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