Paint Selection for IAQ Nerds

Indoor Air Nerd's wife displaying selection

When the Indoor Air Nerd was faced with selecting a new paint for his family room, he did the only sensible thing… had his wife pick it out!

Fortunately, my wife is an interior designer who is also passionate about indoor air quality (right honey?). We also have two small children that will spending a considerable amount of time in the room. As a frame of reference, our coffee table was replaced with a Thomas the Tank Engine train table!

I gave my wife just a few basic requirements…. (cue wife cringing)

  1. Zero VOC (volatile organic compound) in base
  2. Zero VOC in colorant
  3. Low odor
  4. Compliant with SCAQMD
  5. Meets LEED specifications
  6. Greenguard or Green Seal certification

And you thought picking out the color was the hardest thing!

We settled on Benjamin Moore Eco Spec WB paint.  It met most of my onerous qualifications, only lacking a Greenguard or Green Seal Certification.  As an interior designer, my wife liked the fact that she could have the paint tinted any color.  The painter (me) will like that it has similar properties and texture to more traditional latex paint.

The cost was slightly over $30 a gallon.  The premium is a small price to pay when you have two young children at home (and you happen to be the Indoor Air Nerd).

Do you have any experience with specific paints that you can share with our readers?  Please add a comment below.

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By Ian Cull

I'm I.A.N. the Indoor Air Nerd. I'm a speaker and consultant on indoor air quality issues. To learn more about me, click "about" at the top of this page.

12 replies on “Paint Selection for IAQ Nerds”


I took your course so maybe I should know this answer. About how long can you expect new carpet to “off gas”? I know that this question has tons of variables (i.e., low VOC carpet?, air exchanges in room?, etc.). My quest is for a more “rule of thumb” answer. I will state the question in another manner for clarity. Would you expect carpet installed 6-7 months ago still stink under normal environmental conditions?

Check out the article “Decreasing concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emitted following home renovations” from the Indoor Air Journal, April 2010: Here’s a quote from that paper:
“The average time range which has to elapse following renovation activities before a guideline value or reference load is reached showed a time range between 2 and 8 weeks.”


To make a long story short, I have elevated VOCs coming from the paint on my walls. While the paint is at least a year old, I suspect some visible touch-ups used bad paint after finding (and discarding) the cans stored in the unconditioned attic.

My question is how can I eliminate VOCs from existing wall paint? Is it sufficient to paint over it with a zero VOC blend, such as your Benjamin Moore recommendation? Or should I do some sort of primer or treatment first?

Thanks a lot,


I love this blog!! My mom wanted to surprise me by having most of the interior of my house painted…. but of course the painter used low-VOC (not Green Guard) paints. My daughters and I have headaches, dizziness and swollen throats after being here for 48 hours! You mention AFM Safecoat. I have used their paints in the past. I thought only their sealants (acrilacq and hard seal) would stop VOC emissions, but I am reading on some sites that their paint and primers will seal up toxins as well. Do you have any knowledge on this? I want everything repainted with something that stops the VOCs! Nicole

Unfortunately, I don’t have any information on AFM Safecoat. I haven’t seen anything published in a journal that evaluates their products’ ability to lock down VOCs.

Not sure if you’ll see this, but here goes. We’re renovating after tornado damage. Generally using no/low VOC (Ben Moore) paint, water borne sealant, adhesives, etc. No carpets. No particle board. No flame retardants. Painter insists on using an oil based primer for some wood paneling only (~one wall) — voc is 350 g/L here. If it dries adequately prior to application of no VOC paint are we in the clear, more or less? Have a 7 month old. Supposed to move in about two weeks after application of said primer.

I suspect you’ll still smell it 2 weeks later. I would try to find an alternative option. If there’s no other option, have the painter set up a plastic partition wall (containment around the painted wall) and exhaust as much of the air out of the containment with a large fan.

Thanks for your quick response! One more question: We’re planning to get an air purifier to help mitigate lingering renovation dust etc. do you think the Austin air healthmate actually removes VOC or not really? Otherwise I have my eye on a different one.

Hi Ian! I just came across your site – very informative!! Question: I’m dealing with lingering VOC’s in my 1 yr old’s bedroom. We painted almost 3 months ago (yes, we chose poorly). Before ripping down the walls *insert sarcasm, I’d like to get VOC readings. Any suggestion on a good at home VOC reader?? Thanks!


I would suggest an accurate one-time test with a laboratory-based method such as Home Air Check rather than a cheap VOC monitor which doesn’t provide a reliable result. Good luck!

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