Whether you want to do your part to preserve the environment or you’re a parent looking to reduce the number of chemicals in your home, you might be thinking twice about purchasing just any old paint at the hardware store.

Thankfully, if maintaining healthy indoor air quality is important to you, there are more eco-friendly paint options on the market than ever before.

Low- and Zero-VOC Paints

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are found in many manufactured products. VOCs are problematic because they can negatively impact your health if they’re inhaled for an extended period of time.

In traditional paint products, VOCs are used to prevent the pigment from separating from the rest of the solution. With recent advancements in the paint industry, however, VOCs are becoming less of a necessity for a high-quality product.

To keep the air inside your home as clean as possible, it's best to opt for paints that contain a low amount of VOCs or that are completely free of VOCs.

  • Latex paints that are labeled as being low VOC should contain less than 250 grams of VOCs per liter of paint.
  • Low-VOC oil-based paints should contain less than 380 grams of VOCs per liter.
  • Any paint—latex or oil-based—that is labeled as being zero VOC should contain less than 5 grams of VOCs per liter.

Milk Paints

close-up of powdered natural paint on a white paletteYou put milk in your cereal and in your coffee, but have you ever thought about painting with it? Milk paint uses a protein called casein to keep the paint solution and pigment together rather than using harmful compounds.

Milk paint is somewhat limited in terms of colors, but if you don't mind a little trial and error to find the perfect shade, mixing colors together will significantly widen your options. Keep in mind that milk paint comes in powder form—once it’s mixed into a solution, you’ll need to complete your painting job the same day.

Paints Made from Natural Minerals, Plant Dyes, and Resins

These natural paints are made from plant-based materials, essential oils, minerals, and natural dyes.

If you choose a water-based natural paint, you most likely won’t detect a smell as you paint. Oil-based natural paints may carry the scent of the plant oils used in the solution. As with milk paints, be prepared to play a little to find the exact shade you’re looking for.

Zero-VOC Primer

can of white primer on concrete floorJust as there is nontoxic paint, there are also zero-VOC primers. A good primer sets your paint job up for success. Painting a primed surface ensures that the paint will adhere to the wall and dry as evenly as possible, and the paint will also better withstand years of normal wear and tear.

Pairing a zero-VOC primer with zero-VOC paint is a surefire way to ensure your paint job is as environmentally friendly as possible.

Tips for an Environmentally Friendly Residential Painting Job

Once you’ve decided which paint and primer to buy, you’ll need to consider the practicalities of the job. How much paint do you need? If you end up with too much, how will you dispose of it? Even zero- and low-VOC paints can’t simply be tossed out on the curb for your weekly garbage pickup or washed down the sink.

To lessen your impact on the environment when you paint, keep these four tips in mind:

1. Buy only what you need.

It can be tough to gauge exactly how much paint you’ll need—some surfaces absorb more paint than others, which means the gallon you bought may not go as far as you anticipated.

In general, a gallon of paint will cover approximately 350 square feet.

If you’re painting over a darker color, or if you know that you’ll want to apply two coats to cover any imperfections made on the first go-around, take that into account. Paint calculators are easy to find online, and the person manning the paint counter at your local hardware store will be able to help, too.

If you decide to work with a professional painter, his or her estimate will include the correct amount of paint needed to complete the job.

2. Purchase (or borrow) good-quality supplies.

paint roller and metal paint tray filled with red paintThe better quality the brushes and rollers you use, the better your paint job will look.

Good-quality painting supplies are usually intended for many years of use, so as long as you take care of them (don’t let paint dry on the brushes or rollers, in other words), you won’t need to repurchase supplies when your teenager decides that the pink walls she begged for as a five-year-old are no longer acceptable.

3. Properly store the paint you want to keep.

Keeping paint at the right temperature is essential to ensuring it remains usable in the future. Choose a cool, dry spot, such as a closet or a basement without moisture problems, and be sure to store the cans off the floor.

4. Plan for proper disposal.

If you do end up with more paint than you want to keep, or if paint you’ve stored goes bad, dispose of it the right way. Most cities have hazardous waste disposal days or drop-off locations. You can also ask friends and neighbors or investigate community programs that may be interested in your usable leftovers.

Small amounts of leftover or spoiled latex paint can be dried out and thrown away.

Ready to Paint?

couple painting wall in houseA fresh coat of paint is one of the most cost-effective home improvement tasks you can take on, and the results are relatively quick. Since paint technology is getting better and better, there’s no need to compromise your commitment to the health of the environment in order to freshen up your home.

Choose the eco-friendly paint that’s right for you, and be sure to take the necessary steps to finish the job without hurting the planet.