You know that strong odor you smell when you open a can of paint? It’s from chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which have been linked to cancer. The good news: More and more mass paint companies are developing low- and no-VOC paints.

But how do these healthier paints stack up? We asked Kelly LaPlante, principal designer and president of Los Angeles–based Kelly LaPlante Organic Interior Design Inc., to pick up her roller and report back on the top options.

Benjamin Moore Aura
$57 per gallon
Type: Low VOC
Coverage: Excellent. Aura provided rich, even color in just one coat. And it’s truly self-priming, so it’s a time-saver.
Odor: Very low
Dry time: 1 hour
Bottom line: This paint offers amazing coverage: "In some instances, you wouldn’t even need to use two coats," LaPlante says. But it’s also the most expensive one we tested.

Benjamin Moore Natura
$50 per gallon
Type: Zero VOC
Coverage: Excellent. Natura and its low-VOC sister, Aura, pro­vided the best coverage of all the paints we tested.
Odor: None. "Even up close, I couldn't smell a thing," LaPlante says.
Dry time: 1 hour
Bottom line: Natura was LaPlante's favorite. Its coverage was as good as the Aura's, but the color seemed richer and creamier. That and the fact that it has no VOCs tipped the scales in its favor.

California Paints Elements
$34–$40 per gallon
Type: Zero VOC
Coverage: Very good ... once you get it on the wall. "You really need to roll through the paint a lot in order to saturate the roller," LaPlante says.
Odor: Strong smell (from ammonia, not VOCs, a company rep says).
Dry time: 4 hours
Bottom line: While the coverage was good, the smell and the effort needed to get the paint on the roller were turn-offs. "I didn’t love this paint," LaPlante notes.

Devoe Paint Wonder Pure
$30 per gallon
Type: Zero VOC
Coverage: Very good. It had the best coverage of all the paints except the Natura and Aura (which are really in a league of their own).
Odor: Almost none
Dry time: 4 hours
Bottom line: The paint’s impressive coverage and nice price helped it earn LaPlante’s pick for best value.

The Freshaire Choice
$35–$38 per gallon
Type: Zero VOC
Coverage: Pretty good coverage. Plus, this paint (sold only at Home Depot) went on evenly. But you might need to apply two coats.
Odor: Medium
Dry time: 2 to 4 hours
Bottom line: Expect some fumage. But, LaPlante says, "because Freshaire is so widely available at Home Depot stores, it’s a fine option if you don’t have a specialty paint store nearby."

Pittsburgh Paints Pure Performance
$18–$30 per gallon
Type: Zero VOC
Coverage: Pretty good coverage, especially for the price.
Odor: Very low
Dry time: 3 hours
Bottom line: As the lowest priced of the bunch, "this is a decent value," LaPlante says. "The coverage isn’t as good as Devoe, but it dried quickly, so you can get a second coat on fast."

Sherwin-Williams Harmony
$39 per gallon
Type: Zero VOC
Coverage: Pretty good, though it’s a two-coats-required kind of paint.
Odor: Low
Dry time: 4 hours
Bottom line: This isn’t the ultimate high-end low- or no-VOC paint (that would be Aura or Natura). But it’s a solid pick for anyone looking for a midrange VOC-free paint.

By Elizabeth Roehrig, Health

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