Eco-Friendly Paints

Eco-Friendly Paints - Decorating Your Home With Non-Toxic and Eco-Friendly Paints

 If you're painting your house you may want to choose a ‘healthy' paint which doesn't release toxins, and also minimises the environmental impact of your redecoration. Unfortunately, finding a paint that is good for you and the environment, and does the job you want, is a complicated business.

There are complex safety and environmental issues associated with paints. Many manufacturers now make paints which emit fewer toxic chemicals into your house, but there are other things to consider if you want to buy an environmentally-friendly paint.

Paints contain many hazardous chemicals

Paints have three main components that give them paint-like properties: pigment (the colourant), binding agent (binds the colourant to the surface) and solvent (keeps the colourant in suspension until application).

Naturally the chemical industry has continuously developed synthetic compounds to improve the properties of all three components, making paints which are cheaper, more durable or give better coverage.

However, the manufacture of these chemicals consumes a lot of energy and can lead to massive amounts of toxic waste, and often the chemicals are bad for our health. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the most famous example of this. VOCs are any carbon-based compounds which evaporate easily into the atmosphere, and are frequently used in paint as part of the binding agent or solvent.

VOCs evaporate from paint while it is drying, and often for months afterwards. They are responsible for the strong smell of paint in a recently decorated room.

Low VOC paints reduce paint-related illnesses

Painting really can be bad for your health - the World Health Organisation has reported increased levels of cancer in professional decorators. Some VOCs released from paints can also cause respiratory problems, headaches and allergies. VOCs can also have a damaging environmental impact - they can react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone (at this level ozone is bad for vegetation and humans), and contribute to climate change.

There are now restrictions in place over the use of VOCs in paints, and paints are often labelled as ‘low VOC', ‘no VOC' or ‘water-based'. However, there are worries that VOCs have been replaced with chemicals that are just as toxic and bad for the environment. Creating a high-performance water-based paint can consume a massive amount of energy and use highly toxic chemicals to achieve the desired effect.

What's in an eco-friendly paint?

Some companies have gone beyond VOCs to try and make their paints more environmentally friendly. To work out how eco-friendly a paint really is, you need to consider the environmental costs of producing it, the environmental effect when it is actually on your walls, and how it can be disposed of when you've finished painting.

The large numbers of unfamiliar ingredients in paints make this really difficult, but the first key point is to make sure you do know exactly what is in the paint. Make sure the company is open about the ingredients of its paint, so that you can find out for yourself how bad they are, should you wish.

Some companies use citrus oils as part of the binding agent - these are relatively good for the environment but can cause headaches. Others might use non-toxic synthetic compounds, which are good for the health of your house but are derived from crude oil and therefore have some environmental impact.

Titanium dioxide is a white pigment commonly used in paints to create good coverage - without it you may require many coats. Although it is non-toxic, its manufacture causes environmental concerns. However, no eco-friendly alternative with the same properties has been found.

Some eco-friendly paints will still need to be disposed of extremely carefully, but some can actually be composted.

Eco-friendly paints are sometimes marketed as ‘organic' or ‘natural' paints. The word ‘organic' is fairly misleading when applied to paints, but natural paints are generally non-toxic and produced in a pretty environmentally-friendly way (though you should always check).

Are there disadvantages to eco-friendly paints?

Common complaints about the eco-friendly paints on the market include the expense, fewer available colours and less durability. However, different eco-friendly paints have different ingredients and will therefore have different properties, so you really need to try some out to see whether they fit your needs.

It may be difficult to find the better eco-friendly paints in your local shops, but you should be able to order sample pots online to test out colours, ease of use and durability.

Manufacturers of eco-friendly paints

Ecos paints are non-toxic and contain no VOCs. However, there is little information on their website about the impact of the manufacturing process on the environment.

EarthBorn paints and Auro paints (supplied by Ecopaints) claim to have a low environmental impact, and they openly list all their ingredients on their website.

Currently, there is no ideal eco-friendly paint that performs just as well as conventional paints, so the manufacturers have had to make some compromises. However, by choosing paint from manufacturers that have limited the health and environmental impacts as much as possible, and are honest about their limitations, your home and the environment should be better off.

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"Newlife Paints Ltd in Sussex are now taking emulsion paint from the waste stream and reformulating it into top quality paint for sale. They have a full range of colours available and can be contacted through their website"

L Harrison

"eco paints is a bit of a maze but i have used paints by OIKOS these are easy to use and very washable and they offer a wide colour range"

andrea smythe