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Winchester, England,
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CONSCIOUS LIVING by DESIGN. Transform your house into a home with furniture, furnishings and accessories and find your loved ones the perfect gift. All products are at least one of the following: Organic | Ethical | Energy Efficient | Sustainable | Chemical free

Paint: What matters and what options are there?

Organic, ethical and sustainable living

Independent blogs by Sashi Smith. Her thoughts, stories and ideas for how you can make your home more stylish, ethical, sustainable and safer for you and your family


Paint: What matters and what options are there?

sashi smith


When I think of paint the first thing that jumps to mind is the image of an empty blemish free wall (which I find oddly pleasing). The second, is that fresh paint smell, its so distinctive and usually takes me back to a specific time and place. Although its great for bringing back memories, the smell is anything but good for our health or the environment. What we can smell are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), these are gases that are emitted as the paint is applied and as it dries. If the room isn’t ventilated properly these gases can create irritation, dizziness and nausea, but there are suggestions that they can also have more serious consequences. VOCs react with nitrogen oxides in the air, and in the presence of heat and sunlight produce ozone, the most toxic component of smog. You may think ozone is good for us - and it is high up in the sky where it reflects heat and other radiates, but at ground level it can be toxic.  World Health Organisation research has suggested painters and decorators have a 20-40 per cent higher chance of developing lung cancer than the rest of the population- yikes! The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states these gases can continue to be emitted for as long as 2 years and in fact, paint in general is one the US EPAs top-five environmental hazards. Thankfully since 2010 the EU’s Paint Products Directive has set more stringent limits on paint VOC levels (30g/l for emulsions and 300g/l for gloss). But even better is the fact that there are now lots of “low” or "minimal” VOC paint options available to help you go green


Along with low/zero VOC paints, “natural paints”, "eco paints" and "organic paints" are growing in popularity. First thing to be aware of though is that no accreditation scheme exists for: “natural” “eco-friendly” or “organic” paints. Eco paints typically use both natural and synthetic ingredients and their intention is typically a balanced approach to minimising the impact to the environment and being a “safe” health option. “Organic” paints is a very loosely used term when it comes to paint and does not have the same meaning as in the food industry. One rule of thumb is the more open paint manufacturers are about their ingredients and production method, the less likely it is they have something to hide and the more healthy and eco friendly they are likely to be.  “Natural” paints are great for the environment as they tend to use low energy production processes and are typically biodegradable.  In terms of quality, they permeate the wall so are less susceptible to peeling and cracking and they are breathable therefore reducing the risk of mould. Although “natural” paints can be far better for the environment, it is not necessarily true that they are better for your health

Natural paint


Even paints made entirely free of synthetic materials can contain naturally occurring VOCs such as Citrus Oil, can cause irritations such as Turpentine and can be toxic such as Vermillion. Likewise synthetic also doesn't necessarily mean “harmful”, some synthetic solvents such as Isoaliphates are highly purified and are recognised as one of the most harmless solvents even versus natural alternatives and are widely used in medical, food and cosmetic industries. However their environmental credentials aren't as good as natural ingredients

"Natural" Paints are best for the Environment but still have an impact 

Beyond VOCs, sourcing the raw materials and manufacturing the paint has the biggest impact on the environment. For example Titanium Dioxide is a natural pigment/filler, and although it is “safe” and used in other industries including food and cosmetics, it isn't environmentally friendly. It is the 7th most abundant metal but it is not a renewable product and extracting it is energy intensive and can significantly impact the habitat. On top of this, it does not exist naturally in its pure form and requires an energy intensive process typically involving chlorine or sulphuric acid to refine it. This process creates toxic and hazardous waste further impacting the environment. Unfortunately natural alternatives are relatively poor and often need four or five coats of paint to cover properly so it is still used in nearly all paints including “natural” paints

Transport footprint

Another environmental consideration is that paint is really heavy, and therefore picking a paint brand that is manufactured domestically, or at least hasn’t had to be shipped from half way around the world will help to reduce your environmental footprint. As an aside I unfortunately learnt how heavy paint is when I tried to take a pot home one day on public transport. It turns out you can’t take paint on London buses (who knew?!) and I had to walk with it all the way home


Tidying up after painting

Choosing your paint is the first step, but its worth giving a thought to how you will tidy up after - as theres no need to reach straight for the White Spirit. Firstly try and remove any excess paint from paint brushes with something like a newspaper. I know you probably don't feel like it, as you’ll probably be knackered from all the painting, but it really helps to clean your brushes straight away. If you’re using water based paints then just wash them with warm soapy water. If you’re using oil based paints you can use natural oils such as Walnut or Linseed Oil to clean them. Even if you’re pretty good at cleaning your brushes straight away, paint can still build up over time. A cheap and natural way to revive paint brushes is to heat vinegar until it is simmering and pour it into an old metal container or jar (not plastic). You then put the brushes in for at least 10 minutes, ideally making sure the bristles remain straight so they don't lose their shape. In terms of the paint it self, unless it is 100% natural make sure you take it to a Household Hazardous Waste Collection Facility to be safely disposed

Paint fact file

Paint has been made in some shape or form for over 40,000 years - the oldest examples being found in cave paintings

There are four main components of paint: 1) pigment - this provides the colour 2) binder - this enables the paint to stick to the wall 3) Solvent - this acts as a carrier for the pigment and binder and impacts the thickness of the paint 4) Additives - these are added to enhance the performance of the paint such as making the paint dry quicker, or giving the paint anti-bacterial properties

Approximately 12 billion litres of paint are made every year

SEVERAL "GREEN" paint options to choose from and what they offer

Paint table

#ecopaint #organicpaint #naturalpaint #environmentallyfriendlypaint