Important Things to Know About Chemicals in Paint

ECOS 03/23/2014

Paint. It’s typically the last part of a home renovation, but it’s the first thing you notice when you walk in the door. Certain colors will make a room dance a magical minuet, and others -- well, it’s best to focus on the positive, right?

There’s a lot to consider when choosing what brand of paint to go with, and all paints are not created equal. So here’s the low down on what to look out for -- just a few things to know about chemicals in paint.

First off, there are three main components to all paint:

  • Pigments: provides color
  • Binder: “binds” the pigment together
  • Liquid (or the “carrier”): provides desired consistency and makes it possible to apply the pigment and binder to the surface being painted
  • Additives: optional, but can be incorporated to provide specific paint properties such as mildew resistant.

Second, there are two categories of interior paint, water-based and oil-based. Water-based paints are referred to as “latex” paints. The oil-based paints are referred to as “alkyd” paints. In general, water-based paints will emit fewer chemicals and lower levels of chemical vapors. Short-term exposure to solvents from alkyd paints can be significantly higher than from latex paints.

Now for what to look out for. It would be overwhelming to list every potential chemical found in a paint bucket, so we’ve grouped the two biggies for easier comprehension (and time).

Volatile Organic Compounds

  • What: Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are organic chemical compounds whose composition makes it possible for them to evaporate under normal indoor atmospheric conditions of temperature and pressure. Examples include: Formaldehyde, d-Limonene, toluene, acetone, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) 2-propanol (isopropyl alcohol), hexanal, xylene, turpentine, benzene, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene terpenes
  • Use in paint: Paint thinner, alkyd paints, some latex paints
  • Health effects: The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect. Effects include: eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.

Heavy Metals

  • What: Toxic metals, including "heavy metals," are individual metals and metal compounds that negatively affect people's health. In very small amounts, many of these metals are necessary to support life. However, in larger amounts, they become toxic. They may build up in biological systems and become a significant health hazard. Examples include: lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, titanium dioxide, chromium
  • Use in paint: Pigments
  • Health effects: Lead in paint has been banned in household paints since 1978, but if you’re doing a home renovation on an older house, it’s imperative that you test for lead. Lead is toxic to humans, particularly children, and has many health risks, including; behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, hearing problems and anemia. Mercuryarsenic and cadmium also have serious health risks and should be avoided. Aluminum-based compounds vary in their toxicity. OSHA classifies titanium dioxide, which is used in most paints, as generally low risk health effects (nuisance particulates, vapors or gases)

If you’re interested in getting into the nitty gritty of every chemical, Northeastern University offer a nifty hazard rating system. Additionally, the EPAOSHA and CDC are helpful resources when trying to sift through literature.

In sum, try to do your research and choose a paint brand before going to the store. Or, skip going to the store altogether and order ECOS Paint from the comfort of your home! All of ECOS Paints and finishes are water-based, zero VOC*, and non-toxic**. And, we haven't compromised on quality or color at all. Order your free samples today to check them out!

  *Conforms to CDPH 01350 (VOC emissions test taken at 11, 12, & 14 days for classroom and office use). Learn more about VOCs and our commitment to healthier paints here. **Conforms to ASTMD-4236, specifically concerning oral toxicity, skin irritation and respiratory effects.

CATEGORIES safe paints|toxic chemicals in paint