It’s Not Easy Being Green!

When deciding which paint to use on the walls of your home (for sale), be careful. The terms “green” and “non-toxic” are NOT necessarily synonymous. Even “zero VOC” formulations can contain small amounts of toxins. And with “low VOC” or “natural” finishes the term “non-toxic” is painted with the broadest stoke and can simply be a matter of degree.

How Green Can You Get?
The general categories – or three degrees – of green paints and finishes are natural, zero VOC, and low VOC.


These should be the safest and healthiest both for you and the environment. Made from natural, raw ingredients like plant oils, dyes and resins; earth minerals such as clay,lime, chalk and talcum; or even milk protein (casein), natural latex, and bees’ wax. Water-based natural paints are practically odor-free, while oil-based natural paints usually have a pleasant fragrance of citrus or essential oils. Allergic sensitivities to these paints is uncommon.


Any paint with VOCs less than 5 grams per liter can be called “zero VOC” according to the EPA Reference Test Method 24.  Some manufacturers may claim zero VOCs, but these paints may still use colorants, biocides, and fungicides that contain some VOCs. Adding a color tint will bring the VOC level up, usually to 10 grams/liter.

Low VOC paints (stains and varnishes) use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents. As a result, the levels of harmful emissions are lower than solvent-borne surface coatings. To meet EPA standards for low VOC, paints (and stains) must contain less than 200 grams per liter.  (Varnishes must not contain VOCs in excess of 300 grams per liter.)  Paints with the Green Seal Standard (GS-11) mark are certified lower than 50 g/L (for flat sheen) or 150 g/L (for non-flat sheen). Low VOC paints will still emit an odor until dry. If you are particularly sensitive, make sure the paint you use contains fewer than 25 grams/liter of VOCs.

Paint is typically made up of three major components: pigments, binders, and solvents

1. Pigments give the paint its color
2. Binders help the pigment stick to the applied surface. Also known as the vehicle or medium.
3. Solvents keep the paint in liquid form, making it easier to apply. Sometimes called the carrier or thinner.

Of these three components, solvents contribute the most to the paint’s level of VOCs. That’s because the solvent (a liquid) is designed to evaporate quickly, leaving only the pigment and its binder (the solids) behind on your walls. Paints with a greater percentage of solids typically leave more pigment behind and thus require fewer applications.

How Green Is Your Gallon?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on VOCs in an effort to reduce outdoor air pollution. But the EPA’s regulation of VOCs may have nothing to do with interior products or human health. There are a number of VOCs that can be present in paint as solvents, but these escaped EPA regulation because they don’t create smog when reacting with sunlight and nitrogen.

Acetone and ammonia are two examples of these unregulated solvents which do not have to be listed on either the label or the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of a product. Compound these with crystalline silica, or the fungicides, formaldehyde precursors, and chemicals used to mask odors in a number of brands and the result is likely to be a “zero VOC” product that is toxic to humans.

For information and links to thoroughly understand and investigate green paint options visit: and read Nancy Kibbe’s three-part series “The Problem With Paint” as well as and read “How Low-VOC Paint Works” by Jennifer Horton



Lara Taylor – Realtor/Broker


Twitter – @AskForLara



About askforlara

Lara Taylor is a professional Realtor located in Charlotte, NC. Offering luxury homes, starter homes and vacation homes, buyers and sellers both will find everything they need with Lara. Proud to represent Remax Executive.
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