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Natural, Eco Paint - Why I Always Choose It

Updated on October 4, 2010

Choosing Eco Paint

It was around the time of the birth of my first child that I decided I would only ever use eco paint for interior decoration. I had happened across an article which stated that ordinary paints off-gas fumes for up to nine months in total (some other sources suggest even longer), thus intoxicating the air inside a newly decorated room long after the paint has dried with undesirable chemicals including solvents which, during drying, produce volatile organic compounds. Of course, opponents of the 'green' argument might claim that no one dies from a bit of home decorating. But with the rise in allergies, plus chronic health problems and feelings of fatigue suffered by increasing numbers of people, it is certainly a topic worthy of discussion. And perhaps even more so if you have young children or a little one on the way. Babies and children have smaller bodies and so end up with more of the nasty stuff, in proportion to their size. Some research suggests that if you do decide to paint a new nursery in your average paint, you should not use the room for your baby for several months if you can avoid it. But why not go one step further? Why not choose natural paints?

It's true that natural eco paints are more expensive, but for me the choice is still a simple one. If 'ordinary' paints typically used for home decoration contain ingredients which are undesirable for humans and polluting to the environment, then I will always choose the alternative. After all, we spend so much time inside our homes that keeping the air inside them free from noxious substances should be a priority.

The Toxins in Paint- VOCs and Solvents

Traditional paints typically contain a plethora of ingredients which can compromise health. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are the worst offenders. VOCs in paints are the solvents which are used to make the paint appliable. They even contain chemicals such as formaldehyde, a toxic substance used in the preservation of corpses. It is a known carcinogenic. And even though most major paint companies have cut down significantly on the amount of VOCs in some of their paint products (particularly in largely water-based paint) some VOCs ultimately remain. (Most paints display an indication of the levels of VOCs on the front of the tins.)

VOCs emit emissions into the air we breathe, causing it to become polluted. VOCs can usually be detected by the odour they emit - the greater the smell the higher the concentrate of VOCs. And although the smell from the paint lessens gradually, there is increasing concern over the threat of long term emissions from paints in buildings.

Solvents in paints have been linked to headaches, eye irritation, asthma and other breathing problems, brain, liver and nerve damage and even some cancers. It is also thought that paint fumes can be responsible for a general and prologned feeling of malaise (ever heard of Sick Building Syndrome?). Oil based paints are particularly offensive, but even water based paints usually contain at least some of the 'nasties' unless they are advertised as solvent free.

Preservatives are also used in the manufacture of paints, to keep the paint in a suitable condition until it is used. Some common preservatives which are thought to have a potential impact on health are: alkylphenolethoxylates (which can mimic hormones) and isothiazolinones. Other undesirable ingredients include lead, cadmium, chromium, toluene and xylene.

Natural paints are typically free from the problems associated with VOC emissions because they do not contain petroleum products. However, not all so-called natural and eco paints have the same environmental credentials, especially paints deemed 'eco' from mainstream companies that mainly produce 'ordinary' paints. Sometimes a paint is advertised as 'Eco' because it is a greener option to the other paints in the manufacturer's line. However, 'greener' does not always mean green enough. I always check what is in a paint before making a purchase, as well as the manufacturer's general philosophy concerning the environment.

Ecos Paints, Clay Paints and Results

So far, I have painted almost all rooms in my humble abode with natural, eco paints. Not having to worry about paint fumes was a great benefit, especially when painting the children's bedrooms. Because there were no VOCs at all in the paints I used, there was no concern over them sleeping in freshly decorated rooms. You simply do not have to wait at all. I used ECOS paints, manufactured in Hertfordshire, England, in most areas throughout my house and have been very happy with the result. The paint coverage and overall quality of the decor was in no way compromised, even in the kitchen where paints generally need to be more resistant to humidity. There is a good range of colours as well - sometimes it is difficult to find an adequate variety of colours with natural paints. Ecos paints (the ones I used) are wipeable, which means that you don't have to worry too much when your toddler sticks a messy hand right in a prime position on the wall.

I must admit that the last room I decorated, I used a clay paint. This was mainly because it was in stock in a local store, which meant not having to worry about delivery costs and times. I liked the concept and the credentials of the company seemed first class. Intially, I was pleased with the performance of the paint, but now unfortunately have to rebuke this. From my experience, clay paint seems to mark very easily, and then is virtually impossible to clean. Not great when you have an active family. Advice given was to avoid wiping it, but to 'erase' the dirty mark with an ordinary eraser. This, however, was fairly unsuccessful, and the most recently decorated room in our house unfortunately looks the worst.

Natural Paints Are Still Ahead

Paints have come a long way since the days when virtually all paint was laden with toxic lead.  Manufacturers, even the mainstream ones who produce paint for your typical DIY store, have begun heading along the right tracks when it comes to making paints safer for both home owners and decorators, as well as for the environment.  However, I still feel that natural, eco paints are still considerably ahead when it comes to making zero VOC paints with ingredients that do not compromise health.  For now, I will certainly be sticking with them.


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