Recently, I’ve had experience in my home with low-VOC paint as well as conventional paint. The first left the place virtually odor-free; the second filled it with noxious fumes from volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Possible health effects from VOC exposure include headache, dizziness and respiratory problems in the short-run — and liver, kidney and neurological damage long-term.
If you are embarking on a paint job, consider low- or no-VOC paint to reduce exposure. It’s widely available nowadays from major manufacturers, and at big home improvement chains, such as Home Depot.
The safest low-VOC paints comply with Green Seal’s GS11 environmental standard:
If you are the one doing the painting, wear a proper mask for respiratory protection and take frequent breaks in the fresh air while painting.
If a paint job has recently been completed in your home, air the room out for at least 48 to 72 hours. Open the windows wide and, if possible, use a box fan in a window that is set to blow out — or make sure you have cross-ventilation. (Always secure box fans carefully in the window to avoid an accident.)
If there’s a baby on the way in the family and the nursery is being painted, do make sure to air out the room well in advance. Off-gassing (the release of VOCs even from dried paint) continues for a long while, though at sharply reduced levels.
People with asthma or multiple chemical sensitivity should also take special care to avoid undue exposure.
See my May 2009 This Green Life column on low-VOC paints for more information.