When our homes need a splash of colour and we head out to buy some paint, we usually only consider two things: colour and price. Because lead-based paint is a thing of the past, we take it for granted that we don’t have to worry about any latent health concerns. We’re wrong. Paint and wood finishes release low-level toxins for years after the brushes have been cleaned and the tarpaulin packed away. The toxins, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can cause or aggravate asthma and allergies. They are also bad for the environment, as they affect groundwater and do their bit to deplete the ozone layer.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on VOC-heavy paint to brighten our lives because there are a number of non-toxic, eco-friendly types of paint on the market. According to Earth Easy, these paints have been proven to be more effective as they provide greater coverage, are better at hiding old layers of paint and are easier to clean than their traditionally favoured counterparts. Compared to other paints, they are also virtually odourless and any odour that exists dissipates quickly.
Eco-friendly paints come in three categories:
- Natural paints, which are made from natural raw ingredients, such as water and plant dyes and oils, and natural minerals, like clay, chalk and earth and mineral dyes. Natural paints are considered the safest for your health and best for the environment.
- Zero-VOC paints are those that contain less than 5 grams of VOCs per litre. Read the label carefully when buying zero-VOC paint, as some manufacturers add colourants, biocides and fungicides which add to the VOC content. Don’t panic though; Earth Easy says that a colour tint will bring the VOC count up to 10 grams/litre, which is still very low.
- According to EPA standards, paints can be considered low-VOC paints when their VOC levels are less than 200 grams/litre. Most commercially available low-VOC paints are well within that range with an average VOC level of 50 grams/litre.
It’s also possible to get biodegradable, non-toxic paint stripper, which uses N-Methylpyrrolidone, an organic solvent, to soften paint rather than dissolve it. However, they are still quite expensive and, while they are as effective as chemical compounds, they take longer to work.
If you live in an area where non-toxic paint is not widely available or where it is simply not an economically viable option, there are other ways to paint your home while still considering the environment.
- Only buy as much paint as you need, this will ensure that nothing goes to waste.
- Re-use turps and paint thinners, all you have to do is let the container stand, wait for the sediment to sink and pour off the clear liquid.
- Don’t clean your brushes and rollers until the project is finished. You can stop them from going dry by sealing them in a plastic bag and storing them away from the light.
The upshot is that it is possible to redecorate the exterior and interior of your home while ensuring the health and safety of your family and taking care of the environment.