Stripping off old paint
First, about stripping off old paint. If the paint contains lead, then you should test it to be sure before stripping. There are some inexpensive lead test kits available almost everywhere. We offer Lead in Paint test kits.
Franmar makes a brand new product called Lead Out which is a lead-based paint remover that renders lead paint non-hazardous for safe removal and inexpensive disposal. Made with soybeans, Lead Out uses a special patented molecular bonding system that reacts with lead at the molecular level to alter the lead compounds to a non-hazardous compound. The result is a simple and affordable way to safely remove lead-paint. Because the lead in the paint is converted to non-hazardous waste, disposal is easy and inexpensive. Lead Out will remove multiple layers of lead paint, latex, oil paints, enamels, varnish and urethanes in one application, and even cleans up with water or a simple degreaser such as AFM SuperClean.
If you're sure there is no lead, then Soy-Gel would be our stripper of choice as it’s very effective and non-toxic.
What "green" paint to use
Second, about what green paint to use. In an effort to comply with national codes and to maintain market share, many large paint companies have modified their original formulas in order to become greener. Some have become certified by third party organizations that verify a product is in compliance. Most paint manufacturers now make a low or no VOC paint; however, customers continue to complain about poor coverage or off-gassing that lasts for months. Why is that?
Unfortunately, almost all of these organizations rely on MSDS voluntarily provided by paint companies. MSDS which stands for Material Safety Data Sheet, contains a list of ingredients that are "known" hazards, as well as other ingredients. There are thousands of deregulated chemicals, however, that are either unknown or have been grandfathered into the list of products considered safe by the Toxic Substance Control Act without any testing whatsoever.
As shocking as this may seem, what’s even more surprising is that some toxic substances may be protected under law by our government because they are proprietary ingredients. In other words, you can't trust the MSDS for all your information and yet that is all the technical information these third party agencies have to go on. None of them do their own testing on humans as it is far too expensive and time consuming for the hundreds of chemicals that exist in a normal can of paint.
Also, just because a product contains zero VOC does not mean that it is safe. Often these products still contain hazardous ingredients not classified as VOCs. Acetone and ammonia, for example, are used in paint all the time. They don't cause outdoor air pollution, so they are not considered VOCs; yet they are toxic to humans. Read the MSDS and you’ll be surprised to find that acetone and ammonia do not appear to contain anything dangerous, yet everyone knows their odor can cause serious negative physical reactions in humans.
So which paint company do you trust? There are a few paint manufacturers that have designed their paint to be safe from the beginning. Safety First is their motto and they only use ingredients that are proven to be safe for humans, plants and animals. Some of these companies include AFM Safecoat, Bioshield, Mythic and a few others. Each of these companies makes a range of non-toxic paints for indoor and outdoor use. There is not time in this article to say which one is better than the other, so please call and I can explain in more detail.
When choosing paint for cabinetry, durability is certainly a major issue. Most paint companies make enamels that will work well in kitchens. Some are oil-based and some are water-based with 100% acrylic resin. These will be the more durable than those with less resin. In addition, you may wish to consider adding a clear sealer as a top coat. Most cabinet makers add a clear topcoat (conversion varnish) over their paint to protect it from fingerprints. While it may not stop fingerprints altogether, it does stop the affect that grease has when it’s in direct contact with paint.
Third, about sealers. There are now a few good non-toxic clear coats on the market such as AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP which is a polyurethane or Vermont Natural Coatings Polywhey Floor Finish. Both of these provide a finish that: is water and scratch resistant, will not discolor or fade, and will protect your paint from oily fingers. Two coats should last a very long time and require very little maintenance.