15 Nontoxic Paint Facts

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The market for environmentally-friendly paint has expanded dramatically in recent years. This is beneficial because it offers consumers access to safer products than previously available. It also signifies that businesses are showing increasing regard for environmental preservation, which is an undoubtedly positive development.


But here’s the thing. The term co-friendly’ is slightly confusing. Many people always wonder what eco-friendly paint means. Well, it’s obvious that the paints protect the environment and is safer to use, but what exactly makes them so? And is there anything like natural paint? Does nontoxic mean that the paints are free of any chemicals?

In this piece, we will lay bare all the nontoxic paint facts that you should know and draw a clear line between the hype, myths and misconceptions and the facts.

1.  What Does Nontoxic Paint Mean?

Let’s start from the basics. First, all paints are made up of 3 components:

•  Pigment

•  Binder

•  Carrier

The pigment component is the color while the binder holds everything together. On the other hand, the carrier is used to disperse the binder. These components are created using harmful/toxic chemicals. They are dangerous to both human and environmental health.

Many manufacturers use lead, Cadmium, and Chromium as pigments and benzene, formaldehyde, petrochemicals and a host of other VOCs (Volatile organic compounds) as carriers and binders. Other toxic chemicals like stabilizers, driers, thickeners, and preservatives are also used to produce modern paints.

VOCs, as pointed out above, are Volatile Organic Compounds that release harmful gases into the atmosphere. These gases contribute greatly to the global climate change we are experiencing.

Many of these gases are toxic and are linked to health problems, including dizziness, headaches, asthma, fatigue, skin disorders, nausea, eye irritations, cancer, kidney disease, and respiratory diseases. And here’s the worst part, these gases are emitted for several years after painting.

The global climate change has caused a lot of panic worldwide. Experts are now (more than ever), concerned with growing the nontoxic paint market. And as you’ll see later on, environmental regulations have been established to force paint companies to reduce the VOC levels in their paint. As a result, many companies are offering nontoxic paints.

But this still doesn’t answer what nontoxic paint exactly does it. Well, let’s put it succinctly. Nontoxic paint is also known as Low VOC, VOC-Free, No-VOC, and odor-free, odorless, organic and natural paint. But even these names are often used to refer to different types of paints. Below is an in-depth review of synonyms as used in the nontoxic paint industry.

2.  Low VOC Paint

Generally, paint is split into two categories – oil based paint and water-based paint. Water-based paint is also known as latex based paint. The major difference between these two is quite simple – water-based paint doesn’t need solvents. And even when it does, the amount of solvent required is minimal.

Now, solvents are basically petroleum-based chemicals that are used as paint thinners. They are toxic. Overall, there aren’t any safe solvents. Even the atural’ ones are toxic. And given that they are toxic, they can damage your skin, eyes, respiratory tract, internal organs, including the kidney and liver and can also cause the nervous system to breakdown.

Examples of some of these toxic solvents include acetone, benzene, gasoline, dioxane, kerosene, phenol, methanol, toluene, and acetonitrile. All of these compounds are organic and volatile.

Low VOC paint contains reduced VOC levels in comparison to traditional paint. This infers that the VOCs released are less. But note that ess’ in this case doesn’t mean non-existent. The Federal government has it that the VOCs levels in traditional paint should be below 250 grams/liter for the fat finishes and less than 380gm/l for other types of finishes. However, bear in mind that different states have their own VOC level standards which are somewhere within the Federal government range.

For low VOC paint, the VOC levels should be below 50 grams a liter for the flat paint and below 150 grams per liter for the non-flat paint. These levels are set by the Green Seal (the eco-friendly label we mentioned earlier).

When thinking about using Low VOC paints, you should also consider the colorants added to the paint. Colorant is the component that gives paint its color – they form the base. Usually, colorants add about 10 grams/liter. As such, you should be careful to check that the Low VOC paint you choose contains zero VOC colorants. And since darker colors need more colorants, they will spike the VOC levels more than lighter colors.

3.  Zero VOC Paint

Zero VOC paint has very low VOC levels in comparison to the traditional paints and the Low VOCs. Usually, the levels are 5 grams/liter. Also, during the application, you’ll notice it has a smell. But once it’ cured, the smell disappears (within an hour or so).

So, the upside is that you don’t have to leave your house for days to wait for the smell to dissipate from your home. In terms of applications, the Zero VOC paint application is easy, as is the cleaning.

Their efficiency and quality have come a long way over the years, thanks to tech advancements.

It now makes sense, right? Awesome, now let’s move on to how these nontoxic paints are labeled.

4.  Non Toxic Paint Labels

Unfortunately, there isn’t a set standard for defining the said labels. For this reason, marketers often misuse them and use them to dupe consumers. But here’s the good news.

To help consumers make wise and informed decisions while purchasing paints, different governments have come up with labels that ascertain specific paints meet the environmental requirements as defined by the law. In the US, the no-toxic labels used are Greenguard and Green Seal.

5.  Natural Paint

If we were to nit-pick the paints, the only one that would qualify as nontoxic paint is natural paint. This is because they do not include VOCs. They are created from natural ingredients, including vegetable oil, water, plant dyes, and natural minerals. The binders used in these paints include linseed oil, lime, milk protein, and clay.

The milk and lime paints produce authentic looks. For this reason, they are mostly used to paint antique pieces of furniture. Chalk is the common extender used in thickening the paint while turpentine is added as a solvent. Some essential oils like limonene are used as a fragrance and solvent while earth pigments and natural minerals are used as color.

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6.  Nontoxic Face Paint

Paint is not only used on house interior and exterior walls, but it is also used on kids’ faces during parties and Halloween. It’s fun for kids. However, as a parent, you should be cautious with the products you use on your kids. The same caution you use in checking foods they eat should be used when checking what they wear on their faces. For this reason, you need to read up on nontoxic Halloween face paints and the options available.

Now, at this point you already know why we are insisting on nontoxic paints, right? But here are some quick figures and facts to bring the point home hard.

The Breast Cancer Fund put together a report that involved the testing of about 50 Halloween paints that are created for kids. The study they conducted revealed that close to 25 of the Halloween face paints tested contained a significant amount of some heavy metals, including cadmium, chromium, arsenic, mercury or lead. Even more shocking, some of the Halloween face paints contained a high as four metals.

As you will see below, exposing kids to the above heavy metals (especially lead) can have detrimental effects on the neurological systems of kids, cause hormonal imbalances and even cancer.

Though it’s not quite clear the afe’ levels of exposure of kids to these heavy metals (at the threshold past which the detrimental effects start to manifest), the CDC has gone on record to state that there aren’t any safe levels.

With all the above information, it’s important that you read through the labels and ingredients carefully. Make sure the products are devoid of the dangerous heavy metals and chemicals. So, what dangerous ingredients are you to be on the lookout for? Easy, BHT, silica, benzophenones, ethoxylated ingredients, fragrance, formaldehyde, styrene compounds, parabens, mineral oil, petroleum, and talc.

7.  Nontoxic Paint for Pets (Cats and Dogs)

As you will learn in a bit, exposure to lead is harmful and is known to cause loads of bad symptoms immediately or after a while. As such, you should stay away from such paint completely.

When you have pets in the house, like kids, it’s even more important that you work with nontoxic paint. You see, pets are quite curious – they like sniffing and licking new things. Licking traditional paint could have detrimental effects.

8.  So Which Pints are Nontoxic for Cats and Dogs?

Paints without lead are safer. Usually, even when a dog or cat licks it, it may cause a stomach upset but that’s just about it. Small exposure to harmful chemicals should not be a concern. However, beware that paints that contain glycol levels (5-10%) (glycol includes ethylene glycol, which is an ingredient that prevents the pain from freezing), it is dangerous when cats and dogs ingest it.

Water-based paints can cause cat and dog skin and mucous membrane irritation. However, they often do not cause poisoning or toxicity. But when consumed in very high levels, they can lead to nausea and even vomiting.

Latex paints are generally nontoxic. But while this is the case, when your dog or cat consumes it in large amounts, the glycol in the paint could present a big problem. It might result in metabolic acidosis, crystallized urine, and respiratory depression. When treatment is not delivered in time, the symptoms may escalate and cause permanent kidney failure.

Nontoxic Paint

9.  Oil-based varnishes and paints

These types of paints are a concern because they have solvents which can be inhaled accidentally and find their way to the lungs. They might even have laxative effects. Usually, the most common and scary symptom is lung infection and inflammation as well as some difficulty in breathing.

The oil in the paint could also cause diarrhea (since oil is a natural lubricant). Additionally, heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and cobalt are often added to oil paints to act as pigments. The lead will impair metabolic function and inhibit the growth and maturity of red blood cells. Upon long term exposure, the poisoning or exposure is expected to have long term and chronic effects.

10.  Are there levels of paints that are safe for cats and dogs to ingest?

Toxic dosage of paint varies depending on the weight and size of the pet. In addition to this, you also need to factor in the ingredients and prevailing conditions to accurately determine the toxic dosage. But generally, a small touch or taste might not result in life-threatening symptoms (not unless the cat or dog is exposed to paint with heavy metal. Which when you think about it, is close to impossible.

Pets wouldn’t be curious enough to drink undiluted paint. However, if you suspect your cat or dog has been exposed, you should seek the help of your vet immediately.

11.  How should you treat a pet that was exposed to toxic paint?

In the event your cat or dog ingests paint, you should induce vomiting. This is shocking, right?

 Normally, vomiting would expel the poison from the stomach and offer instant relief. However, in this case, vomiting will only increase the chances of the toxins getting into the lungs of your cat or dog, which could escalate the situation.

If your cat or dog gets paint on its fur, you should move fast to wash it off immediately using mild dishwashing soap. Alternatively, you could trim the fur (very carefully and be sure not to cut or scratch the skin). You should resist the urge to use a paint thinner on your cat’s/dog’s fur without consulting a vet.

What to do if your pet diarrheas or vomits non-stop

We cannot stress this enough. When this happens, take your pet to the vet immediately. Your vet will administer an intravenous or a subcutaneous fluid to treat the dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea and may also prescribe medication that will put an end to it.

If the paint poisoning is severe, the pet might be hospitalized for antibiotics or oxygen.

12.  Lead-based Paint

Now we cannot talk about nontoxic paint without covering lead-based paints. Yes, VOCs are currently not the only toxic chemicals in paint. Lead-based paint was prevalent eons ago. It was used all over the US because it was durable.

However, things took a turn for the worse, which caused the government to ban its manufacture in 1978. Lead-based paint was linked to many health concerns. Actually, you might have heard of the children who developed mental disabilities after eating chipped-lead paint.

According to NCBI, lead is a deadly developmental neurotoxin, which interferes with the neurotransmission, synaptic plasticity, and cellular migration (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2902938/).

If your home is older than 1978, it might have lead-based paint. Does this mean that you have to remove the paint? Well, believe it or not, lead is actually safer painted than removed. You see, the paint is safe provided that it’s not chipping or within the reach of kids.

Every time you disturb the lead paint, you run the risk of creating lead dust, which increases lead exposure.

With that said, we should point out that there are lead-based paint regulations put in place to help protect families from lead health-related complications.

13.  Management and Disposal of the Lead-Based Paint Debris

If you choose to remove the lead-based paint from your home, you need to ensure you adhere to the NJ lead base paint debris disposal regulations.

Since the lead debris is the most harmful, you need to dispose it carefully (https://nj.gov/dep/dshw/rrtp/lbpaint.htm).

The disposal procedure you’ll be required to follow depends on the debris generated from the removal process.

First, if the debris is generated from a remodeling and renovation process can be classified as household waste, then it should be transported by a licensed transporter. The license should be from the Department of Solid Waste Transportation. In addition to this, the waste should be disposed at a facility that is allowed for solid waste like a landfill.

However, if the debris cannot be classified as household waste, according to the USEPA’s Memorandum of July 31, 2000, the generator of the debris needs to classify the debris using their own knowledge or by sampling and analyzing the debris for lead presence.

If the lead levels exceed 5.0mg/l, then the debris should be classified as hazardous waste. And because of this, the waste should be disposed following the hazardous waste generator requirements for storage and transportation.

We should also point out that the lead-paint abatement contractor you choose needs to be evaluated and licensed by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. This body has information regarding the process of testing surfaces for lead. They also have a comprehensive list of the contractors they have licensed to carry out this testing.

14.  Residential Lead Paint Reduction

To cover all bases, New Jersey also introduced the Residential Lead-based Paint Hazard Reduction Act in 1922. This act was titled as ‘Title X’.

The act stipulates that home buyers of houses built before 1978 should receive a lead-based paint pamphlet NJ during the sales process. The landlords and sellers should provide the tenants and home buyers with a lead-based paint disclosure form NJ in addition to a federal pamphlet labeled rotect Your Family from Lead in Your Home’.

15.  New Jersey Toughens Up To Protect Kids from the Lead-Based Paint Threat

Going with the above rules and regulations, it’s clear that New Jersey means business when it comes to eradicating the lead paint levels in its houses. But they don’t stop there.

The state may most likely force landlords and homeowners to get rid of lead paint from their properties under a law that was passed in 2017. This law states that the local health board should determine the levels of lead in a home of a child who tests more than 5 mg/l of lead. This is a very big step towards addressing the problem in New Jersey.

For a long time, experts have paid attention to lead poisoning caused by drinking water after the crisis that occurred in Flint. And though it is true that New Jersey has a high lead concentration in their drinking water, studies show that many of the lead health-related cases are caused by exposure to lead paint. And since children are easily exposed ad inhale paint chips and dust, the best method to avoid it altogether is reducing the exposure.

In 2000, there were a whopping 225,000 cases of kids in New Jersey with lead poisoning. About 3,000 of the new cases of kids below 6 having high levels of lead were reported back in 2015.

For this reason, the state requires that kids are tested for lead when they hit 1 year. They should also be retested when they turn 2 years. If the lead levels in their blood are high, the health board is required to send a nurse to the family’s home to inspect the lead source. Once the source is found, the board may order the family to remove the lead or if possible, place vinyl, plaster, tile, stone wood or a special coating over the paint.

Although the enforcement of this law will cost the health board a pretty penny (between 3 million and 10 million), the program will help to curb the lead exposure to children.

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So generally, nontoxic paint is determined by the absence of VOCs in the list of ingredients as well as heavy metals. Luckily, we live in times where the Federal government and state of New Jersey have taken it upon themselves to actively regulate and enforce the growth of nontoxic paints. With their support, and the drive of consumers to go green and save the earth from drowning from global warming, the nontoxic paint (eco-friendly), will continue to grow.

But as the industry grows, you should play an active role in ensuring the paint you use is nontoxic and that your home is safe (even when the paint flakes).

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