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How to Choose the Best Paint for Your Home

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 16, 2021
From the WebMD Archives

‌Paint for the home comes in many colors and finishes. While the range of choices lets you customize your home as desired, it can cause frustration and uncertainty over the best paint to buy. Some paints suit more humid environments like the bathroom or laundry room, while others are better for hallways or a home office. The choice of color can cause additional confusion, as can concerns about paint exposure side effects. 

What to Consider When Choosing Paint

‌To pick the best paint for your home, focus on specific paint characteristics.

1‌. Check the ingredients. In paint, some ingredients make the paint roll off a brush or roller, and others keep the color vibrant or pure. While paints vary in their ingredients, especially between standard and specialty-formulated paints, they also vary in potential health safety.

  • Pigments create the color you see. They also change the sheen and opacity for the color, and they can come from organic or inorganic sources. Common paint pigments include barium, cadmium, iron, chromium, cobalt, and zinc compounds, aromatic azo dyes, titanium dioxide, and aluminum. Certain types of chromium and cadmium compounds can affect your health. 
  • Solvents help the paint stay in liquid form. They’re more common in oil-based paints than water-based — also called latex — paints, but even latex paints contain some solvents. Common solvents include xylene, ketones, alcohols, toluene, glycol ethers, and esters. Some solvents can cause health effects like dizziness, headaches, and harm to your liver, brain, lungs, and kidneys, which is why paint manufacturers are beginning to remove solvents or find suitable alternatives for their products.
  • Additives help to thicken, preserve, or stabilize the product. However, some additives like plasticizers, polymers, and antimicrobial biocides can have a negative effect your health.
  • Binders give the pigments staying power. These mostly resin compounds can have a natural or synthetic source, although most standard paints use synthetics like polyester and polyurethane resins, vinyl, silicone, and chlorinated rubber. ‌‌

2. Look for VOCs. The best paints for interior spaces have lower volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds are what give the paint a strong odor as it dries, and they can linger in the air and cause side effects. Some of these health effects can include:

Some common VOCs are also solvents, such as xylene, toluene, and ketones. To reduce your potential risks, choose paints that say “low VOCs” or “zero VOCs.” 

Neither one has 100% guaranteed zero VOCs, but they have a much lower amount. Low-VOC paint has less than 50 grams per liter (g/L), while zero-VOC paint has less than 5 g/L. You can also look for certification logos from Green Seal (GS-11), Greenguard Shield Gold, or Master Paint Institute Green Performance. 

3. Think about the room’s function. While some rooms need more hardwearing paint because of heavy traffic, others can use less robust paint without concern. For example, heavy-use rooms like bathrooms and front hallways need paint that can stand up to moisture, activity, and handprints. ‌‌

How hardwearing paint functions often comes down to how many binder ingredients the formula contains. More binders usually mean more shine and more durability. Below are the sheens from least glossy to most glossy:

  • ‌Flat/matte
  • ‌Eggshell
  • ‌Satin
  • ‌Semi-gloss
  • ‌High-gloss/full-gloss‌‌

While high-gloss has the toughest, hardest-wearing surface, it also reflects surfaces and may not suit large areas. Conversely, matte hides wall imperfections but also captures moisture.

Color Psychology for Your Home

‌Color is another big consideration when choosing the best paint because it can influence how you feel in a space. In color psychology, the wavelengths from light bounce off your retina, change into electrical impulses, and travel to your brain’s hypothalamus. It’s not the same as color context, which has more of a cultural or social reading for specific colors. ‌‌

Red. Rooms painted in red have a stimulating effect and can create feelings of warmth, motivation, and comfort. 

Orange. Rooms painted in orange create confidence, warmth, and creativity, and they can serve as a social center. 

Yellow. Rooms painted in yellow are rich in happiness and positivity. They also help to inspire creativity, mental stimulation, and communication.‌

‌Green. Rooms painted in green create a calming effect rooted in vitality and health. Green can also cause you to feel optimistic and balanced, with better memory and problem solving. ‌‌

Blue. Rooms painted in blue have tranquil and soothing effects that help to lower heart rates. They can also gradually boost productivity through feelings of comfort.‌‌

Purple. Rooms painted in purple create a space with a blend of calming yet uplifting tones. You can also feel inspired and creative in a more focused way without a rise in heart rate.‌‌

When choosing the best paints for your home, consider the ingredients, the room’s function, and the colors that spark the right mood. Once your home’s rooms have a new color, it’s time to settle in and enjoy your new space. 

WebMD Feature

Sources

‌SOURCES:

‌CDC: “Chapter 5: Indoor Air Pollutants and Toxic Materials.”

‌Color Psychology: “Color Blue: Psychology, Meaning, Symbolism and more,” “Green Color Psychology, Symbolism and Meaning,” “Orange Color Psychology and Meaning,” “Purple Color Psychology and Meaning,” “Red Color Psychology, Symbolism and Meaning,” “Yellow Color Psychology, Symbolism and Meaning.”

‌Consumer Reports: “How to Paint Your Bathroom for Lasting Appeal,” “Pick the Perfect Paint Finish for Every Room.”

Environmental Health: “Consumer exposure to biocides - identification of relevant sources and evaluation of possible health effects.”

‌EPA: “Volatile Organic Compounds' Impact on Indoor Air Quality.”

‌IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, “Chemical Agents and Related Occupations,” International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2012.

Sage Journals: “The Effects of Color on the Moods of College Students.”

‌StopWaste: “A Guide to Green Maintenance and Operations.”

‌Yale School of Medicine: “Solvents.”

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