On average, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and indoor air can be two and a half times as polluted as outdoor air.

Indoor Air Quality is of particular concern for those affected by asthma and allergies, but a healthier home is of broader benefit to all.

The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program seeks to assist people to identify products which will make a genuine difference to their indoor environment. It develops certification standards for relevant categories of products, and all certified products undergo testing to those standards. In this way, the consumer can then make an informed choice about materials like paint, flooring products, etc. that they bring into their home.

In the case of paint, the release of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the paint during and after application can impact on those with sensitive airways. Additionally, some chemicals used in paint can cause sensitivities or even allergic reactions. Our standard addresses these issues.

Our paint standard is one of over 50 standards in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, covering appliances, bedding products, air filters, building products, and services that can have an impact on the indoor air environment. You can explore the paint standard in more detail using the menu on the left, or use the links above to explore other standards.

Case Study: True Value

It’s no secret that consumers are demanding products that are safer and healthier for themselves and their families. But many brands are capitalizing on this by making health claims that are scientifically unfounded. What separates the companies that are delivering on their brand promise from the ones that are not, and how can companies tighten their messaging to cut across the noise?

Here, Allergy Standards’ Digital Marketing Manager, Léa Daulan, interviews leaders, brand managers, and marketers who are part of a global movement towards healthier products that are rooted in rigorous science. In this interview, meet John Vanderpool, True Value‘s Divisional Vice President of Paint, a multinational corporation specialising in the production of floor and wall coverings. 

True-Value-Allergy-Standards-Brand-Promises-Healthier-Homes paint

Léa Daulan: True Value is a brand that has positioned itself as not just being community driven but having a lasting impact on community and occupying a permanent position within local areas. What are the key long-term community driven projects True Value hopes to have completed over the next decade?

John Vanderpool: The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification of EasyCare Ultra-Premium products and our EasyCare Platinum products, along with our “Painting a Brighter Future” grant program, shows True Value is committed to local communities.  We are particularly excited for this grant program in terms of how it relates to the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program. When we provide paint for schools, it’s important for children to have a colorful environment to work and play in that is also safe and healthy. The “Painting a Brighter Future” program has been in place for several years and will surely go into the next decade. We have donated thousands and thousands of gallons of paint to communities and schools across the US, and we work hand in hand with the local True Value retailers who then coordinate with the local schools on their particular project needs.


Léa: True Value recently attended the Mom 2.0 Summit, the premier gathering of women leaders in media and business, as well as influencers.  It’s an opportunity for brands such as True Value to connect directly with those who purchase the brand. With True Value taking such a hands-on approach to connect with consumers, what do you hope your customers will take away from your brand and the EasyCare paint specifically?

John: Our real takeaway from the Mom 2.0 Summit is that we want moms to feel comfortable with our EasyCare Ultra-Premium product:  that it is healthy for their homes, for their environment and most importantly for their families. With the EasyCare Ultra-Premium product being asthma & allergy friendly®, LEED, MPI and Green Wise® Gold certified, we can promise these mothers that they are getting a high-performing, third-party certified product that meets their requirements. We ensure consumers that our paint products meet the strictest scientific requirements in the industry, and we also tell consumers that this is one of the highest-performing products they can use for their homes.

Léa: By taking the care to go through the rigorous scientific testing to reach
asthma & allergy friendly® standards, True Value has proven itself as a brand that is committed to providing a healthier home through the products they carry. Why was it important for True Value to commit to reaching this standard and what does the certification mean to you?

John: The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification is very important to our overall paint strategy in the marketplace.  True Value provides not only the highest-performing but also the safest products for a beautiful and healthy home.  The Certification was the icing on the cake for us, and we are very excited about it. We plan for a long-term relationship, making sure that the raw materials in our product meet the stringent requirements of the Certification Program.


Léa: One of the biggest challenges facing paint brands at the moment is the high volume of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) that are released which can lead to an unclean air environment. In terms of product development what steps were taken to reduce the emissions of EasyCare paint?

John: I think it’s very important that we talk about the VOCs that are released into the air. In any gallon of paint, a significant amount of that gallon evaporates into the air. Up to half or 2/3 of the gallon evaporates over time. Having a product that has low VOC emissions, which is one of the parts of our certification, is super important for us. Going through all the testing that we did for this Certification Program really reinforced our values and proved that we have a really fine product with very low VOC emissions. The bottom line is our products do not send triggers to those that suffer from Allergy and Asthma.


Brand_Promises_EasyCare_True_Value_Allergy_StandardsLéa: Since launching the Certification, what response have you seen from your store owners and consumers?

John: It has been almost a year to the day now of officially being CERTIFIED. It has really placed True Value paint in the marketplace as a premium product with superior safety and performance.  Consumers know EasyCare is a product they can trust in their homes. We spend a lot of time in our homes, and we want to make sure we have products that are healthy for families. The certification is very important to us. We will continue to meet and exceed the standards that the Certification Program puts forward.


Léa: Through all its community driven efforts, True Value seems to focus particularly on the youth and strives towards painting a brighter future for children. For example, The True Value Boys & Girls Club has recently entered its 55thyear of service. What steps do you feel the modern retailer must take in order to allow a better future for the younger generation?

John: If we think about the way True Value goes to market with 4500 retailer stores across the US and in 60 countries, it is really important we provide a high-quality product along with the many community initiatives led by local True Values. We want to make sure that we are not self-certifying, and this is why we pursued and achieved a third-party certification for emissions and toxicology. Frankly, the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification is a prestigious achievement. It’s important for the younger generation to have these quality products in their homes as they grow up, and, when they get their own homes, they continue to trust EasyCare as their paint of choice.

Léa: Thank you. 

Standard Abstract 04: Indoor Decorative Coatings

Indoor Decorative Coatings that are CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® are tested according to ASP:04. The certification process utilizes an algorithm of proprietary and recognized scientific techniques to assess indoor decorative coatings for their action as a source of allergenic and irritant materials, both at the time of purchase and thereafter when in use. Product samples that pass certification testing are granted a certificate stating that the particular interior decorative coating meets the requirements for the asthma & allergy friendly® ASP:04 Certification Standard. The current version of the standard is ASP:04, version 004-2022, with sub-categories 04-01 for Wall Paints, and 04-02 for Trim Paints.

Allergy Standards Limited subjects interior decorative coatings to chemical testing to ensure that the product does not have properties that are likely to irritate either asthma or allergy symptoms in susceptible people.

The interior decorative coating must meet or exceed the most stringent national or international requirements for chemicals known to adversely impact on human health and the environment.

Part 1: Volatile organic compounds (VOC) 

VOC Emissions

Testing is carried out as per the most recent version of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method for the testing and evaluation of VOCs from indoor sources using environmental chambers. For the 336-hour time point below, the CDPH method is used without modification. For the 24-hour time point below, the CDPH method is carried with a modification to carry out no conditioning period, and to collect data on emissions after 24 hours. Wall loading is used in calculating VOC emissions for coatings to be considered under Standard sub-category ASP:04-01, and wall base loading is used in calculating VOC emissions for coatings to be considered under Standard sub-category ASP:04-02.




Limit Level (mg/m3)



24 hours


336 hours

Total VOC










  • The level of each VOC excluding formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, should remain less than 50% of the chronic REL* (CREL) at 336 hours post-installation.
  • For particular compounds having an increased potential to irritate airways, a figure significantly less than 50% is set.
  • This percentage figure is determined on an individual basis.
  • Where CREL figures are not available, each component must remain less than 10% of the TLV**.
  • The level of each VOC component must remain less than 10% of the TLV at 24 and 336 hours post-application.

* A chronic REL is an airborne level of a chemical at or below which no adverse health effects are anticipated in individuals indefinitely exposed to that level. RELs are developed from the best available published scientific data, based solely on health considerations.

** Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) reflect the level of exposure that the typical worker can experience without an unreasonable risk of disease or injury (ACGIH). They are guidelines to assist industrial hygienists and others in making decisions regarding safe levels of exposure to various hazards found in the workplace. They are not quantitative estimates of risk at different exposure levels or by different routes of exposure.

VOC Content

VOC Content is assessed, using standardised test ASTM D6886. Coatings must meet the VOC content limits outlined in South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Rule 1113. 

For projects in North America, methylene chloride and perchloroethylene may not be intentionally added, and a statement of product compliance must be made by the manufacturer.

If the applicable regulation requires subtraction of exempt compounds, any content of intentionally added exempt compounds larger than 1% weight by mass (total exempt compounds) must be disclosed.

Part 2: Performance evaluation of indoor decorative coating

Indoor decorative coatings that are certified asthma & allergy friendly® should meet or exceed the physical performance standards for the category for which it is to be used and for the country in which the coating will be commercially available, for example American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) specifications or International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) specifications.

A performance evaluation is required, and some of the specific characteristics which should be considered include drying time, scrubbability, cleanability, and adhesion.

Part 3: Constituent review of indoor decorative coating

Due to the health-based nature of the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program it is necessary to review the constituents of the paint to ensure that there are no allergenic or sensitizing chemicals present, or that their concentration is low enough to warrant no concern for sensitive individuals. A constituent list of chemicals used in the paint should be forwarded to Allergy Standards Limited where this will be reviewed. This information is treated as highly sensitive and is managed in the strictest confidence.

All CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® paints are associated with a unique Certification code.

Note that the brochure and video below relate to Version 003 of the Certification Standard; these will be updated shortly.

Why and how we certify paint – a Q&A

There is ever-increasing awareness of the chemicals we come into contact with every day, particularly if you or a member of your family has asthma or allergies. We created the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program to help you improve your indoor air environment by identifying products and services that can help to reduce allergens and create a healthier home environment.

Products like paint and cleaning sprays are – by their nature – composed of lots of different chemical compounds. But what is it that makes some paints better for the indoor environment than others, and where do we draw the line to decide to certify a paint as asthma & allergy friendly®? We hope that the questions below will clarify this. Let us know if you have more questions!

Why do we certify paints?

Why and how we certify paints – a Q&A. Allergy Standards. asthma & allergy friendly®
Our goal in the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is to create a healthier indoor environment for you and your family, and so we look at all elements of the indoor air environment. Some of the chemicals in commonly used paints can cause allergic reactions, and many paints release fumes when they are applied.

We take a balanced approach in certifying products. It is not possible to make paint without using chemicals, and there are some chemicals which can have a negative effect but which are necessary for different reasons – more on that below. We want to identify paints that do not contain ingredients that are unnecessarily harmful. And we want to make sure that any necessary chemicals that can sometimes cause an allergic reaction are present at as low a level as is needed for them to function as intended.

What do we look for in paints?

We look at three things when we test paints.

1. VOCs

The first is how many VOCs are emitted when the paint is applied. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are chemical compounds that easily become vapours or gases. When you can smell paints, adhesives, cleaners, insect repellents, new furniture, printer fluid etc., these smells are caused by VOCs being released. We paint a sample surface with the paint and place it in an environmentally controlled chamber, where we can measure all of the VOCs released over 14 days. We record the levels after 24 and 336 hours, to make sure that throughout this time period the levels remain low.

We also measure the VOC content in the paint – that means the amount of VOC chemicals that are in the paint when it is still in the paint can. We set strict limits for this, to ensure that the amount of VOCs that are available to be released into the air is minimal.

Why do we do VOC tests?

Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, headaches, dizziness, and other side-effects. These can impact more on people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as people with asthma and certain allergies. We want to make sure that VOC content and emissions are as low as possible. However, if you are someone with asthma or nasal allergies, it would still be better for you to avoid painting a room yourself, or spending too much time in a room directly after painting.

2. Performance

The second is the paint’s performance – this means that we want paints to act like paint. When you paint them on the wall, they should stick to the wall properly, they should dry in a reasonable time, it should be possible to scrub them in a reasonable way without them breaking down, and it should be possible to clean a reasonable level of stain from them. There are standardised tests for all of these things, and we make sure that these have been passed for each paint that we certify.

Why do we look at paint performance?

As paint companies try to improve their paint by removing harmful chemicals and making sure they emit fewer VOCs, it is important that the paint still performs like a paint. Once the paint is dry, when you touch the wall no chemicals should transfer to your fingers. And you should be able to wipe off any stains without also removing the paint onto your cloth.

3. Constituent review

The third is the make-up of the paint. We do a detailed chemical assessment of all the constituents in the paint, and what concentration they are present at. There are many chemicals which are known to irritate skin and/or eyes or to which certain people can be particularly sensitive. But if they are present at a suitably low level and used correctly this is unlikely to cause problems.

Why do we do a constituent review?

We want to make sure that any potentially irritant or sensitising chemicals are present as a low enough level so that the probability of a reaction to them is as low as possible.

For example, water-based paints were developed to respond to consumer demand for healthier paints with lower VOCs, as compared to traditional solvent-based paint which have higher VOCs. But solvents in paint have a positive side-effect, in that they prevent mold and bacteria from growing in the paint or on the wall after it is painted. When the solvents were removed to make a healthier paint, it was necessary to introduce a preservative to stop this growth.

But there are very few presevatives currently available to paint companies to carry out this function. Most of the options fall into a chemical family called izothiozolinones, and are usually referred to by their initials; MIT, CMIT, and BIT are among the most commonly used in paints. This type of preservative is called a biocide. The problem with these biocides is that even at low concentrations, some people can have an allergic reaction to them. But when one paint company tried to remove them entirely from a new paint line, it ended up having to recall all of the paint it sold. Consumers had found that there was an ammonia-like smell in some rooms after painting and this was causing headaches and other physical effects. This was a result of bacteria that had grown in the paint can because the preservative had been removed.

So it goes back to the balance that we talked about earlier – in order that there are healthier paint choices available, there is a need for a preservative that will stop bacteria growth which itself could cause side-effects such as headaches and nasty smells. When we are assessing paint for the asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program, we make sure that any preservatives/biocides are present at the lowest possible level at which they are effective. We are also keeping an active eye on research in this area, in the hope that a new preservative will be developed that will be effective but will not be considered as an allergen.

Why is there an allergy warning on some paints?

In some jurisdictions, there are regulations to make sure that if a chemical compound is present in a paint that has been demonstrated to cause an allergic reaction, the chemical and its allergenic status must be stated on the label. This is to protect consumers, and so that consumers who know they are sensitive to that chemical can avoid it where possible. The European Union (EU) has these kinds of regulations in place, and it requires an allergy warning for the biocides mentioned above. Because these biocides are necessary to keep the paint from hosting bacterial growth, you might see an allergy warning on a paint that has been certified asthma & allergy friendly®.

If you are in a country outside the EU, these biocides may be present in the paint without a warning on the label, because many countries do not require a warning.

But in any case, if a paint has been certified asthma & allergy friendly®, you will know that we have checked that any biocides are present at a low level, and that only the minimum amount required has been used.

Are there paints that are definitely safe?

Unfortunately, no. Given the variability between people, and the variety of sensitivities and allergic responses that different people can have, it is simply not possible to say that a paint is safe for everyone. In the same way, it is not possible to say that peanuts are safe for everyone, or that honey is safe for everyone, or that crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing is safe for everyone. But there are definitely some paints that create a better indoor environment than others, because they emit lower VOCs in your home over time, they perform well as paints, and because any potentially sensitising chemicals are present at a low level. However, if you have had a reaction to VOCs in the past or you know that you are sensitive to some of the chemicals that are in paint, you should take sensible precautions. Avoid doing any painting yourself, or if you must paint make sure you are wearing suitable protective clothing and gloves, and that the area is well-ventilated.

What else do we certify?

We have over 50 different asthma & allergy friendly® certification standards for products and services, addressing all areas of the indoor air environment. Some of these relate to products which remove allergens and dust from the indoor environment, like vacuum cleaners, air cleaners, dehumidifiers, and washing machines. Some of them relate to products where it is important not to provide an easy home for allergens and that it is possible to remove allergen from them – like bedding and toys. And some of them relate to household products that should make as little an impact on the indoor environment as possible – like paint.

You can find out which products are certified asthma & allergy friendly® and read more by clicking here.

Note: This is a summary of our paint standard which was written for those without a scientific background. For more detailed information, please see the Standard Abstract tab on this page, or contact us for more information.

Lifestyle Article: Indoor Air Quality – Some Serious Home Truths

Sophie casts a critical eye on her own home environment and vows to make some changes…

This is the fourth episode of ‘Sophie’s quest’ a story about places where, surprisingly, air quality may not be as good as expected and brings us on a journey in pursuit of healthy air while balancing the science with everyday life.

By Lifestyle Medical Author Dr. Anna O’ Donovan

Indoor Air Quality in the Home by Dr. Anna O'Donovan, Allergy Standards

Indoor Air Quality in the Home by Dr. Anna O’Donovan, Allergy Standards

It’s Monday morning and with kids safely dispatched, Sophie leans against her closed front door and savors the quiet of the house. She’s working from home today but before she starts, she needs to spend some time focusing on the air quality in her house. All the research over the past few days has really made her think. We spend an average of 90% of our time indoors and unbelievably, indoor air can be two and half times more toxic than outdoor air so it’s a huge issue. But the good news is that Sophie’s home environment is largely under her control.

She was proud of the changes she made when Sean was initially diagnosed with asthma but in all honesty, she could do more. Immediately on learning of his diagnosis she ditched her ancient vacuum cleaner and invested in a highly effective one, certified to be effective against allergies and asthma. It has a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter which traps dust, allergens, mold, pet dander -essentially all the small particles that would have been just recirculated into the air when using her old cleaner. Vacuuming and mopping her floors twice a week has become a habit now and she was secretly pleased with herself for doing it. But she knows it’s not enough. This morning she is going to make a check list of 4 things she can change and initiate by the end of the week.

Task 1: Clean up the cleaning products

Cleaning Products, Dr. Anna O'Donovan, Allergy Standards

Cleaning Products, Dr. Anna O’Donovan, Allergy Standards

Under Sophie’s sink, there must be 15 bottles of cleaning products and every single one smells spring-clean delicious of pine or lemon or some other synthetic fragrance to make her home smell clean. But it’s not clean she is smelling at all -it’s chemicals. Clean doesn’t smell. These chemicals are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can cause asthma and allergies. They have also been implicated in fertility problems and cancers. It is good practice to use only the product that’s as strong as you need it to be, ditch the super strength products and use only those that clearly list their ingredients. If fragrances aren’t clearly labeled, assume they are not what you would want in your home or your lungs.

Also on the checklist is to move paints, fuels and solvents to an outside storage area – the shed is ideal – rather than the garage which is connected to the house and doesn’t have good ventilation.

Kids at a neighboring school recently had a science project whereby they learned how to make environmentally friendly cleaning products. They recycled spray bottles and following recipes from an environmental website created floor cleaner, furniture polish, air fresheners and all-purpose cleaners. This would be a great project for her own kids’ school and considering nearly half of all schools in the U.S. suffer from some sort of indoor air quality, it would be a wonderful step forward if the school adopted the use of the greener products.

Task 2: Sort through the soft toys.

A vast collection of soft toys has invaded Sophie’s house since the kids were born. Most of Sean’s now lie unused and unloved in toy boxes and on shelves where they are a perfect home for dust mites and allergens. She is planning a ruthless culling of those ones. Tara’s plush toys are still a part of the family so Sophie will hot wash and tumble dry those that will survive it. The others she will put in the freezer for 24 hours, then rinse in cold water to remove the dead mites. These toys should be vacuumed when she is vacuuming the house too.

It’s not just that toys are potential vessels for dust mite, some can release VOCs, fire retardants, phthalates and even lead. Responsible toy manufacturers thankfully now often have certification marks on labels to help parents ensure these toxins aren’t brought into the house.

Task 3: Get a hold on the mold.

It’s time to check the vents in every room and consider investing in some dehumidifiers. In this damp climate humidity can rise above 50% and this encourages the proliferation of dust mite. Ideally, humidity should be kept between 35 and 50% to will help control mold and mildew. Dryers should be vented outdoors. In bathrooms, where mold can be particularly problematic, fans need to be used, vents checked and visible mold removed with a mild cleaner. Mold is commonly found in damp spaces such as under the sink, in the refrigerator, dishwasher and the shower and of course shower curtains. Shower curtains can also ‘off gas’ so are never a good choice when considering allergy and asthma triggers.

The kids need to be reminded to always use the fan when showering so that air is circulated and moisture reduced. The shower mats need to be washed and dried fully every week. Dirty or damp clothes should not be left in a pile but should be brought straight to the laundry room. This will also reduce pollen from outdoors being spread around the house. Ask family members to wash and wipe down the sink after use rather than leave puddles of water.

Task 4: Go shopping!

Bedding, Dr. Anna O'Donovan, Allergy Standards

Bedding, Dr. Anna O’Donovan, Allergy Standards

Sean’s bedding already has mite proof mattress and pillow covers and Sophie is pretty disciplined about washing his sheets in a hot wash once a week, but she has decided to invest for the rest of the family as well. Millions of dust mite live in our mattresses and pillows and she is pretty certain that the pillow Tara is sleeping on was her first ever pillow. Pillows should be replaced every 5 years so it’s wise buy a high quality one that will withstand frequent washing. Dust mite resistant mattress and pillow encasements will prevent mites getting into the mattresses and pillows and will stop any already present from crawling into your sleeping space. Products that have withstood rigorous testing and are certified as such are always a good investment.

Large Floor mats should be inside and outside every entrance so that the family can wipe off outdoor matter instead of traipsing it indoors. This is such a simple principle and reduces floor cleaning so is a no-brainer. Added to this, ask family to remove outdoor shoes at the entrance.

These are all easy changes and require little more than some diligence and a little work. It’s always a good idea to engage the kids in these tasks (anything to reduce the workload!) and to explain the reasons behind them. If the entire family is on board, Sophie’s goal to control her home environment thereby reducing the allergy and asthma triggers that can be dangerous to her kids will be a whole lot easier.

About Dr. Anna O’Donovan – Medical & Lifestyle Author

Dr Anna O'Donovan

Dr Anna O’Donovan

Anna is a mum of three children, one with allergies, and she suffers from allergies and asthma herself. She is a qualified doctor and worked as a General Practitioner and as a dentist for a number of years. She is also an award winning author.


Scientific Article: Chemicals in Paints

People with asthma and allergies are advised to avoid volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1,2, but in certain circumstances these can be unavoidable. When carrying out necessary tasks such as painting the home, how can you reduce your exposure and what should you be looking out for in your paint?

What chemicals are in paint?

What chemicals are in paint? Image Source:

Solvent-based paint

Organic solvents are the main source of VOCs in paint. A solvent is the carrier or vehicle for the paint. Organic solvents carry the paint to the wall and allow it to spread; it then evaporates leaving the paint on the wall in an even film. Unfortunately, this evaporation of organic solvents is the main source of VOC. This can cause “Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system3. These side effects are not restricted to those suffering from asthma, however throat and lung irritation can cause a substantially greater problem for those suffering from asthma as it can prompt an asthma attack2.

In the past decade significant steps have been taken to reduce the amount of organic solvents used in paint. However, often the lower-solvent compounds are the most effective. In the development of more desirable paints, significant steps have been taken to ensure that the quality of the paint also remains a priority. For a consumer product to be commercially successful it must appeal to the mainstream; consumers won’t purchase a ‘greener’ product if it is less effective than the alternatives4.

What chemicals are in paint?

What chemicals are in paint?

Water-based paint

Water-based paints were created in response to demand for healthier and greener paint options. These paints use water as the carrier or vehicle. Advances in formulation mean that some water-based paints now perform on par with solvent based paints. Water-based paints have significantly lower solvent and VOC content, and are easier to clean up, also removing the need for toxic mineral spirits. With the removal of solvent from paint, certain functional properties need to be replaced with substitute compounds.

Microorganisms can’t grow in cans of solvent based paints, therefore water-based paints, require a preservative to suppress any significant microbial growth. In 2017, a well known paint company removed a preservative from a paint line that was on sale in an independent DIY chain. Unfortunately, as this was a water based paint, this removal allowed bacteria to grow in the paint cans. When the paint was applied to walls, it resulted in a smell that was compared to cat urine and rotten animals! This smell was due to the production of ammonia and hydrogen sulphide by bacteria in the paint cans5.

The company has since re-added the preservative to the paints, and did maintain that the paint only emitted these odours ‘in exceptional circumstances’, the DIY chain also compensated people affected by this problem (although not always to their satisfaction)5.

Chemicals and their function in paint

Paints are generally made up of several compounds that carry out specific functions listed below6:



Pigments To impart colour and opacity
Binder A polymer (or resin) to hold the pigment in place
Extender Larger pigment particles that are added to give additional functionality – strengthening the film, improving adhesion, etc

Either an organic solvent or water can be used to reduce the viscosity of the paint and to make it easier to spread

Additives To modify the properties of the liquid paint or dry film, eg anti-fungal.


There are a range of other chemicals that may be found in paints and may pose health concerns in general7. These include:

1. Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is added to paint to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. However there are several health concerns with respect to the off-gassing of formaldehyde from freshly painted indoor surfaces. An increase in formaldehyde and VOC levels after painting correlates with asthma and bronchial hyper-responsiveness8. A relation between nocturnal attacks of breathlessness and indoor concentrations of formaldehyde and VOC in the home was also found9. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognised that everyone is exposed to small amount of formaldehyde in the air, and exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and neurological effects10.

2. Acetaldehyde

Acetaldehyde is added to paint as a binder. Although it is also present in the environment in low levels, and is even produced in the body after the breakdown of alcohol, exposure to acetaldehyde off-gassing can cause irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory tract11. Acetaldehyde is also a specific inducer of airway hyper-responsiveness in asthmatic patients12.

3. Mercury

Phenylmercuric acetate is used as a preservative to prolong the shelf life of paint by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and fungus in water-based paints. In one particular published case, a child exposed to paint fumes in his home for 10 days was hospitalized with acrodynia, a form of mercury poisoning. A follow up study investigated homes painted with the same brand of paint and found increased mercury concentrations in the urine of inhabitants. The particular brand of paint contained 2 ½ times the EPA recommended limit for mercury13. Phenylmercuric acetate has been banned for use in paint in several markets including the European Union and the USA.

4. PGE

Water based paints can contribute to a lower overall VOC exposure, however a study in 2010 showed a correlation between PGEs (propylene glycol and glycol ethers) and greater risk of developing asthma and allergic diseases. PGE is a VOC that has a lower volatility than other VOCs, and still performs very well as a solvent. For this reason it can be used in water based paints in order to reduce the overall VOC levels, but nevertheless has its own exposure concerns14.

What are healthier paints?

What are healthier paints?

What are ‘Healthier’ Paints?

Significant innovation has occurred in the paint sector in the last decade, including better formulation technologies and new additive options. These have facilitated the development of more sustainable paints that can perform on par with traditional solvent based products15.

The production of more sustainable, ‘healthier’ paints has been in response both to consumer pressure, and tighter regulations around the VOC content of paints. Following application, paints can continue to emit VOCs as they dry. Standardised testing for the determination of the VOC profile of paint, measures emission at specified time points eg 24, 48 and 96 hours16. While most people would ventilate a room well while they are painting, ventilation may be required for a period of time after the paint has actually been applied.

How to identify low VOC paints?

Several programs exist that test paint and provide a certification mark, based on the paints’ compliance with their testing standard. As well as determining relative safety, these certification marks may also measure performance of the paint.

Green Seal logo

Green Seal logo

Green Seal

The Green Seal Certification for paints assesses these products on the basis of environmental impact. It includes testing for performance, health and environmental requirements, end-of-life management, packaging and labelling requirements. In terms of health aspects, there are a range of chemicals that are banned, and limits are defined of VOCs in the paint product, as well as once applied and emitted17.

GreenGuard logo

GreenGuard logo

UL Environment – Greenguard

Greenguard certification is primarily focussed on promoting healthier indoor environments and was first established to assist EPA purchasing decisions. The Greenguard certification for paint, tests for total VOC levels in the paint, as well as emissions over time. This standard is primarily focussed on air quality and does not measure performance characteristics18.

SCS logo

SCS logo

Scientific Certification Systems (SCS)

The SCS Indoor Advantage Gold is also focused on indoor air quality. Compliance with this certification standard is measured based on indoor air quality modelling and VOC emission over time. Similarly to the UL Environment standard, the SCS Certification does not address performance characteristics of the paint19.

asthma & allergy friendly®

asthma & allergy friendly®

asthma & allergy friendly®

The asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program is operated by Allergy Standards Ltd in collaboration with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Asthma Canada and is also operated internationally through a global certification mark. Paint certification is based on the impact on the indoor environment for those suffering from asthma and allergies. The programme assesses the chemical constituents of the paint for toxins and allergens, as well as testing VOC emissions over an extended time course. Finally the physical performance characteristics are measured to ensure the quality of the product20.

What should you do next?

While avoidance of triggers is a key part of an asthma management plan, this may not always be an option. In these circumstances, steps should be taken to minimise exposure as much as possible.

  1. Minimise sources of VOCs – select a paint that has been designed (and tested!) to be low in VOCs. Select a paint that has been certified by a third party agency if possible, and educate yourself as to what that certification means
  2. Use of water based paint to remove the need for white spirits and therefore to remove an additional source of VOCs
  3. If you are particularly sensitive to the chemicals contained in paint, use appropriate protective clothing – gloves, goggles, face mask
  4. Paint well in advance of use of the room if possible, to allow time for VOCs to complete their emission timeline
  5. Always paint in a well ventilated area. Paints can emit VOCs for many hours following application (up to 14 days!) and so even after painting the area should be kept as well ventilated as possible.

You should always follow your healthcare professional’s advice. If the purchase and use of paint is absolutely necessary, try to minimise exposure and select the most inert paint possible based on defined, tested measures.


Dr. Tim Yeomans photo

Dr. Tim Yeomans photo

About the author

Thanks to Dr. Tim Yeomans for this insightful article.

Dr. Tim Yeomans is the Centre Manager for Shannon Applied Biotechnology Centre, a collaboration between two third level colleges in Ireland. Tim holds a PhD in Microbiology and postgraduate qualifications in Technology Commercialisation and Innovation Management. Tim has worked in research and development for 20 years, both in industry and academia. In his role in Shannon ABC, Tim is responsible for the scientific direction of the Centre, intellectual property management and business and technology development.


chemicals, paint, VOC, healthier, allergen, asthma, allergy, certification, asthma & allergy friendly


  1. National Asthma Council Australia online. Accessed June 2018
  2. Rumchev,K, Spickett, J, Bulsara, M, Phillips, M and Stick, S. Association of domestic exposure to volatile organic compounds with asthma in young children. Thorax 2004;59:746–751.
  3. Environmental Protection Agency online. Accessed June 2018
  4. Gleim, MR, Smith, JS, Andrews, D and Cronin, JJ. Against the Green: A Multi-method Examination of the Barriers to Green Consumption. J Retail 89 (1): 44-61.
  5. BBC online. Accessed June 2018.
  6. American Society for Testing Materials online. Accessed June 2018.
  7. Environmental Protection Agency online. Accessed June 2018
  8. Wieslander, G., Norbäck, D., Björnsson, E., Janson, C., & Boman, G. (1997). Asthma and the indoor environment: The significance of emission of formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds from newly painted indoor surfaces. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 69(2), 115–124.
  9. Norback, D., Bjornsson, E., Janson, C., Widstrom, J., & Boman, G. (1995). Asthmatic Symptoms and Volatile Organic-Compounds, Formaldehyde, and Carbon-Dioxide in Dwellings. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(6), 388–395
  10. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 1999. Toxicological Profile for Formaldehyde. Addendum to the Profile for Formaldehyde. 2010. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Public Health and Human Services, Public Health Service
  11. US EPA acetaldehyde Hazard summary online
  12. Sánchez-Toril, F & Prieto, L & Peris, R & Perez, JA & Millan, Monica & Marín, J. (2000). Differences in airway responsiveness to acetaldehyde and methacholine in asthma and chronic bronchitis. The European respiratory journal : official journal of the European Society for Clinical Respiratory Physiology. 15. 260-5. 10.1034/j.1399-3003.2000.15b07.x. .
  13. Agocs, M. M., Etzel, R. A., Parrish, R. G., Paschal, D. C., Campagna, P. R., Cohen, D. S., … Hesse, J. L. (1990). Mercury Exposure from Interior Latex Paint. New England Journal of Medicine, 323(16), 1096–1101.
  14. Choi, H, Schmidbauer, Sundell, J, Hasselgren, M, Spengler, J and Bornehag, CG. Common Household Chemicals and the Allergy Risks in Pre-School Age Children. 2010 PLoS ONE 5(10): e13423. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0013423
  15. European Commission online. Accessed June 2018.
  16. California Department of Public Health online . Accessed June 2018.
  17. Green Seal online. Accessed June 2018.
  18. Greenguard online. Accessed June 2018.
  19. Scientific Certification Services online. Accessed June 2018.
  20. Allergy Standards Ltd online. Accessed June 2018.

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