AdvicePainting and decorating

A Quick Guide to Eco Friendly Paint

Eco, organic, green, VOC free, with so many variations it can be hard to know quite how ‘eco’ your chosen paint is. The terminology is often misleading, merely relating to the European legislation from 2010 limiting the amount of solvents allowed in paint. It’s not just what goes into paint that matters, what comes out of traditional paint isn’t good either – the only way to go is eco friendly paint.

Green credentials don’t stop at the ingredients in paint, true eco friendly paint should be ‘green’ from what goes into them through to the manufacturing, packaging and paint disposal process. We therefore decided to get to the bottom of the paint pot and decipher the terminology and credentials of eco friendly paint.

eco friendly paint

Levels of VOC

Checking the levels of VOC – or volatile organic compounds – is a good place to start when looking for eco friendlypaint, but, there are different levels of eco-ness: VOC free, low VOC, minimal VOC and limited VOC. VOC’s aren’t acutely toxic, but they have been found to have long-term health effects, specifically in children with respiratory and allergy problems.

The main benefit of paint with low levels of VOC is that it doesn’t contain toxic fumes, meaning that a room can be painted and slept in on the same day. Commercial paints are made with chemicals that are released during the drying process, even if you vacate the area while the paint dries if your using a synthetic paints it will continue to release harmful toxins for about 5 years.

Most commercial paints are made with man-made materials, it is these chemicals that are released in the drying process. Don’t be fooled by the word organic in VOC. VOC’s include both man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds, which are dangerous to health and contribute to global warming.

eco paint

How green are the ingredients?

Natural paints are made from all natural materials such as plant extracts, oils, clay and mineral pigments. Using only natural ingredients in paint dramatically reduces its carbon footprint – modern synthetic paint creates almost 30 litres of toxic waste per litre produced.

Painters used to mix their own paints, each with their own recipes, unfortunately this stopped with industrialisation and modern chemical based paints were born. AGLAIA have been producing paints using only natural ingredients since 1968, their paints are made from abundant minerals and renewable crop sources and all of the manufacturing waste goes to a municipal composting facility – about as eco as it gets!

There are, as you would expect, drawbacks to using only natural materials, modern paints are designed to dry quickly to reduce drying times and the time between coats. Natural oil paint doesn’t contain artificial dryers which means you need to leave 16 hours between coats.

Buy British

It’s not just about what goes in and comes out of the paint or how it was manufactured that contributes to its eco credentials . Where was it manufactured? Paint is heavy and therefore not cheap to transport, it’s a great example of something that, where possible, one should source locally.

Little Greene’s water-based paints have a VOC content of almost zero and another benefit of a low VOC is that they are virtually odourless. Another UK based company is Colortrend, who make and sell water based, low VOC and lead free paint in over 13,000 different colours and numerous finishes.

Nutshell manufacture paint made from only naturally sourced raw materials including oils, herbs and minerals to produce carbon-free products. They take a holistic view, from sourcing materials, manufacture, application, packaging and disposal. Phil Spencer’s co-presenter and property expert Kirsty Allsopp used Nutshell paints throughout her Devon cottage proving that environmentally friendly paints can look great!

non toxic paintKirsty Allsopp’s living room

low voc paintKirsty’s kitchen

organic paint

What price do you pay to be green?

Environmentally friendly paints cost more than typical commercial paints, commercial paints after all, became popular because they are cheaper and easier to produce. And like most eco products, you can expect to pay more for environmentally friendly paints – up to 15% more for masonry paint, and up to 30% more for gloss.

Cheap paint, such an own branded paint from local home improvement stores, is a false economy. It isn’t as thick as good quality paint so it requires more coats to get the same coverage, which in turn costs more in materials and labour. The life span of cheap paint is far inferior and will need to be touched up, if not completely re-painted; like all materials if you buy cheap it is reflected in the overall finish. The cheaper paints are also often the ones that are highest in VOC levels, buying cheap will leave you breathing in the toxins for years to come.

Eco paints still haven’t really taken off, people are reluctant to splurge on paint when there are so many cheap options in the market. Eco paints’ cause is not helped by its reputation of producing bad coverage, uneven pigmentation and limited colour ranges. But eco friendly paints have come a long way: colour ranges have expanded and coverage has improved, you only need to look at Kirsty Allsop’s cottage to see that eco paints produce great results.

If you’re looking for a painter in your local area, post your job on and we’ll put you in contact with up to 3 quality, local tradesmen. Each tradesmen will quote for your job – you’ll be able to impress them with your new knowledge of eco-paint  – and you can then review their online ratings and select your preferred painter/decorator to transform your house. 

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