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Paint Toxicity

Paint Toxicity

Some Paints are Healthier Than Others

'Regular paints give off low level toxic fumes that can cause breathing irritations and headaches. Painted surfaces can continue 'off gassing' fumes for months after painting. The good news is that many paint companies now offer healthier low emission products for the same cost. (These are also known as 'low VOC' products)

If you want to avoid paint fumes altogether, look for paints that contain all-natural ingredients. These do cost a bit extra but are worth it if you have allergies or young children.'

- Your Home Buyers Guide (Australian Government initiative)

CSIRO studies have shown that occupants of new Australian homes may be exposed to up to 20 times the maximum allowable limits of indoor air toxics for up to ten weeks after completion. Further CSIRO measurements in 27 suburban Melbourne residences more than a year after construction identified 27 airborne toxics. These included the carcinogens benzene, formaldehyde and styrene, and a cocktail of methanol, ethanol, acetone, toulene,dichlorobenzene plus a number of less well-known toxics, most of which are found in paints. Mineral turpentine (used as a thinner and solvent)may contain up to 20% benzene, which is a confirmed carcinogen and mutagen in chronically exposed workers.

CSIRO estimates that indoor air pollution costs the Australian community in excess of $12 billion a year in illness and lost productivity. Because VOC regulations are based on ozone reduction, toxic chemicals that do not form ozone are excluded from the required VOC calculations, as are toxic metals. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) list hazardous ingredients and can be obtained by calling paint manufacturers. Be aware that additions of pigments and additives such as biocides also affect the relative toxicity of the final paint mix.

Acrylic paints typically include a rangeof biocides to protect the latex, which can include arsenic disulphide, phenol, copper, formaldehyde, carbamates, permethrin and quaternary ammonium compounds. Just because a paint says it is "low VOC does not mean it does not give off hazardous vapors! " (U.S.Environmental Protection Agency. Evaluation of low-VOC latex paints.Inside IAQ: EPA's Indoor Air Quality Research Update. EPA/600/N-98/003.Fall/Winter, 1998.) While biocide manufacturers claim that the formaldehyde in these products wont come out, EPA data shows this is not the case.

Even when using paints that are classified as low VOC, immune suppressed individuals with conditions such as HIV/Aids, Chronic Fatigue and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) should avoid rooms with fresh paint (of any kind) and health test dry paint samples after minimum 24 hours prior to purchase or painting. Accredited GreenPainters are well aware of issues relating to MCS sufferers, and can work closely with customers to determine the best outcome.

Click below to watch a video on how you can choose paints that are better for the health of your family and your painter

Typical Paint Ingredients Chart

(based on Material Safety Data Sheets)

Paint Type


Typical Ingredients

Typical Water-borne Paint


Glycols(ethyleneand propylene), glycol ethers, formaldehyde,biocides, amines (ammoniumhydroxide, amino-2-methyl propanol),monomers, acrylic polymer latextitanium dioxide calcium carbonateammonium hydroxide benzisothiazoline,methyl-isothiazolin, water

Low VOC Acrylic


acryliccopolymer latex, titanium dioxide, water, glycol

Typical Plant/Mineral Paint


Water,chalk,talcum, zinc oxide, bentone, beeswax, methyl cellulose,beeswax soap,hemp oil, linseed oil, safflower oil, silverchloride, Isoaliphates,orange oil

Typical Solvent-based Enamel


AlkydResin,Titanium dioxide, Aliphatic & aromatichydrocarbons(toluene,xylene), ketones (acetone, methyl ethylketone), alcohols (butanol,ethanol), esters (n-propyl acetate,butyl acetate) free monomers,volatile plasticisers, fungicidessuch as aromatic mercury compounds,benzene