Learn the truth about eco friendly paint

Eco paint

I’m sure that every one of us has woken up in a freshly painted room with ‘decorator’s headache’ at some point in the past. Conventional paints can contain all sorts of nasties, including formaldehyde, ammonium, titanuim dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Although recent EU regulations have imposed limits on the levels of harmful chemicals paints can contain, standard formulations can still aggravate allergies, asthma and cause headaches and dizziness. With this in mind, you might want to think about choosing an environmentally friendly alternative, especially if a nursery of child’s bedroom is next on your decorating hit list.

The problem is, negotiating the minefield of eco paints on the market can cause a headache of a different kind. Terms like ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and ‘green’ appear on all sorts of products, not to mention various little tree, leaf, flower and world logos which may or may not mean anything at all. Unless you have Walter White’s grasp of chemistry, you’re likely to find yourself befuddled. It’s not just about ingredients either. Paint manufacture is second only to automobile production in the amount of toxins released into the environment.

Here’s my buyer’s guide to eco paint to help you negotiate the minefield.

Ecos paint

Are all eco paints made from the same ingredients?

No. ‘Eco paint’ is an umbrella term for all sorts of products, including claypaints, chalk paints and milk paints (casein). Some brands make emulsions and gloss paints formulated with alternatives to toxic ingredients, such as solvents derived from citrus fruits and natural pigments and binders like clay, plant material and seed oils. Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ can be misleading – these words are borrowed from the food industry and can be used unregulated when it comes to paint. In my opinion, no one paint brand can be held up as ‘the most eco friendly’. Most take a holistic approach by combining non-toxic ingredients and responsible production to make paints that are significantly less harmful than conventional ones, but none will have no environmental impact at all.

Do eco-paints cover as well as conventional paints?

It depends. Manufacturers of eco-paints will all argue their paints cover equally well, but they can be tricker to apply and paints in powder form need to be mixed to the right consistency before you start. By leaving out some of the nasty chemical ingredients, eco paints can also take longer to dry and you’ll need to be careful not to splash your walls until the recommended drying time us up. The best thing is try a few tester pots from different brands to find a finish you like and read the instructions on the tin or packet carefully before you start. If you’re short on time, a ready-mixed water based paint is probably the best choice.

Ecos Chalk Flowers

Are there many eco paint colours to choose from?

The range of colours is getting bigger all the time as eco paint is becoming more and more popular and brands launch new colours to meet demand. Shades tend to be quite soft and muted, which work beautifully in period homes. Eicó has a particularly wide range of colours, including some strong brights, as well as a colour matching service if you want something very specific. Most brands will send you a free colour card and sell reasonably priced tester pots, which I’d definitely recommend.

Is eco paint durable?

Many eco paints are breathable and will absorb moisture. This has pros and cons. In damp areas like bathrooms and kitchens it can reduce condensation, which in turn reduces mould and mildew. However, most eco paints (particularly claypaints) aren’t washable like some conventional paints are, so if you throw a glass of red wine at the wall you’ll need to remove it with fine sandpaper or paint over it. Formulations do vary a lot though, so it’s best to ask individual brands for their tips.

Eco friendly paint

Are eco paints more expensive than normal paints?

Eco paints tend to be around the same price as premium paints, like Farrow & Ball, Little Greene or Fired Earth and a bit more expensive than Dulux, Crown and own-brands. However, since eco paints may not provide such reliable coverage, you might need to buy more to allow for an extra coat. Experiment with tester pots and ask the brand you choose for their advice – if you tell them the dimensions of your room they’ll be more than happy to calculate how much paint you’ll need.

Where can I buy eco paints?

As far as I know, the specialist eco paint brands recommended in this post can’t be bought in Homebase or B&Q. Find them in independent decorator’s centres (check individual websites for stockists) or order online. Although paint is heavy and bulky to ship most brands keep their delivery prices reasonable so you don’t need to worry too much.

Environmentally friendly paint

Which eco paint brands do you recommend?

I’ve picked a range of different eco paint brands here to give you a starting point for your research. I haven’t tried all their paints personally so I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments if you’ve used them in your home.

EARTHBORN: Earthborn paints have been awarded the EU Ecolabel which endorses products with low environmental impact. Choose from 60 subtle colours in claypaint or eco emulsion. There’s also exterior masonary paint in a more limited choice of colours. Visit the Earthborn website.

ECOS: Claims its paint is so non-toxic you can actually eat it! Ecos offers 180 colours in a number of finishes, including a new chalkboard paint in every colour, so you can scribble on any wall in your home. Their Artisan colour palette (featured in these photos) is especially lovely. POST UPDATE: ECOS is now branded as Lakeland Paints.

NATUREPAINT: Sells powdered claypaint made in Cornwall from local china clay. The 63 soft colours are inspired by the Cornish landscape and have sweet names like ‘Cuttlefish’, ‘Blenny’ and ‘Curlew’. Visit the NaturePaint website.

AURO: A wide selection of paints for all surfaces, including metal, exteriors, undercoats and primers. There is lots of information on their website – it can be a bit baffling but if you have specific allergies for example, you will be able to find out everything you need to know about their ingredients and formulations. Visit the Auro website.

POTS OF PAINT: Developed by architectural historian Edward Bulmer, these are ideal if you are looking for historic colours for a period home. There are 73 colours to choose from in emulsion, eggshell, oil and gloss. Visit the Pots of Paint website.

EICÓ: These paints are manufactured in Iceland and Sweden using only geothermal and hydropower, so production is carbon neutral. There are 117 standard shades on the colour card but the full range includes over 1,000 shades as well as a colour matching service. Visit the Eicó website.

MINI MODERNS: A slightly different approach to eco paint. This collection is made from 90% discarded paint diverted from landfill and incineration. The waste paints are carefully blended to create 12 colours, including vibrant yellows, oranges and blues. Visit the Mini Moderns website.

A final note: I’m a big supporter of Community Re-paint, a charity that collects leftover paint and redistributes it to youth clubs, village halls and charities who need to revamp their facilities. If you have tins hanging about in your shed consider putting it to good use and donate your leftover paint.

Ecos Chalkboard paint

[Photographs all courtesy of ECOS now branded as Lakeland Paints]

If you enjoyed this post please hit a button to share with a friend
Pin on PinterestShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponShare on RedditBuffer this pageEmail this to someone


  1. says

    Great post. I’m actaully reseller of natural paints (now!), and originally when looking for paint for myself I was shocked how hard it was trying to find actually which paint to use, and actually what each paint contained – it was (and still is) a bit of a minefield. I ended up becoming a reseller of natural paints a few years later as was determined to create a site that would actually make it EASIER to find a genuinely natural paint – IE help files, tech files, ingredients etc etc. I stocked a few brands in the past, but from customer feedback and my own trials I decided that Auro paints would be my hero brand. Just my 2 cents but thought you might be interested.


  2. Judith Martin says

    I’ve been keen to find ‘green’ paint for about 30 years, and have used several, including some that aren’t mentioned here. I’m not a professional decorator or designer, or a supplier, so my comments are simply my experience.

    Allback linseed oil paint is very traditional, Swedish, entirely natural. It’s lovely to use, but complicated: on bare wood you have to use warmed linseed oil first, and it doesn’t go with conventional (e.g. aluminium) primer. It takes ages to dry between coats but then it’s just more of the same: no primer or undercoat. They say it lasts for up to 15 years, with just a wipedown, but the last I used in a fairly damp outside area had to be scrubbed down as it was growing black mould after the first year. I haven’t used it on walls, only outside joinery. Not a wholehearted recommendation.

    Osmo or Os Colour is fine, uncomplicated to use. Again I’ve only used the Countrycolour on woodwork where it seems to last well enough and scrubs up well. But it has a slightly odd skin effect which certainly doesn’t survive cats’ claws – it almost seems to tear, but that’s hardly optimal conditions.

    Nutshell – I managed to cover the black walls in my son’s bedroom with three coats of white emulsion, which I reckon is pretty good. In fact two coats was almost OK, but maybe I’m not that picky. It’s lovely to use, I’ve used it almost throughout the house, and the people (I’ve only ever bought it from the manufacturers) are delightful to deal with. Not a fabulous colour range but that’s mostly fine. The only problem was in an unheated conservatory where it was prone to mould, presumably because it’s casein (milk) based. On that basis I wouldn’t use it in a kitchen or bathroom. At least 8 out of 10, though.

    Auro – first and best. The titanium-free white emulsion is disheartening to use as it looks as though you’re just washing the ceiling with a wet brush, but it dries opaque. The early gloss and eggshell used to chip rather easily (when bashed with a hoover, for example) but later formulations are better. Good dark colours for front doors etc., and some good deep shades for indoors. I got a wonderful marbled effect that would otherwise have taken several coats and treatments just by using one coat of very dark red on damp plaster. It’s lasted almost too long – I’m ready for a change but too lazy to do it and it still looks great after about 20 years. At least 9 out of 10.

    Other clay paints etc. have come and gone – including one cassein-based one that smelled to high heaven when opened and left for a fairly short time but was fine in use. But I found this website because I was looking where to order more Auro from.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment Judith – this is so helpful and I’m sure readers will be really grateful to hear yor experiences on these different paint brands. It can be such a confusing choice to make and it’s useful to hear personal experiences of different applications. Bethan x

  3. M Dubberly says

    We’ve used Earthborn paints for 1 room so far, and are about to start using them for another room. We did the walls in Pumpkin Pie and the ceiling in Ballet Slipper. The colour’s so rich that we only needed 1 coat for the walls. Can’t believe how good it looks!

  4. says

    Hi there, we stock the Earthborn and Auro eco paints (and post them out to the whole of the UK). We have plenty of reviews of the paints on our site (Celtic Sustainables) to help people make up their mind about which paints to use (they are both decorate beautifully) – I hope they can also help your readers too!

  5. Earl says

    I hadn’t realised that paint still had harmful toxins in it. Your blog is really informative, for example, I had no idea that some paint could adversely effect asthma sufferers. As a company that is passionate about the environment, I/we will in future be looking for eco friendly paint.

  6. Blanche says

    I looking for solutions of making my own paint. I have natural pigments and looking to invest in artist quality pigments for colour intensity, I have calcium carbonate which I believe is a binding agent however, not sure it has the proteins, as egg shell or gum arabic do. Many paint recipes still use convention paint which uses acrylic. Any thoughts?

  7. Carmen says

    I used Ecos/Lakeland paint 15 years ago and it stood up to wear and tear much better than standard paint. I used quite a strong colour on the stairs and my husband wasn’t keen so after a few years we overpainted with white from B&Q, but while this has worn badly the paint layer peeking out from underneath is in perfect condition! It was very easy to use and non-smelly, with great coverage and finish. We need to redecorate and I’ve looked at the premium ranges like Farrow & Ball because I like the choice of colour and they’re available locally, but will probably bear the delivery cost and go for Ecos again.

  8. Sarah Cushing says

    Lakeland paints. I have just used a tin of Lakeland paints. Great paint but I have to say they aren’t totally odourless. I have a smell coming from the bedroom I’ve just painted and have a headache and sore throat. I do like their paint but I am surprised to be suffering a bit. I’d still use them though. I do have to be careful because of my allergies.

  9. Emma Harris says

    Are Lakeland’s paints breathable? They say they’re toxic free, but are they suitable for using in a room that has a combination of old and new lime plaster, some lining paper, some gypsum?

  10. beca says

    Thans for the info!
    Just a heads up-when I first used Ecos, 10 years ago, I realised that they were falsely advertising, in a way, as they were saying ‘Organic'( which means no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilisers used on the crop)’ Ecos DOESNT USE PLANT DERIVED INGREDIENTS!!
    From thier own tech sheet:

    Water, acrylic dispersion, titanium dioxide, pigments (various), polymeric thickeners, barytes, limestone, clay, synthetic wax, dispersing aids (various)

    I may have been silly expecting them to be more natural than they are…but when it says ‘organic’ you do expect a certain amount of organic matter in them!
    They are great as they are VOC free, but are not natural. The reason they can call them organic is because they dont contain herbicides, peticides or fertilisers……but nor do any of your bog standard paints.

  11. says

    Finally found your blog after desperately searching for a non-bias review of natural paint products! Always on the look out for products with low environmental impact for our buildings! Thanks.

  12. Freddie S says

    Thanks for a really useful & informative blogpost (& readers comments)! I’m about to embark on renovating an old cottage in Somerset, I look forward to freshening it up with lots of beautiful natural paints : )
    I shall also make a request to our small family property business, to switch to natural paints.
    Wonderful blog, very inspiring,

  13. Max Sanders says

    Can anyone recommend the best paint for a mould ridden bedroom? We both suffer from sensitivity from toxins so after completely removing black mould from the walls we are looking for the best non toxic paint that will keep the mould away even for just a year… We have a dehumidifier and double glazing but if we go away for a week it gets bad again… Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *