Eco-friendly paints for a non-toxic, sustainable and sophisticated home

Image credit: Earthborn paints

Image credit: Earthborn paints

Wall colour is one of the key foundational elements of any room. It sets the mood and dictates how the space makes us feel.

We know how important it is to get our paint colour right, so we scour magazines for inspiration, bring home colour charts, swatches and paint chips, and, if you’re me, get disproportionately excited about picking up tester pots.

But we often forget that while paint has a huge impact on how we feel in a room, it also has a huge impact on our and our family’s health. An impact that can last for months after the stinky paint smell has worn off.

For this post, I’ve explored how we can choose better paint options that are kinder to our health - and the planet - without having to compromise on the latest colour trends.

Eco-friendly paints for a non-toxic, sustainable and sophisticated home - eco home, green home, sustainable interiors

So what’s the problem with regular paint?

While paint has come a long way since its lead-based and toxic gloss heydays, not all paint is created equal.

Paint products can have significant impacts on the environment throughout their lifecycle, including the release of environmentally harmful substances during manufacture; when paints are applied in the home; and when unused paint is disposed of or removed.

Paints can also contain a number of harmful substances - including toxic metals, planet-damaging solvents, carcinogenic additives (biocides, surfactants, defoamers), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are harmful to health while contributing to global warming, and other raw materials that have a negative impact on the planet to obtain (such as titanium oxide).

So while home decor magazines merrily tell us to update our living spaces on a seasonal basis by slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls, it pays to pause and choose those paint coverings wisely.

Genuine eco-friendly paints substitute the above nasties to reduce the dangers to human and planetary health. And the good news is that there are more of them in a bigger range of colour choices and finishes than ever before.

Choose a colour, they’re all green
— Earthborn paints - UK

What should I look for if I want eco-friendly paint?

Getting hold of more eco-friendly paint is pretty straightforward these days. Most major paint brands such as Dulux, Crown, Resene etc, have extensive eco-friendly ranges, and even the main paint collections these days are significantly lower in VOCs than was once the case.

But why settle for mainstream and merely ‘ok’ on eco-credentials when you can get the real deal from smaller brands who have opted to put environmental and health considerations first in developing their greener, non-toxic paints?

Keep a look out for the following:

  • Ultra-low or zero VOCs - although true eco-friendly paints generally do not contain any intentionally added VOCs, some manufacturing processes could contain trace levels, even if they claim to have zero VOCs. The lower the VOCs the better - aim for less than 5g of VOC per litre.

  • Don’t forget other nasties - while mainstream brands offer low VOC paint (and don’t forget that ‘low’ just means relative to other paint), VOCs aren’t the only thing to keep an eye out for. Acrylic softeners, ammonia and formaldehydes may also lurk within a seemingly green paint tin. Check the label to see if the paint is free from acrylics, oils and vinyls, labelled as non-toxic, and whether it is crafted from more natural materials, like clay.

  • Seek out certifications - EU Ecolabel is an independent accreditation system for goods and services that meet strict environmental criteria within the European Union. The Environmental Choice New Zealand (ECNZ) scheme is another one to look out for. Greenseal is the one to keep your eyes peeled for in the US, and in Australia you’re looking for Good Environment Choice Australia (GCEA) and the Australian Paint Approval Scheme (APAS).

A note on certification though - just because a product isn’t certified, doesn’t always mean it fails on environmental criteria. Applying for, and maintaining certification status can be an extremely expensive endeavour for small businesses in particular. So treat certification as a guide, but don’t automatically rule out a brand that lists its ingredients and takes a transparent approach.

If it makes general claims about being ‘natural’ and ‘non-toxic’ without backing it up however, avoid avoid, avoid….!

Image credit: Little Greene paints

Image credit: Little Greene paints

My top picks for eco-friendly, non-toxic paint

New Zealand

The Natural Paint Company takes a transparent approach to its ingredients and does not use chlorinated hydrocarbon; fungicides; insecticides; bactericides; xylene; toluene; benzene; formaldehyde; phenol; or heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium or copper. They also protect one square metre of rainforest for every one square metre of surface that gets covered using their paints, waxes, oils or varnishes.

PaintPlus is a carbon-neutral paint manufacturer which began in 1997 with a vision to make environmentally responsible paints with uncompromised performance. All of its paints are low odour, low VOC and designed to last - the company offers a 10 year guarantee on its paints.

If a product doesn’t meet environmental standards, we don’t make it. Simple as that. Every single product and every single process at PaintPlus is geared to limit or avoid environmental impact.
— PaintPlus, New Zealand

UK & EU

Earthborn were founded in 2002 on a mission to find eco alternatives to conventional paint,. They offer a range of environmentally-friendly designer, breathable paints.

Little Greene have a long history of commitment to environmental protection and wide selection of virtually zero VOC water and oil based paints. They have a transparent approach to reducing their environmental impact - including their packaging - reducing their waste by 57 percent in the last three years.

Lakeland paints are free from solvents, vinyl chloride, acrylic softeners, plasticisers or fomaldehyde, phthalates, APEOs, bisphenols, glycols. and plastics. I’m not going to claim that I know what all of these things are, but I’m confident we’re better off without them in our paint. Their paints are also VOC-free, contain no heavy metals and have won several awards.

Image credit: Ecolour

Image credit: Ecolour

Australia

Ecolour was founded in Byron Bay in 2009 and produces water-based paints that claim to be 100 percent VOC free. This brand is particularly cool because to make its paint Ecolour recycles and re-refines waste engine oil from the over 300 million litres of waste oil that Australia produces annually. They are also certified carbon neutral.

Volvox - made from clay, Volvox paints are VOC free and kinder to the environment as well as your lungs. Clay paints are a particularly good choice for those with allergies or sensitivities to chemicals due to their minimal odour and permeable finish, resulting in better indoor quality.

For a great range of eco-friendly paints and other wall products, check out Painted Earth Byron Bay. They have a wonderful selection of sustainable paints, including Volvox, as well as other environmentally conscious renders and wood finishes.

USA

Bioshield paints, stains, thinners and waxes are made primarily from naturally-derived raw materials including citrus peel extracts, essential oils, seed oils, tree resins, inert mineral fillers, tree and bee waxes, lead-free dryers and natural pigments. I particularly like the questions they ask themselves when creating products:

Does each product we sell answer a clearly identified social need?

Is this product made from a natural and easily renewable resource?

Is this product derived from minimally toxic ingredients?

Can we offer competitive pricing on products derived from outstanding raw materials that are obtained using fair trade practices?

Can we guarantee the quality and freshness of every product that we sell?

Has the formulation of the product met our high standards for durability?

Can we consistently supply every customer with superlative service?

Worldwide

Graphenstone refers to itself as “an ecological paint company born out of an environmental commitment”. It creates paints from naturally sourced lime and ‘graphene technology’. which I view as akin to sustainable sorcery (it’s not, but it involves nanotechnology which is pretty, freaking cool). Available around the globe, Graphenstone’s paints are free from VOCs, carcinogens and toxic substances which also reduce CO2.

According to the manufacturers, due to a natural process, when the lime is carbonating, it absorbs CO2 from the ambient air and cleans the air that you breathe. That’s pretty awesome. Graphenstone also runs campaigns like ‘My Home is a Tree’ and ‘Paint Different’, this is an exciting, forward thinking brand on a mission to clean up the air in our homes. One to watch.

Going back to the natural is possible and has its advantages. Stop painting with the “usual” products and discover everything an ecological and natural paint can do for your health and the environment.
— Graphenstone

Can I get eco-friendly, non-toxic paint in designer colours?

Yes, yes you can.

If you’re after a specific shade or colour that a not-so-eco brand has launched, don't panic. Try colour matching. Most paint companies offer this service, even the eco-ones, which means you won’t be denied ultra-violet, living coral, naval naval, tranquil dawn or whatever hilariously named colour those in the know tell us we should have on our walls this season.

Has this persuaded you to give eco-friendly paints a try? Or have you already made the switch. Tell me more in the comments below!

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Eco-friendly paints for a non-toxic, sustainable and sophisticated home - green home, sustainable interiors, eco-design,