What Is Environmentally-Friendly Paint?

Jessica Ellis

Environmentally-friendly paint refers to interior and exterior paint that does not contribute to pollution or harm the environment in production. Thanks to growing concern over potential health hazards caused by traditional paint, there are now many different varieties of environmentally-friendly paint that are commercially available. Some common traits that make paints eco-friendly include the use of natural materials for bases and colors, and the reduction of chemical additives that contribute to pollution.

A can of environmentally-friendly paint.
A can of environmentally-friendly paint.

Traditional modern paints are often made of petroleum-based products that allow for durable, hard-wearing finishes. While using traditional paints can cut down on the amount of retouching and repainting needed, there are some fairly significant downsides, such as health hazards and increased pollution. Moreover, as an oil byproduct, petroleum is a non-renewable resource, and thus available only in limited quantities. Spurning traditional paints in favor of environmentally-friendly versions may actually help protect precious natural resources and cut down on fossil fuel and non-renewable resource use.

Environmentally-friendly paints may be made of milk, water, soy, clay, limestone or natural oils like linseed oil.
Environmentally-friendly paints may be made of milk, water, soy, clay, limestone or natural oils like linseed oil.

Environmentally-friendly paint usually abandons petroleum or oil bases in favor of non-polluting materials such as milk, water, soy, clay, and limestone. Natural oils, such as linseed oil, may also be used as a substitute for traditional oil sources. People with allergies to petroleum may find relief by using these naturally-sourced paints, while many have the benefit of producing no unpleasant smell during painting. Storage and mixing of these paints may be somewhat more complex than with traditional paints, and the color choices may be more limited.

One of the biggest problems with traditional paints is the phenomena known as “off-gassing”. This occurs when chemicals in the paint, such as ammonia and formaldehyde, release over time, dramatically increasing pollution in poorly-ventilated interiors. The chemicals that cause off-gassing are frequently referred to as volatile organic compounds or VOCs, and they can potentially cause health hazards to people with allergies, chemical sensitivities, and asthma. Many traditional paint companies are combating the risk of VOCs by releasing zero or low-VOC paints, which greatly reduce off-gassing. Like other types of environmentally-friendly paint, low-VOC paint also has less of an odor, meaning that newly painted areas can be occupied as soon as the paint is dry.

A third category of environmentally-friendly paint relates to the use of animal or chemical ingredients in the creation of tints, colors, and finishes. People who prefer to avoid animal and chemical products may have trouble finding a safe paint or finish, thanks to the use of insect-based agents such as carmine and shellac. Some paint companies now offer paint that uses only vegetable or plant-based dyes, without the use of chemical or animal additives. While these may be available in a smaller range of colors, some consider it a small price to pay for adherence to their beliefs.

Environmentally friendly paint often uses natural oils such as linseed oil instead of traditional oils.
Environmentally friendly paint often uses natural oils such as linseed oil instead of traditional oils.

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Discussion Comments


Another bad aspect of environmentally friendly paint is that you may have to pay more for it. So you have less variety, you have to search harder to find it, and then you have to pay more. Why are the things worth having always so much more trouble to get your hands on?


When I was a kid, people didn't give a second thought to what was in paint, and most of it contained lead. They only wanted something that was going to cover their walls and houses and look halfway decent. And of course, the cheaper the paint the better. I can even remember peeling paint from the walls and playing with paint chips when I was a child, and the paint was not environmentally safe.

Now that I own a home repair and renovation company, we are required to remove all of the lead paint we find. When we find lead paint on the trim of a door we are required to replace the trim and bag the old trim so that it can be properly disposed of.


This is an interesting article. We have been doing a lot of painting and removing of paint in the old house we bought. I always wear a mask when I am working because some of the old paint contains lead and I don't want to breathe that into my lungs.

Until reading this article I was unaware of the term or the process of off gassing. "Volatile organic compounds" is also a new expression to me. I will never look at paint in the same way. I'm definitely going to start shopping for environmentally friendly paint.

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