Painting Basics

Decorator's work table with tools

Paint Primer 

Whether you’re a DIY type of house painter or if you’re handing off the job, you still should know some paint basics. After all, even if you don’t lift a brush or roller, you’ll still want to know what’s in your paint, and how it’s stored.

The biggest changes in paint go beyond the latest colors. Instead, many paints have gone green.

Know VOC

You might have noticed that more companies are offering paint labeled either low VOC or no VOC, which stands for Volatile Organic Compound. VOCs can be found not only in paint, but also in various building materials. They’re unstable chemicals that release gases harmful to the environment and to people. The good news is that the government now regulates VOCs.

Since VOCs are found in paints, they also build up over time in the home. When inhaled, they can contribute to health problems. Obviously, it’s best to use the minimal amount of VOCs whenever possible when painting.

When buying paint, look for paints that are labeled “non-toxic,” and contain no extra solvents or additives, and look for 5g/L or less of VOCs. If you’re still not sure about what brand is best, ask an expert at your local paint store. There are many eco-friendly paints making their way onto the market, including recycled, milk, and plant and mineral paints, so check out these alternatives before buying.

Some excellent non-toxic interior paints from major manufacturers include:
Benjamin Moore NATURA
Sherwin Williams HARMONY
Dunn-Edwards ECOSHIELD 

Selecting high quality paint

First, do your homework and get familiar with TDS sheets, technical data sheets, for the paint you’re considering. You’ll find these online on the manufacturer’s pages. Not all of the information you need is found on the paint can.

For instance, look for pigments that are titanium dioxide or clay. Avoid silica and talc — they’re cheap.

Solvents, look for high solids to liquid ratio. Below 30 percent is cheap. Above 40 percent is high quality.

When all else fails, and if you’re wondering about paint you already have, use the thumb and fore-finger rub test. Dip your fingers in the paint; a high quality paint should feel buttery smooth between your fingers.

Paint storage

Once you’re done painting, you’ll want to save some of the leftovers. You might want to touch up or match the color down the road.

Oil-based paints, when stored properly, can last up to 10 years. Water-based and acrylic paints have a shorter life span — about five years.  All paints should be stored using the following method.

Don’t just push the metal lid onto the metal paint can and expect the paint to be in good shape when you need it in a year or so. Metal against metal will not create an air-tight seal. First, place a sheet of plastic over the paint can, then using a rubber mallet (just like the pros at the paint store), whack the lid firmly into place. The plastic will act as a gasket to keep air out.

If you live in extreme temperatures, then don’t store the paint in the garage. Paint needs stability, so, if at all possible, store it inside the house.