Does this weekend’s DIY project involve a fresh coat of paint? Use these simple tips to dive in—without sacrificing your home’s indoor air quality.
Painting is a great way to transform a room, but before you start, remember: Paint also affects the air in that room—and not in a good way. Most paints give off so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), harmful chemicals that evaporate into the air, both during and after painting.
The bad news: The VOCs in paint can trigger symptoms such as headaches and lung irritation in the short term, as well potentially serious health issues, including liver damage or even cancer, with exposure over time. The good news: There are clear steps you can take to limit your family’s exposure to VOCs when painting.
It’s about more than finding the perfect shade. When painting indoors, always stick with paint made specifically for indoor use. Bypass oil-based paints in favor of water-based, or latex, options. Not only do they emit fewer chemicals, they clean up with plain old soap and water, as opposed to toxic solvents.
If you’re considering no-VOC paint, low-VOC paint or low-toxicity paint, know that although they’re likely better for the air, they’re not typically toxin-free. They vary quite a bit in quality, durability and cost, too.
Whatever your choice, be sure to read the label carefully for ingredients, warnings and instructions, even if you’ve used it in the past. Precautions can change over time, and they vary from paint to paint.
Do all you can to limit exposure to the space, not only while painting, but also for two to three days after. This goes for everyone, but especially young kids, pregnant women and people with breathing issues.
Remove or cover your furniture to prevent the absorption of harmful VOCs, and consider taping up plastic-sheeting curtains or walls to better contain dust and pollutants.
The person doing the painting should wear a task-appropriate mask or respirator and take regular fresh-air breaks.
Flood the room you’re painting with plenty of fresh air. To help, consider scheduling your project for a time when the weather will allow you to keep all windows and doors wide open.
Secure box or other exhaust fans in windows, and run them continuously. Encourage cross-ventilation. Block return registers to keep VOCs from recirculating into the rest of your home.
Keep the air circulating while painting—as well as for a full two to three days after your painting project wraps up—to get rid of lingering toxins and best preserve the quality of the air your family breathes.