Making Smart (And Green) Choices When You Paint
This article first appeared in the Austin American Statesman.

Greenbuilder logo

Making Smart (And Green) Choices When You Paint

Austin Green Builder Program Staff

Painting is of the quickest ways to give your home a new look. Whether it's just a bathroom or the whole house, it's an easy way to remodel. Now you can make environmentally-sound choices when you select the paint for your next project.

Choose a low or no-VOC paint

VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are the fumes that you smell while you paint, and sometimes several days after. A VOC is an organic chemical that becomes a breathable gas at room temperature. Some examples are benzene, ethylene glycol, vinyl chloride and mercury.

VOCs in paint usually come from additives to the paint, such as fungicides, biocides, color, and spreadability agents. High levels of VOCs in paints can cause headaches, allergic reactions, and health problems in the very old, very young and in those with chronic illnesses.

Concerns about air pollution and hazardous waste have greatly reduced the use of oil-based paints which can release high amounts of VOCs and contain toxic solvents. Alkyd-based paints and latex paints are much safer, but some still have high levels of VOCs.

Because of health and safety concerns, paint manufacturers around the country have made great strides in formulating paints that have no or low-VOCs and that provide excellent results.

Ask question, read labels

When buying paint, work with a knowledgeable paint representative at your local paint or hardware store. Seek out someone that can answer questions about environmental concerns as well as offer application advice. Let your paint representative know that you want to use no VOC paint, or the lowest VOC paint available. If you plan to hire a painting contractor, specify that no or low-VOC paints be used.

You can determine the VOC content of paint by reading the label. It is usually expressed in terms of grams per liter. The most environmentally-friendly choice is to buy a paint with no VOC's. But if the paint you need for the job contains VOCs, try to choose a paint no higher than 250 grams per liter for latex, and if you must use oil-based paint, no higher than 380 grams per liter. These numbers are usually on the label or on the official product literature. If these numbers are not available, consider choosing another brand.

Painting tips

If the paint you choose does contain some VOCs, there are ways to lessen their impact on the air quality in your home. Below are some helpful hints:

Proper clean-up and disposal of paint

Proper disposal of paint protects you, garbage collection workers, and the environment.

If you've used latex paint, wash brushes and rollers in the sink with soap and warm water. Don't rinse your brushes on the grass or in the gutter-it could end up in a nearby creek where it could harm fish and wildlife. Take the lids off of any empty latex paint cans and let them dry, then throw these into the trash with the lids off. If you have paint left, check with neighbors to see if they need any. Any unused portions may also be taken to the City of Austin Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center (call 416-8998 for times and directions).

If you've used oil-based paint, take unused portions to the City's collection facility. Solvents used to clean equipment should also be taken to the City's collection facility for disposal. Do not rinse brushes or equipment on the ground or in the gutter.


For more information on proper disposal of paints and hazardous household chemicals call the City of Austin at 416-8998.

You can find more information including the Sustainable Building Sourcebook compiled by the City of Austin's Green Builder Program at the Sustainable Sources website.


copyleft 1997: You are encouraged to copy and redistribute this article provided that you acknowledge the City of Austin's Green Builder Program as the source. Please attach this statement.

Return to:

Sustainable Sources | Building Sources | Articles: Sustainable Building and Beyond


Webmaster: Bill Christensen