Read labels when seeking eco-friendly paint

Published 7:49 am Monday, October 12, 2009

Green paint. No, not the color green, we are talking about using environmentally friendly products around the home. Many people believe if they are using a latex, water-based paint, that there will be no concerns about toxic chemicals or precautions that need to be taken. Let’s take a closer look at paint products.

I am no expert when it comes to paint products, and I must read the label carefully to learn about the contents. The most common paint used is latex paint products. They are easy to apply, and you can use water to thin the paint and clean up afterward. If we are looking for eco-friendly paint, read the label and look for the level of VOCs.

Volatile organic compounds can trigger headaches, cause dizziness and may even be carcinogenic. The paint should have a number identifying the level of VOCs and a good paint to purchase would be below 250 or even zero. VOCs are typically reported as grams per liter on the label. The average gallon contains about 150 grams per liter of VOCs.

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Some paints may contain lead, mercury, formaldehyde, formaldehyde precursors, crystalline silica or other toxic chemicals. Most of today’s paint products have significantly reduced or eliminated these chemicals, but trying to use up an old can of paint or using a “specialty” paint may expose you to some pretty strong chemicals. When painting you should use good ventilation, even placing a fan in the room to remove odors. If you are sensitive to chemicals or odors you can also purchase a face mask. Make certain you purchase the right one for the job as some are designed for chemical exposure, some for odors and others only work well for dust.

Today, most oil-based paint is used as undercoat or primer, special applications for floors or metal. Oil-based paint will always come in a metal can and the word “alkyd” is often used on the label. The instructions will tell you to use mineral spirits or turpentine to thin or cleanup. Oil-based paint is also labeled as “combustible” or “flammable” so do not store the cans near a water heater or furnace. Aerosol cans are usually oil based.

Most of us have paint left over from a project or have paint being stored in our homes for whatever reason. Eventually the paint gets old and becomes hardened rendering it useless, the can may tip over and spill on the floor, or rust through and we have a mess to clean up. What environmentally friendly actions can we take to prevent this situation?

Keep paint cans separated. Do not mix oil-based and latex water-based paints together in the same can. If the label is covered with paint and hard to read, use a marker to write on the can so you can identify the contents later. If the paint in the can has hardened, dispose of it in the trash.

Also, if you are finished painting and there is a small amount left over, use it up! How many times have you ever re-opened a paint can to “touch up” a spot? In reality, you just end up storing that extra paint until it spoils or gets rusty and unusable anyhow. If you need to touch up a spot, most likely the whole wall needs a fresh coat of paint and you’ll purchase new paint.

Most counties have seasonal household hazardous waste programs, as we do, and you can only bring in your old unwanted paint products for disposal during the summer months. Plan ahead and post the collection schedule in a place you will remember and attend the collection in your area. The Freeborn County Household Hazardous Waste Collection program operates from April through September and is posted on the county web site.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is Freeborn County solid waste officer.