Buying the Safest Paint for Your Baby’s Bedroom


You may not realize this, but the paints you choose for your child’s bedroom or nursery can be dangerous to their health.

You know that “fresh paint” smell that floods your nose when you walk into a room? Those emissions are carcinogens being released into the air. However, even though you stop smelling it after a couple months, chemicals are still leaking out in an odorless form.

These are called “volatile organic compounds,” or VOCs. They contribute to ozone and smog formation and are linked to respiratory illnesses, cancer and memory impairment. They’re bad for people in general, but newborns and young children have less developed immune systems, so they are more susceptible to absorbing these carcinogens into their bodies.

Federal VOC limits are currently set at 250 grams per liter (g/l) for flat paints and 380 g/l for others, though some states like California have more stringent rules. Paints that are labeled zero VOC must have 5 g/l. Fortunately, respected, mainstream paint companies like Behr, Olympic Premium, and Benjamin Moore all produce zero VOC paints, and you can find them at Home Depot or Lowe’s. There are also smaller niche brands at specialty stores if you’re willing to search them out.

These paints work just like any other paint; there’s no special application process, and you’re not limited with color options. The zero VOC paint is a base white and you can add whatever color into it — and the store employees are familiar with them. When painting my daughter Noelle’s room I read up on the Olympic Premium paint, looked at their color varieties and picked my favorite. I then went to Lowe’s, gave my color choice to the man in the paint department, told him I wanted the zero VOC version, and he said, “No problem.”

There is sometimes a misconception that because it’s an eco-product that it won’t work well. Maybe that was the case a few years ago, but these days the zero VOC paints work just as well as standard paints. Read reviews to determine the paint’s quality. Also, find out how many coats you’ll need because that could impact your budget.

Good to Know

  • Green Seal is a non-profit organization that helps consumers navigate the confusing world of eco-friendly products and procedures. Visit www.greenseal.org to do your research, learn which companies create zero VOC paints, and more.
  • Look for paint with the Green Seal label. That way you know you’re not being fooled by tricky marketing copy.
  • If a paint says it meets the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard, that means it’s certified for its clean interior air. It should also have the Green Seal on it, giving you added confidence with your choice.
  • A base paint can sometimes have zero VOC according to the EPA, but the color tint may not. Find out if the EPA has certified just the base or both the base and the tint. Green Seal will only certify paint that has zero VOC for both.
  • Typically, painters and contractors stick with what they know, and unless they’re familiar with using zero VOC paints they don’t suggest using them. Stick with your convictions. If you want to use a zero VOC paint then tell them that.

Zero VOC paints do tend to be a tick more expensive, but not by much. Plus, most nurseries aren’t big rooms so you’ll probably need only a gallon or two of paint. If budget is an issue, it’s worth it to spend your money here. And on carpet — but we’ll get into that another time.

Diana_Jess_Headshop_134x201 Diana Jess is an Environmental Designer, a LEED accredited professional, and the mother of a very busy three-year old. She has designed museum and trade fair exhibits, international cafes, and elements of themed rides for World’s Expos. As a mom, her passion is to design eco-friendly products for the home and nursery, made of high-quality, non-toxic, truly recycled materials. Check out her designs at Daswood.com.