Green Paint Greenie – How Safe is Green Paint Anyway?

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Back in the day, the only green friend folks had was Kermit the Frog. Nowadays, my little green friend is one of my neighbors who doesn’t approve of my SUV or my little guy’s disposable diapers. We’re friends anyways though, because she knows I do care about the environment. And during a recent snowstorm when her car was completely immobilized, she warmed up to my 4×4 that rescued her so she could buy last minute Christmas gifts and groceries.

During that short trip, I shared with my green friend that I might take on a paint project or two around my house for the New Year. She suggested I look into green paint. At first I thought she meant the color green which seemed odd, but I quickly realized she wasn’t talking color. Her suggestion seemed a bit over the top. Being the green paint greenie that I was, I decided to do some research.

Getting Schooled in Green

Sherwin-williams-harmonyGreen paint has been around for years. It was developed after studies indicated the fumes related to paint were harmful to people and to the environment. The emissions are specifically VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). VOC’s are found in high concentrations in paint pigments. They are known to cause short term respiratory irritations, headaches, and nausea. They may contribute to significant long term health issues including some forms of cancer, too.
The first green paints were quite pricey. They were mostly used by large project commercial designers as companies began to strive for green compatibility and certifications. For everyday use in homes, the cost was high and the palette selection was less than palatable. The durability of green paints was less than ideal for homes, too.

As public awareness has increased, paint manufacturers have responded. Today, big name paint stores like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams offer extensive color paletts for homeowners that tout a low or zero VOC promise. The cost per gallon ranges from around $35 to $50.

Green certification companies such as Greenseal, Greenguard, and Green Promise set and uphold codes and standards for green paints, so look for their verifications when selecting a green paint. You can also visit their websites to help locate green paint retailers.

green paint
To help determine if the paint you are choosing is green compliant, look for the seal from a reputable certification co.

Au Naturale

While developing solutions to lower levels of VOC’s, some paint retailers are using natural resources and recycling methods to reduce environmental impact. Paints are being produced with earth elements like clay, chalk, lime, and mineral pigments such as sienna and ultramarine.

green paint
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is eco-friendly paint. Her finishes are green, too.

So How Safe is Green Paint?

Based on the current trend of rapidly increasing production of natural-based, recycled, and low to no VOC paint, it’s relatively safe for even a greenie like me to predict that conventional paints are becoming less and less conventional. Kind of like lead paint became a not so cool paint option a few short decades ago.

I admit that I feel a bit irresponsible for not knowing more details about green paint sooner. Now that I’m aware of how long it takes for those paint emissions to actually be released from our homes and how long those emissions create less than ideal indoor air quality, I’m feeling mighty guilty about the potential damage I’ve done to my children’s health. This alone motivates me to go green. So, to make up for my ignorance, I’ll be choosing green paint products in the future. It’s safer for my family and for the environment. Its cost, color options, and durability are comparable to ordinary paint, so I’m hands down sold. I’ll make it a point to have more eco-friendly conversations with my green friend this New Year, too, especially when we’re riding in my 4×4!

Photo of author

About Amy

Amy spent her early years roaming a neighbor's corn field, much to her parents' distress, and eating tomatoes like apples in her Midwest grandmother's garden. She learned to snap green beans like a machine by the tender age of four. Later, as a Colorado gal, she battled the elements and finally had success growing a celebratory rhubarb plant in a high altitude garden setting. At that point, there was no turning back. She gave in to her green thumb and, in order of priority, is currently growing vegetables, flowers, kids, and pets on the high plains south of Denver.

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3 thoughts on “Green Paint Greenie – How Safe is Green Paint Anyway?”

  1. Typically the issue with off gassing from paints was not the pigment itself, but the vehicle used to make the paint liquid enough to apply. When this dries and evaporates, leaving the dry film layer in place, the odors and potentially harmful VOC’s are released in to the air. The vast majority of interior latex paints, including those sold at the big box store’s like Lowe’s (Valspar) and Home Depot (Behr) are low odor, low-voc paint these days. Some of them are even Zero VOC…without much additional cost. It’s the oil based stuff for the most part and varnish and other sealer’s and the like that tend to have higher VOC, though there are options for these as well. LEED (USGBC) standards set for the Green Building industry helped usher this in and these products are now pretty widely available. You rightly point out though that looking for GreenGuard and GreenSeal labeled products is a good way to ensure that not just the VOC’s are low, but other potential toxins are absent from the paint mixture. Good article!

  2. Hi Amy – thanks for covering this important topic, and for featuring our GREENGUARD Gold Certification mark in your post. However, I’d like to point out that our mark *always* includes the qualifying language (as shown in the image with the paint can) and should *never* be represented as you do in your header image. The proper image to use there is the one found at

    • Hi UL,
      We *never* like to step on toes with image usage. We thought the original we used looked great and was great exposure for your program. Since you obviously have very specific usage requirements and we don’t want to interfere with those, we swapped out the image of concern to you entirely. Please email us via our contact page should you have any additional current or future concerns.


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