How do you remove or encapsulate non-green wall and floor finishes?

Asked by Elizabeth Cummings, Iowa City, IA

I have read so much about green paints and finishes, but nothing about how to remove or encapsulate the non-green paint or finish that is already in place. Do you simply paint over old interior paint with a green product, or do you have to scrape off the VOC stuff first? Likewise, how do you deal with a toxic finish like that on hardwood floors?


Steve Rush

Answered by Steve Rush

Sherman Oaks, CA

Rush Quality Environments

May 24, 2007

To paint over non-green paint on walls and ceilings, the approach varies depending on the original type of paint.

  • Flat latex paint. Flat latex can be painted over with green paint without a primer. However, if the original paint is still offgassing, it will keep offgassing through the green paint.
  • Semi-gloss, gloss, or oil base.  If the existing paint is semi-gloss, gloss, and/or oil base, you'll need to sand it lightly and apply a primer.
  • If you suspect that the original paint contains lead, do not sand it. Lead paint is poisonous. Homes built before 1978 are likely to have surfaces coated with lead-based paint. Consult the EPA's publication Renovate Right (PDF - download) for detailed advice on handling lead paints.

Sealing in old paint on walls and ceilings

If the paint is not peeling or chipping, wash it with a mild green cleanser and paint it with a primer, such as Zinsser B-I-N Primer, a non-breathable coating that seals in old finishes and the gases they give off.

  • This product has a very strong odor just after applying, but it offgasses quickly.
  • Read more about proper application of B-I-N Primer here.

Refinishing hardwood floors

Refinishing hardwood floors is tough, since many green floor coatings will not adhere to the old polyurethane floor finishes that are probably on your floor now.

  • Sanding may be your best bet. 
  • If you decide to sand, the floor must be sanded to bare wood before you apply a new green finish.

Use the tips and precautions outlined in my Q&A article "We're expecting twins soon. How can we refinish our floors now with the least harm to air quality?" to minimize the risk of inhaling toxic dust.


For more information:

Read Victoria Schomer's tips article "Make Floor Refinishing Greener and Safer".

Tagged In: home air quality, low voc paint, floor refinishing, lead paint

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