your local hardware salesperson about the options in your area.

Paint Removal
Paint removal is something that most of us avoid if at all possible. However, sometimes it must be done. Paint strippers are one of the worst offenders of environmental pillage. Different strippers are made for different substrates, but most of them are petroleum based. This means that the key problem is VOCS, of which the worst is dichloromethane. Now they are making some methylene-free removers, but even these contain some nasty chemicals. Work in a well-ventilated area and avoid contact through the skin.

FINAL CAUTIONS!
Before you remove any old paint, whether you use sanding or strippers, make certain that it does not contain lead or mercury. This is especially true for paints manufactured prior to 1980. If it does, then it will have to be removed professionally. DO NOT try this yourself, because the lead can contaminate the entire house and the last thing that you would like to do is to bring your baby home to a lead or mercury-contaminated room.

Some VOCs have been linked to birth defects, so if you are pregnant and your motherly urge overcomes you, ask a friend who is not pregnant or your husband to help. There are many other things that you can do to make your baby’s room perfect. Play it safe, your baby will thank you later.

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