Transformational Design

Low VOC and Natural Paints for your Green Home

By Priyanka Biswas on


One of the aspects of constructing a 'Green Home' is to pay particular attention to the fact that all materials used in its construction as well as beautification be natural. Looking for a suitable eco friendly paint for your 'Green Home' can be a tedious task with the many options available at your local hardware store. This article aims to provide you with some knowledge on the qualities of an eco paint and what are the types of eco paints available in the market today.

Before we understand the concept of an eco paint, let us understand as to why regular paints pose a hazard to our health and the environment.

Harmful effects of regular paints 

Indoor air pollution causes many side effects such as headaches, dizziness, asthma, cancer and heart diseases. A regular petroleum-based paint that you find in the market today emits VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) during painting, after the paint is dry and when the paint is removed. Hence, during its entire life cycle it continues to emit airborne chemicals which are potentially carcinogenic and contribute to indoor air pollution.


VOCs are emitted even from outdoor paints and cause pollutants to be released into the atmosphere. However the concentration of the airborne chemicals is substantially higher indoors than outdoors (up to 10 times higher, according to the EPA) due to improper ventilation which can ultimately lead to the health deterioration of the house inmates.

For more information on VOCs and indoor air quality, visit the EPA website.

Low VOC paints

Due to increased awareness on the potential hazards of air pollution due to VOCs and strict environmental regulations by authorities, most paint companies have started developing paints which emit little or no VOCs. This can be achieved by using water as a base instead of petroleum-based oil solvents. 

The EPA standard for a low VOC paint is the following - 250 g/L for latex paints and 380 g/L for oil based paints. If you want an even better paint with a lower VOC level, look for the Green Seal certification when buying paints. This will ensure that the maximum VOC content in the paint will not be more than 50 g/L. Most paints which meet this threshold are likely to have a VOC content of 10-25 g/L.

Zero VOC paints

Zero VOC paints are those which contain extremely low levels of VOCs - usually 2-5 g/L. Addition of biocides, fungicides and colorants can increase the VOC level by about 10 g/L. However, this is as good as it can get when we talk about a zero VOC paint today. If you want a truly zero VOC paint, you would have to go for a natural paint.

Some examples of companies offering low/zero VOC paints;

Benjamin Moore



YOLO Colorhouse

Natural paints

Natural paints are made from natural ingredients such as water, plant oils and dyes, natural minerals such as clay, chalk and talcum, milk casein, bees' wax. earth, natural latex and mineral dyes. They are mostly manufactured by alternative paint companies and are more expensive and difficult to find. Most of the times you would have to order these paints online. But, by far these are safest paints for your health and the environment. They give out no offensive odors and do not cause any allergic reactions.

Let us take a look at some of the natural paints and their ingredients.

Clay paint

Clay paint is made up of earth-based minerals and uses water as a solvent. It is virtually odor free and also functions as an odor reducer which helps to neutralize the room climate. If you prefer an earthy look for your interiors, a clay paint is an excellent choice due to its available shades in tints of blue, white and orange. However, there are some downsides of using a clay paint;

  • It does not come in a variety of colors.
  • It can be used only for painting the indoors.
  • Clay painted walls cannot be washed, scrubbed or wiped after being stained or dirtied  without causing any damage to the paint. The only solution is to touch-up the stained spots. Hence, it requires higher maintenance.
  • It is more expensive than low/zero VOC paints.
  • The problem of cleaning clay painted walls can be solved by using a low VOC sealer, but this would add up on the cost of using an already expensive clay paint.

Lime wash

Lime wash is a relatively inexpensive solution to the more traditional eco paints such as the clay paint. It is made from calcium rich limestone and has always been used to paint and protect historical buildings and monuments over the years. In recent times, it has gained popularity among homeowners due to its antique look and the fact that it is an eco friendly paint which can be used both indoors and outdoors. Lime wash is available in a wide range of colors which can be obtained by adding natural dyes to the paint mix. Some considerations while using lime wash are;

  • It can be used only on non-smooth surfaces and is not as durable as regular paint.
  • It acts as a fungicide due to its high pH level.
  • Instead of washing the lime washed surface when it gets dirty, add another coat of paint.
  • Lime wash can be used on porous surfaces such as brick, concrete and wood. It is unsuitable for drywall.
  • Limestone is a corrosive material and can harm your eyes and skin. Hence, make sure to wear protective covering during application.
  • You may need to apply several thin coats before you can get the lime wash coat that your want.

Milk paint

Milk paint, like lime wash has been in use since ancient times. It is made by mixing casein, a protein found in milk products with water, lime, natural fillers and pigments. It is also ideal for painting antique furniture. The paint comes in a water soluble powder form and must be used almost immediately (usually within a few days) to avoid forming clumps which prevent it from further use. As with most natural paints, milk paint is odorless during application and drying. Milk paint leaves brush or roller marks on textured surfaces as it does not flow out after application like a latex paint. For a smoother finish, it can be sanded. Also, milk paint can be used only for interiors and comes in a matte finish.

Visit Eartheasy for more information on low VOC and natural paints. Live and breathe easy!

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