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Non-Toxic Paints


Paints are manufactured from three main components:

  1. Pigment - provides the colour
  2. Binder - holds the paint together
  3. Carrier - disperses the binder

Many modern paints use toxic chemical ingredients that are harmful to both the environment and human health. This includes:

  • Toxic Pigments - Cadmium, lead and chromium
  • Toxic Binders and Carriers - petrochemicals, solvents, benzene, formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs)

Toxic chemicals are also used in modern paints as preservatives, stabilisers, thickeners and driers.

Environmental Impact - VOCs are organic [carbon based] chemical compounds that evaporate easily in the atmosphere. They are recognised as major contributors to the breaking down of the ozone layer, and to global climate change.

Health Impact - many paint chemicals are highly toxic and linked with respiratory disease, asthma, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, skin disorders, eye irritation, liver and kidney damage and even cancer.

Modern chemical paints continue to emit VOCs many 3-5 years after their application.

Increasing concerns about the impact of chemical paints on health and the environment have led to environmental regulations to force paint companies to significantly reduce their VOC content. Consequently, most large paint companies offer alternative non-toxic paints. NOTE: many of these still contain VOC solvents, chemical pigments and fungicides.

Video - Eco Friendly Paints

"Building Green," host Kevin Contreras explores the basics of environmentally-friendly paints and notable green brands.


Main Points

  • Toxic fumes can infiltrate your home for up to three years after being applied. Formaldehyde, acetone, ammonia are all emited to cause toxic reactions in many inhabits.
  • Low VOC paints are getting established, such as Horizon Paints and YoLo.
  • Most homes take 20-30 gallons to paint, and paying just $5 more can amount to only a few hundred dollars to ensure your home is toxic free as possible.


Eco Paint Labels

As yet, there is no standard for paint labels. As a result, non-toxic paints are often labelled:

  • Low-VOC, No-VOC, VOC-Free
  • Odourless, odour-free
  • Green, natural or organic

These terms are often grossly misused for marketing purposes.

To help avoid this, environmental bodies in many countries have developed eco-labels to indicate that the paint has fulfilled certain environmental requirements.. These eco-labels [logos on paint cans] include:

  • Eco-Label - Europe
  • Blue Angel - Germany
  • Green Seal and Greenguard - USA
  • VOC - UK [ indicate the content of VOCs using one of five classifications: Minimal (0-0.29%), Low, Medium, High and Very High (VOC content greater than 50%)].

Low-VOC Paints

Low-VOC paints generally use water as a carrier instead of petrochemical solvents, significantly reducing their emissions. No-VOC or VOC-Free paints may still contain very low levels of VOCs in their pigments or additives

Many conventional paints now also have low VOC levels. There is debate as to whether low-VOC paints should be considered non-toxic.

Natural Paints

Natural paints contain no VOCs, making then non-toxic. They are made from natural ingredients such as water, vegetable oils, plant dyes, and natural minerals.

  • Natural Binders - linseed oil (from flax seeds), clay, lime, and milk protein.
  • Natural Color Pigments - natural mineral and earth pigments

Other natural ingredients used include:

  • Lime and milk paints - give an authentic aged look
  • Chalk - used as an extender to thicken paint
  • Turpentine - distilled from pine trees is used as a solvent
  • Essential oils - from citrus fruits (d-limonene) are used as a solvent and fragrance


Benefits of Natural Paints

The main benefits of natural paints are:

Non-toxic - no hazardous fumes or harmful effects on health. This is significant for allergy sufferers and chemically sensitive people who are unable to tolerate chemical paints.

Environmentally Friendly - use renewable resources; are biodegradable, can even be composted.

Micro-Porous - allow walls and surfaces to breathe, preventing condensation and damp problems, and reducing associated indoor allergens. They are also less prone to paint flaking, peeling and blistering.


Natural paints have a few downsides, including:

  • Higher Cost - are generally more expensive due to the scale of manufacturing.
  • Take longer to dry - up to 24 hours or more
  • Limited Color Range - natural mineral pigments produce paints that come in pastel shades only, and this has led some natural paint companies to use synthetic pigments to create a more extensive range of colours.


Sustainable Paints

Natural paint manufacturers ensure their materials are from sustainable sources and that the paints are manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. They aim to:

  • Minimise pollution, energy and waste throughout the life cycle of their products
  • Use recyclable packaging
  • Declare their product ingredients

Natural paints are non-toxic, they are completely safe and this makes them the obvious choice for any consumer concerned with protecting the earth and its people for future generations.

Next: Green Flashings, Adhesives and Sealants

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