Volatile organic compounds are what gives a room that new paint smell but can also cause headaches and nausea. Thankfully, environmentally-friendly and low-VOC paints have never been better, available in more fabulous colours, and made with fewer harsh toxins, than ever before. Here, the best options for every shopper.
Best for budgets
Behr’s Premium Plus zero VOC, Greenguard Gold–certified (meaning it meets the high air quality standards of healthcare centres and hospitals) and self-priming (yay, less work). It also comes in more than 2,000 colours within the Behr palette and finishes, including flat, eggshell and multiple semi-glosses. The bounty of choice might seem overwhelming, but tools like ColourSmart, at Behr.com can help whittle down the options. Even better, the paint averages $10 per litre, so it’s one of the most affordable eco options going.
Best for easy breathing
Nearly 10 percent of Canadians have asthma, a condition exacerbated by the noxious fumes common with VOC-filled paints. Benjamin Moore’s Natura line has fewer irritants and a less bothersome odour, which is why it has Asthma Canada’s seal of approval. Plus, it can be colour-matched to any existing surface (making the options limitless), and re-applied after an hour, which means rooms won’t need to be out of commission for extended periods of time.
Best for online shoppers
New, online-only startups Clare and Backdrop are perfect for people who don’t want to waste gas getting to a big box store only to be overwhelmed by an endless selection of colour options. Instead, both companies distill the process, offering tightly curated selections of about 50, low-and-zero VOC hues, as well as pre-assembled essentials kits with all the tools, including painters tape, rollers and brushes. Because the companies are new, they are both limited to US shipping now, but are hoping to expand to Canada in the future. Approx. US $13 per litre.
Best for furniture and decor
Milk paint might sound like a recipe for a curdled mess. But the millennia-old, non-toxic combination of dairy proteins, lime (as in calcium hydroxide, not as in the citrus fruit) and pigments results in a surprisingly long-lasting, versatile top coat. It’s particularly popular for furniture makers, who like the painterly appearance (it can look loose like water colours, or flat matte like acrylics, depending on the application).
It also works well on interior walls. The Real Milk Paint’s VOC-free, ultra-vibrant versions (when they say yellow, they mean sunshine bright) are 100 per cent organic, kid and pet safe. Approx. $22 per litre.
Best for colour lovers
GTA-based, family-run Homestead House (started by Scott and Loree Pringle in 1989, now helmed by daughter Jennylyn) takes a holistic approach to sustainability.
Jennylyn Pringle’s Fusion Mineral Paint line consists of more than 50 non-toxic, odourless, VOC-, lead-, ammonia- and formaldehyde-free paints that come in stunning colours including ultra-pretty pastels and shimmering metallics. All the pigments are derived from natural minerals, not synthetic chemicals. Homestead House Milk Paint is manufactured at a factory in Etobicoke that recycles 100 percent of its waste water. Everything else is sourced from and manufactured in Canada, most of it being directly in Ontario. Approx. $48 per litre.