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October 19, 2018

A Guide to Eco-Friendly Paints

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We’ve been painting our homes, offices, and buildings for centuries. However, it’s only in the last few decades that we’ve come to appreciate the damage some paints are causing to the environment and our own health. Picking up a paintbrush has suddenly become a very hazardous occupation. Homeowners already know that they need to open windows when painting a feature wall or re-purposing an old cupboard. Conventional paints have been known to contain some noxious chemicals, including heavy metals, formaldehyde, and something we all need to be aware of, volatile organic compounds. VOCs are given out when painting and can still be given out for up to five years after the paintbrushes have dried.

What are Volatile Organic Compounds?

They are compounds that vaporize at room temperature and are the leading cause of ground-level air pollution. Common sources include housekeeping and maintenance products, paints, coatings, inks, and building and furnishing materials. If ingested in enough quantities they can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment. Some are also known to cause cancer in animals and humans.

Concerns about the impact of these compounds on health and the environment have led to a growing market in non-toxic paints. Environmental regulators around the world have forced paint manufacturers to reduce the VOC content of their paints, and most of the big-name brands now offer several varieties of non-toxic paints. However, many of them still contain VOC solvents, fungicides, and chemical pigments.

Eco-Labels You’ll Find on Paints 

If you want to use non-toxic paints, you’ll need to look for labels that state low-VOC, No-VOC, VOC-free, odourless, odour-free, green, natural, or organic paints. There are no universal standards for the labeling of paints, and you’ll often find them being misused for marketing purposes. A variety of different eco-labels can be found on paint cans. For example, there is the European Eco-Label, Green Seal and Greenguard in the USA, and Green Wise which has been developed by the Coatings Research Group Inc.

Low-VOC Paints

These generally use water as a carrier as opposed to petrochemical solvents. This means that their emissions are minimal. Many conventional paints now contain relatively low VOC levels. No VOC or VOC-Free paints is a bit of a misnomer as they may still contain low levels of VOCs in the pigments or in the additives. There’s no doubt that forcing manufacturers to reduce the VOC content of their paints is a step in the right direction, but to call them non-toxic is not an accurate description.

The Only Truly Non-Toxic Paint are Natural    

The only 100% non-toxic paints are those that are natural. They contain no VOCs, and are made using natural ingredients such as water, vegetable oils, plant dyes, and natural minerals. There are many options when it comes to painting a home, and for some ideas you can read more here. However, if you want a property to be 100% eco-friendly, when it comes to choosing a paint, it must be natural all the way.

The binders used in the paint are linseed oil, clay, lime, and milk protein. For an authentic period look, lime and milk paints are used. Chalk is used to thicken paint, turpentine as a solvent, essential oils from citrus fruits are also used as a solvent and for fragrance. Colorants are natural minerals and earth pigments.

The benefits of using natural paints is that there are no hazardous fumes or harmful effects on the health, which is good news for professional painters. Renewable resources are used in the manufacturing process. The paints are bio-degradable and can even be composed. Walls and surfaces can breathe when natural paints are used, condensation and damp problems are prevented, and there is also less paint flaking, peeling and blistering.

There is a downside to using natural paints, and that’s the cost. This type of paint is made on a much smaller scale and therefore, they can be more expensive. Another disadvantage is that they take longer to dry, and the colour range is limited.

Are Natural Paints Any Good?

Of course, the manufacturers of natural paints are going to claim that their products are just as good as conventional paints, they’d be mad not to. Many significant buildings around the world have been painted with such products, so there must be something worthwhile about using them. The Norwegian parliament building, and Brighton’s Jubilee library are just two examples. Do some research online, and you’ll find a range of opinions. Some say it covers equally well if it’s applied correctly. Others claim that it can be trickier to apply.

Making Your Own Natural Paints

If you want to be able to offer your customers a truly natural paint, there is always the option of making it yourself. Many of the plants you buy in the store can be used for making dyes. There’s also the option of wild foraging. Brown can be achieved using dirt. Purple, red, and pink can be created using a range of different berries. Onion skins work very well at producing varying shades on yellow. For the colour orange, carrots, paprika, and chili powder work well.

To make natural paints, you must grind the raw material down into a fine powder. This powder then has to be mixed with some egg yolks, a very traditional method of making pant. Combine with a bit of vinegar and water and you have the perfect natural paint.

There’s no denying that the eco-friendly paint industry is a bit of a mine-field. If you’ve got customers who insist on such non-toxic materials in their home, then you’ve got to look closely at the labels. Just because it says it’s non-toxic, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the whole truth. Making natural paints yourself is one option, but not really a very practical one when you’re faced with the exterior of a Calgary homestead to paint. Sitting down and discussing the options with your client is a good place to start, and you’re bound to come to some amicable arrangement.


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