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Healthy Painting 101

Healthy Painting 101

Spring is a great time to dust off the DIY gear and treat your home to a fresh coat of paint. But before you prise open the tin, here are a few things to think about, particularly if someone in your family suffers from allergies.

VOCs, short for Volatile Organic Compounds, are baddies you need to watch out for. They’re chemicals used to produce a range of products, including paints, paint strippers, wood preservatives, aerosol sprays, cleansers, disinfectants, air fresheners, automotive products, hobby supplies, building materials and furnishings.

In the case of paint, VOCs are released as the paint dries and cures. Once the paint is fully cured, it stops releasing any VOCs.

Most issues with paint and VOCs are caused by traditional solvent borne paints with high VOCs being used in enclosed areas, with insufficient ventilation. Therefore it makes good sense health-wise to use waterborne paints that have low or no VOCs and ensure you have plenty of air moving through the room you’re painting. Improving indoor air quality in this way can help prevent headaches, asthma, nausea, dizziness, respiratory complaints, allergic reactions, and can improve general well-being, as well as providing a better working environment for the painter.


  • Steer clear of solvent borne paints and spray paints. Choose low- or no- VOC waterborne paints instead.
  • Don’t assume ‘natural paints’ are safer than synthetic paints. VOC release can be high in ‘natural’ paints, and a synthetically designed and produced paint can often be a healthier choice.
  • Look for paints carrying the ‘Environmental Choice’ logo, New Zealand’s official environmental label. Initiated and endorsed by the New Zealand Government, Environmental Choice is independently operated, and recognises the increasing effort of manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of their products.
  • Ensure there is good ventilation during and after painting. This will help clear the air and also help the paint to cure better. On a still day, installing a fan and, in cooler weather, a heater can help to circulate the air and cure the paint.
  • Read the safety guidelines and wear the appropriate protective equipment for the product you are using.
    If you are particularly sensitive to odours or solvents, consider hiring (or begging!) someone to do the painting for you.
    Choose a long lasting product to minimise the amount of maintenance and repainting required.
  • Painting large areas during pregnancy isn’t recommended. The issue isn’t the paint as much as the stretching up and down and moving up and down ladders. If you’re pregnant, it’s best to stick to small projects using waterborne paints. Hire a painter or ask a family member or friend to tackle the big jobs for you.
  • Finally, take care when shopping to ensure you are choosing low VOC products – whatever these may be. While we tend to associate VOCs with paint, most of us will have only minimal exposure to VOCs from paint, but a much greater exposure to VOCs through the other products we use, such as hairspray, deodorants and normal household cleaning products.
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