Painting the walls of your home is an easy, affordable way to give rooms an updated look, but if used improperly, the chemicals in paint—called volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—can evaporate into the air, deteriorating indoor air quality and causing reactions such as eye, throat and lung irritation, headaches, dizziness and vision problems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)*. The next time you’re considering a new project, follow these six tips to ensure you’re painting safely.
When was your home built? If it was before 1978, it’s likely there is some lead buried beneath newer layers of paint, which can become a problem when it starts to chip or peel, sending the toxic chemical into the air.
Before simply painting over the walls, have an inspection company test for lead and, if it’s present, hire a firm certified by the EPA to safely remove it. The EPA also provides safeguards for homeowners who want to do it themselves**.
In today’s market, two types of interior paint exist: water based (latex) and oil based (alkyd). While both emit chemicals, latex generally gives off a lower amount compared to alkyd. Bonus: Latex paints can typically be cleaned up with soap and water, while alkyd paints require a special solvent*.
Schedule interior painting when there’s the smallest risk of chemical exposure, such as when your family is at work or school, or when you’re on vacation. If possible, hold off on your painting project until spring or fall, when the weather is more temperate and it’s easier to leave the windows open for ventilation.
Ventilation is key when it comes to interior painting. To remove odors, run exhaust fans 24/7 from the very beginning of a project until two to three days after you’re finished, since some harmful chemicals are released during the drying process***. Also, be sure to keep paint fumes from spreading to other areas of the home by blocking heating and air conditioning return openings.
Even with proper ventilation, it’s important to take frequent breaks for fresh air throughout the painting project, and leave the room immediately if you experience difficulty breathing, a headache, watery eyes or dizziness.
Start by only purchasing the amount of paint you think you need, but if you do have leftovers, seal the containers tightly and store them in a cool, dark and dry area, such as the garage. If you don’t have use for the excess amount, latex paint can usually be thrown away with the rest of your trash, or many communities have free paint disposal programs***.