Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 28, 2012
I love to paint. Not beautiful, rolling murals or nuanced, evocative portraits. I love to dump a can of paint into a tray, pick up a roller and make every single greasy finger print, smear, splash or sticker glue gob vanish in a flash. I love the way a can of paint can instantly make me feel like the world’s best housekeeper. But I hate the way it smells, and I hate the way it makes me think of little tiny chemicals corroding my children’s brains.
Those nasty fumes that we all associate with fresh paint are caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These chemical emissions have been associated with headaches, dizziness, nausea and respiratory problems in some people. Knowing that, I assumed I would be safe going with a water-soluble paint for my children’s’ rooms, since they have lower rates of VOCs. But here’s the kicker — even water-soluble paints have now been linked to health problems in children. They may not be as bad as oil-based paints, but what they emit — propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs) — might actually be linked to allergies and asthma in young children, according to scientists at Harvard and Kalstad University in Sweden. In other words, water-soluble paints might be better, but they’re certainly not without risk.
So what is a redecorating mom to do? First of all, VOCs dissipate over time. So painting day might be a good time to kick off a few nights of backyard campouts. At the very least, have your children sleep in a different room for a few nights until the smell is gone. And you can help the scent and the VOCs go away faster by keeping the room you paint well ventilated. Open all the windows, get a fan or two and close the door. Finally, if you are pregnant, get someone else to do the painting for you. Some studies have linked glycol ethers to miscarriage, and why take any risk you don’t have to? Especially when you might be able to talk some friends into doing the painting for you (those who love to paint, like me!).