Interiors

Lifting the Lid: Sustainable & Animal-Friendly Paint

With so many different Sustainable & Animal-Friendly Paint brands available, shopping for paint can be confusing and over-whelming.  It’s not only about finding the perfect colour for your design project.  But it’s about educating yourself about healthier & safer paint options. We all love a beautifully decorated space, but clearly not at the cost of getting sick or harming the planet, animals and humans, right? So, here’s everything you wanted to know about healthy & humane paints.  According to Greenspec (2020) paint is made up of pigments, binders and solvents.  So here goes a laywoman’s description…

Pigments and colours

Pigments give paint its colour and opacity (its ability to cover the wall and hide blemishes).  The pigments used in our paints increase the level of its absorption.  One pigment to watch out for is Titanium Dioxide.  What is it and why is it used?  Titanium Dioxide is used in paint to give it opacity (see above).  However, the world health organization suggests titanium dioxide may have carcinogenic properties.

Binders

This helps the paint adhere to a surface.  There a number of different types of binders including, latex (not used in the UK or EU).  Latex is a man-made product comprising vinyl-acrylic.  The healthier alternative for latex available in a number of paints is beech cellulose (100% plant based).

Solvents

Solvents help with the dispersion of binders and pigments. Water can be used as a solvent in healthy humane paints.  Generally, the term solvent refers to man made chemicals.  For the healthier option select water-based paint.

Conventional paints

Traditional paints (polyacrylic paint) may include substances such as formaldehyde, heavy metals and plastics.  What are these?  Simply put these substances are chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  The Guardian (2009) writes:

“producing 1 litre of paint can result in up to 30 litres of toxic waste”.

Each layer of polyacrylic paint applied to a surface creates a thin plastic membrane, which has an effect on your home.  Considering a room may require 2-3 layers of paint, this will not enable the walls to breath.  What effect will this have on the space?  Over time, this type of paint will trap moisture behind it; ultimately, damp and mould may appear on your walls.

What effect can traditional paints have on the internal air quality of your home?  Air pollution, we all know that polluted air is not good for us.  Traditional paints can decrease the air quality within our homes and work spaces.  The British Lung Foundation writes, ‘…the internal air quality of a building has been associated to health issues, for instance asthma, COPD and lung cancer.  Shockingly, Oakes Englishman (2020) writes, in the United states of America the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes the effects of VOCS are about 2-5 times higher indoors than outdoors.  The level of VOC in a paint is strictly controlled by legislation in many developed countries.  You can find this information on your local Government website.  In addition, the VOC gases released by traditional paints can be higher than that of eco-friendly paints.  It is suggested that certain VOCs emitted into the air of children’s bedrooms can increase the likelihood of illnesses such as asthma, eczema and rhinitis.  It is not just the toxic gases emitted from the paint after it has been applied to the walls, but the fumes it releases whilst your painting.  These fumes can cause headaches, irritation of the eyes, feeling dizzy, nausea and cause trouble breathing.

You may be asking yourself, why is this paint used if it is associated with these kinds of health risks?  Traditional paints are cheaper, considered by some to be more cost-effective and time-saving to apply.  If you find yourself in a space, which is being decorated with traditional paints, here’s how you can try to reduce the above effects:

  • Always have good ventilation in the space.
  • Ensure paint container lids are closed when not in use.
  • Ventilate the space well for 2-3 days after work Is complete

Eco-Friendly & Humane paints

With more and more of us wanting to protect the environment and use products, which are healthy and animal friendly.  What makes a paint eco-friendly and humane?  Edward Bulmer Paints describes it:

“A product, which has no detrimental effect on the environment or society”.

Plant-based paints have a lower concentration of VOCs, which break down quicker compared to traditional paints.  Whilst a paint may be sustainable it may not also be suitable for vegans.  Some paint manufacturers include animal products in eco-friendly paints.  For instance, Casein (a milk product, a vegan alternative is now available); Shellac (a resin from the female Lac bug) or Beeswax.

Humm, so what kind of things do we need to be looking at when selecting an eco-friendly and humane Paint?

  • The carbon footprint of the paint, also referred to as cradle-to-grave impact? What is this? The carbon footprint associated with the making, transportation, and disposal of a product.
  • The ingredients of the paint. This should be displayed on the tin.  Un-beknown to us, paint manufacturers tend only to disclose substances over certain quantities on the label. You can contact the supplier directly, requesting a complete break-down of the paint’s ingredients.
  • Whether it has been tested on animals. This information may take some digging, but can either be found on the supplier’s website or by contacting them directly.
  • If you have a family member who suffers with asthma, try using a silicate paint, for instance Auro 303 paint.
  • For nurseries and children’s rooms, I recommend Edward Bulmer’s ‘The Nursery Collection’ (made from 100% natural ingredients) – no I’m not on their payroll!
Image By Rachel Fowler Interiors, Edward Bulmer Plant Based Nursery Paint

Be aware of any paint supplier advertising its product as VOC free.  Earthborn Paints website advises, no paint is completely VCO free but, it can be low VOC.  You may ask …do eco-friendly paints provide the array of colours similar to traditional paints? There is an increasing number of companies (some listed below) now providing eco-friendly and humane paints, which can be more expensive (at the moment), but the health and environmental benefits far out-way the costs.

I’ve included some examples of the different types of eco-friendly and humane paints that are currently available, you might want to check out the following:

Silicate Paint 

Auro 303 silicate contains a natural binding agent Replebin, made by the company itself.  Silicate paint has a high alkalinity, which reduces the potential of fungus on your walls.  Easy application on smooth services, no need for a primer before painting, in general, only 2 coats is required.  Auro 303 is a white paint, however you can create a coloured paint by adding Auro Tinting Colours 350.  Available worldwide. 

Clay Paints

Earthborne Paints comprise clay, chalk and other products.  Available in 72 different colours and is easy to apply with a roller.  Earthborn Paint advises not to apply their chalk paint in temperatures less than 8 degrees centigrade.  Generally, only 2 coats are required, however this depends upon the surface the paint is being applied to. Available in the UK, Europe, USA and Canada.

Natural & Mineral Paints

Edward Bulmer Paints are microporous.  What does microporous mean?  This enables your walls to breath, preventing the build-up of mould.  The paints are made from either plant-based product’s (linseed oil) or minerals (chalk).  These paints are wipeable.  However, Edward Bulmer advises, some colours may be more hard-wearing than others.  Application of the paint is easy and a surface should only need 2 coats.  Available worldwide.

Lime Paints

Pure and Originals lime paint is a 100% mineral paint, which allows your walls to breath.  Lime painted walls create surfaces with a chalky appearance similar to suede. Application of the paint should comprise using a lime paint brush (a paint brush, which consists of extra-long fibres).  Pure and Original advises that a primer should be applied to your walls prior to the paint being applied.  This will help with its adhesion.  Available worldwide.

To Conclude

Choosing the right sustainable & animal-friendly paint, its colour, environmental impact, and influence on health, may feel like that research project you participated in at college or university.  What can sometimes feel unnecessarily complicated, can be made simpler by considering the above points.  Stay safe and here’s to making choosing the right paint easy and promoting a healthy and happy home for you and your family.

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