Photo: Marko Metzinger

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If the sense of accomplishment you get from painting a room is followed quickly by the need to open a window, consider this: That noxious smell comes from volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which the paint can continue to emit for months. Some of these chemicals, like formaldehyde and benzene, have been linked to respiratory problems and even cancer, and others damage the ozone layer.

While low-VOC paints have been around for years, early formulas were often hard to spread and less durable than conventional ones. Even when brands claimed to be zero VOC, some colorants bumped up levels significantly. "Finding true zero-VOC paints is now easier than ever," says Annie B. Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home. "A number of companies offer milk- and clay-based formulas that work beautifully." Next time you reach for a brush, go a little greener by choosing one of these eco-friendly products.