Putting up a new paint color can transform the atmosphere in a room and feel completely refreshing. Eggshell white? Lavender sunset? Mossy green? The choices can be exhilarating.
However, for anyone who has actually painted a room—versus just enjoying the final product—the fumes can be overwhelmingly harsh.
Invisible gases released into the air during a paint job are called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Unfortunately, VOCs can take a toll on your health, causing breathing problems, eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and nausea. Not so nice to think about, especially if you’re painting a room for a more relaxing vibe.
Safer painting practices
Besides using lower VOC paints, there are other things you can do to reduce any risks from painting:
- Buy only as much paint as you think you need. Even closed containers can emit VOCs, so it’s better if you don’t have to store leftover paint. Use a paint calculator to figure out how much is enough.
- Use all of the protective gear recommended on the label. This can mean gloves, goggles, and a respirator with the proper filter. (Dust masks don’t keep out solvent fumes.)
- Keep exposure to paint fumes at a minimum during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Evidence for possible harm to the baby is very limited, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
- Ventilate rooms during and after painting. This includes opening all windows for ventilation, using exhaust fans to pull inside air outside, and taking frequent fresh air breaks. Remember, even low- or no-emission paints may release some VOCs. VOC emissions are greatest when paint is being applied and is still wet. As the paint dries, VOC emission goes down. But it can take up to seven days before paint stops releasing VOCs.
- Dispose of paint properly. You can put empty latex paint cans in your regular trash. Oil-based paints need to go to hazardous waste collection programs. Depending on where you live, you might be able to donate your extra paint to a community program.
So while there’s every reason to be excited about a fresh coat of paint, just be sure you have a safe plan for getting it up on the walls.