How Paint Impacts the Air in Your Nursery (for Longer Than You Think)

Lullaby 10/18/2014

You’re probably familiar with the offensive odor and fumes that come from a can of conventional paint. That smell is caused by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and beyond being stinky, they’re also linked to nasty health impacts. October is National Home Indoor Air Quality Action & Awareness Month and it just so happens that paints can be a major source of indoor air pollution. Clearly it can be an issue anywhere in your home, but today we’re focusing on the nursery because babies are the most vulnerable to toxic exposures. Here’s what you need to know about how paint impacts the air in your nursery (for longer than you think). 

1. Conventional paints contain toxic chemicals. You probably already knew that paints aren’t super safe – you don’t want to drink them or anything. But did you know most conventional paints contain chemicals like known carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals), neurotoxicants (chemicals that impact brain development, cognitive function, and behavior), and more? The roster of nasties you’ll find include terpenes, formaldehyde, acrolein, phthalates, glycol, toluene, methylene chloride, styrene, trichloroethylene, xylenes, and benzene.

2. Just because that “new paint smell” is gone, doesn’t mean the toxic chemicals are. VOCs aren’t only released when the paint is fresh (that “new paint smell”), they can off-gas for the next three to five years!

3. The EPA allows companies to call their product zero-VOC even if it contains off-gassing chemicals. Just as you’d assume, “low-VOC” and “zero-VOC” mean a product has less VOCs than traditional paints. But, don’t take it at face value. Low or zero-VOC doesn’t always mean non-toxic or healthy or safe. Even zero-VOC paints can contain other risky chemicals not considered VOCs (like highly toxic ammonia and acetone which are not classified as VOCs and are not required by law to appear on the label). Or, the low or zero-VOC claim may only refer to the base paint – not the color tint. So, the moment you add color to your base, you’ve added VOCs right back in.

4. Third party, eco-friendly and health certifications can be just as misleading. All third party certifications including the highest levels of certification allow for at least 2 teaspoons (about 50,000 parts per million/ppm) of these chemicals as part of their standards. Yet, toxic chemical exposures as low as 5ppm can cause damage ranging from skin and eye irritation to long-term damage to kidney, respiratory, and cognitive functions.


How do you choose a safer paint for the nursery?

Since there aren’t regulations in place to adequately protect your family’s health, and labeling can be so deceptive, the burden – unfortunately – is on you. Look for a company that's not afraid to reveal what's inside their paint. You can't make an informed choice without knowing what you're buying.

Have any other questions about VOCs and paint? Let us know in the comments. We’re always happy to help!


The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or recommendations. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the issues raised here.