We got started on our nursery redecorating project by painting the changing table. The table was a pretty blonde wood but nothing else in the room matched, so my husband and I went down to Home Depot. Now, I’m a research fiend so this is embarrassing, but it really must have been due to a case a pregnancy brain, because we bought regular white spray paint. My husband carried the table outside, gave it a nice paint job and stuck it in the garage to dry. The next day I ask if we can bring it inside and hubby says “Maybe. I’ll bring it inside and we’ll know pretty quickly if it has aired out enough.” ….. Cue light above my head clicking on (and some thunder and lightning for dramatic effect):
- Pregnant women and young children are NOT supposed to be exposed to paint fumes
- Why did some part of me just assume spray paint wasn’t actual paint that could be harmful?
I believe there was a sheepish and panicked smile quickly aimed over my shoulder as I ran over to my computer. And I’m sure there was some eye-rolling from his direction. Turns out spray paint is actually the WORST kind of paint we could have possibly picked with some of the highest levels of VOCs.
VOCs are harmful chemicals (linked to a variety of health effects including eye, nose and throat irritation; dizziness; liver, kidney and central nervous system damage and even cancer) that offgas (or outgas) for long periods of time at normal room temperatures (small amounts could even be released for the entire lifetime of the paint). You can read more scary details using the link at #1 in my list above if you like.
So,we bought some Zero-VOC paint from Mythic Paint (another great option is Lullaby Paints) hoping we could just paint over the spray paint and seal in the nasty VOCs. Unfortunately, no-VOC paints are made to be breathable, so they’ll lessen the VOCs emitted but no where near completely seal them off. Back to the drawing board.
Using paint stripper was going to be toxic also, plus some parts of the changing table appeared to be pressed wood or some other type of processed wood (it was a hand-me-down gift, so no way to visit the retailer to know for sure) so sanding the table down could release formaldehyde and more fun, harmful stuff!! (the upside and downside of research is finding other relevant topics). I was getting ready to tell my husband we just needed to suck it up, toss the table and replace it when I finally found a solution: we could paint a new layer of a non-toxic, clear gloss sealer… and hopefully it won’t discolor the paint requiring us to do one more coat of the zero-VOC (update: my husband is developing an eye twitch).
To do this the right way the first time, use a no or low-VOC primer or sealer on any particle board or processed wood items and definitely before painting them. Then always (cause it’s good to protect the adults too), but especially if you have or are expecting children, use a zero-VOC paint. We’ll be using whatever is leftover of the sealer on our IKEA bookshelves. Sigh.