Green Painting: How to Choose Eco-Friendly Paints and Supplies

a living room with sage green walls and a white sofa
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Choosing eco-friendly paints and supplies for your next home improvement project is just as important as implementing sustainable practices into your renovation and design.

With volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in traditional paints contributing to air pollution and potential health problems, it’s important to opt for greener solutions.

Eco-Friendly Paints

a room being prepped ready for painting

How do you select eco-friendly paints and supplies that are better for both your health and the planet? This guide will talk about the impact of VOCs, understanding what to look for when choosing eco-friendly paints and supplies, and the certifications to look out for.

Understanding VOCs and Their Impact

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals found in many traditional paints and varnishes. When these compounds evaporate into the air, they contribute to indoor air pollution and can lead to health issues such as headaches, dizziness, respiratory diseases, and even memory impairment. On an environmental level, VOCs play a significant role in the formation of ground-level ozone, a key component of smog.

The first step in choosing eco-friendly paints is understanding the VOC content. Paints labeled “Low-VOC” contain fewer than 50 grams per liter for flat finishes and fewer than 150 grams per liter for non-flat finishes.

“Zero-VOC” paints have fewer than 5 grams per liter. However, adding color tints might increase VOC levels, so it’s essential to confirm the VOC levels after tinting.

Eco-Friendly Paint Certifications to Look For

a room being painted light blue

When shopping for eco-friendly paints, look for certifications that guarantee lower VOC levels and less environmental impact. Certifications like Green Seal or EcoLogo in the US, or the GBCA and APAS in Australia set specific standards for VOC emissions and ensure that products are free from heavy metals and certain chemical solvents.

These certifications help guide consumers to safer and greener choices.

Types of Eco-Friendly Paints

  1. Water-Based Latex Paints: These are a popular choice for interior walls and require only water for thinning and cleanup, significantly reducing VOC emissions.
  2. Milk Paints: Made from natural ingredients such as milk protein, lime, and natural pigments, milk paint is biodegradable and emits zero VOCs. It’s ideal for furniture and non-washable interior walls.
  3. Clay Paints: Known for their natural ingredients and minimal processing, clay paints offer excellent coverage with very low VOC content. They are perfect for achieving a matte, rustic finish on interior surfaces.
  4. Recycled Paints: Some manufacturers offer recycled or reprocessed paints, which are made by filtering and mixing leftover or unused paints. These products reduce waste and prevent the production of new, potentially harmful chemicals.

Choosing Sustainable Painting Supplies

The push for eco-friendliness extends beyond paint. Eco-friendly painting supplies can also help reduce environmental impact. Here are some items to consider:

  • Brushes and Rollers: Choose brushes and rollers made from natural materials such as wool or recycled PET bottles. Also, look for brushes with bamboo or recycled metal handles.
  • Paint Trays and Containers: Opt for biodegradable or recycled plastic paint trays, or better yet, clean and reuse old ones.
  • Drop Cloths: Instead of plastic drop cloths, use cloths made from recycled materials or old sheets that you can wash and reuse.

Eco-Friendly Paint Prep and Cleanup

man painting the wall
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

Preparing your space and cleaning up after painting can also impact the environment. Use these tips to keep your painting project as green as possible:

Prep Work

  • Use Eco-Friendly Supplies: Use sandpaper made from recycled materials and opt for low-tack painter’s tape that’s easier to remove and less likely to leave residue.
  • Measure Precisely: Calculate how much paint you will need for the project accurately to avoid overbuying and wasting paint. Many paint companies offer calculators to help you estimate the right amount based on room dimensions.
  • Protect Surfaces Smartly: Use reusable drop cloths made from canvas or old sheets instead of disposable plastic. This not only reduces waste but also offers better protection and can be washed and reused for future projects.
  • Ventilation: While using low-VOC paints reduces harmful emissions, good ventilation is still crucial to disperse any remaining fumes and protect indoor air quality. Use fans and keep windows open to ensure fresh air circulation.


painter with brush climbing ladder during renovation work
Photo by Anete Lusina

Wash brushes and other tools in a sink, not outdoors. Water that runs off into the ground can contaminate soil and waterways.

  • Water-Based Paints: For latex or other water-based paints, clean brushes, rollers, and other tools with warm, soapy water in a sink. Avoid washing paint down storm drains as it can pollute waterways.
  • Oil-Based Paints: These require solvents like mineral spirits for cleaning. Instead of disposing of solvent after a single use, allow it to sit in a closed container until the paint particles settle at the bottom. The clear solvent on top can be reused. Dispose of the sludge at a hazardous waste facility.

Recycling and Disposal

  • Recycle Empty Paint Cans: Metal paint cans are recyclable in many curbside programs. Check with your local recycling guidelines on how to recycle them properly—usually, they need to be empty and dry.
  • Dispose of Unused Paint Responsibly: If you have leftover paint, consider donating it to community centers, theater groups, or others who might use it. For disposal, many areas have specific protocols for household hazardous waste to ensure it doesn’t end up in landfills. Look for local hazardous waste disposal days or facilities. For more guidance on eco-friendly practices and products, consider consulting resources like
  • Repurpose: For very small amounts of paint, try to find small projects around the house, like touch-ups or painting small furnishings, rather than disposing of them.

Eco-Friendly Innovations in Paints

a pink bedroom

The paint industry continues to innovate with products designed to minimize environmental impact. New technologies are emerging, such as ceramic paints that offer high durability and low VOC emissions. Another exciting development is the creation of paints that absorb CO2, helping to reduce greenhouse gases.

Choosing eco-friendly paints and supplies is not only beneficial for your health and the beauty of your home but also contributes significantly to the conservation of the environment.

By selecting products with low or zero VOCs, certified eco-friendly labels, and sustainable materials, you can make a positive impact. Remember, every choice towards sustainability helps pave the way for a healthier planet.

As consumers continue to demand safer, more sustainable products, the market will respond with innovations that may someday eliminate harmful chemicals from paints altogether. Until then, informed choices are the best tools we have in our quest for a greener, more sustainable world.

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning that at no additional cost to you, I will receive a very small commission if you click through and make a purchase. These links help to pay the editorial costs of writing a blog. For more information, please read my full affiliate disclosure here.

I also use Artificial Intelligence Image generators to create some of my images. These are to show you examples of my ideas and inspiration when I cannot produce the real images myself.

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