The Truth about Eco Friendly Paints

Petrochemicals? VOCs? Solvents? It’s enough to make your head spin.

Here’s the truth about eco-friendly paints: it’s complicated.

With that in mind, we’ve done our research so you don’t have to! We’ve looked around to get to the truth: can paint ever be eco-friendly? What’s the criteria? And just what do all of the ingredients mean?

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The first thing to acknowledge is that as paint is manmade, it can’t fit into every definition of being truly ‘eco-friendly’. However, there are plenty of paint companies that are trying to create a product that is gentler on the environment.

Each of these paint brands says something different about what being eco-friendly means to them. We’ve put together 3 things that we consider to be of the utmost importance when choosing eco-friendly paint.

Eco-friendly paint consideration 1: The ingredients

For a paint company to be truly eco-friendly, they should be able to provide evidence by telling you what ingredients they use. This should be displayed on the paint pots or available upon request from the company.

Eco-friendly paint consideration 2: The manufacture

Of course, the way any product is manufactured has an environmental impact. It makes sense to consider a paint company’s carbon footprint when deciding how eco-friendly they actually are.

Eco-friendly paint consideration 3: Breathability

Traditional paints that contain plastic create a plastic barrier on walls when applied trapping air, which leads to mould and other problems. Eco-friendly paints should be breathable as a result of using only natural ingredients.

VOCs

By now, you’re probably wondering about VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). They’re the gases given off by paints that contain solvents.

The government regulates how much VOC paint can have in it in order to be safe for retail, so when a company says they’re eco-friendly because they have a low VOC, what they’re really saying is that they comply with government regulations. VOC remains a contentious issue in the paint world, as some companies say that no paint can ever be VOC-free.

Water-based paints

Here’s another red herring: paints that are labelled as ‘water-based’. This might just mean they’re watered down, but still harmful to the environment.

Ingredients like vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can contribute to health issues (particularly for anyone who’s already living with asthma or eczema). The effects of these ingredients are hotly debated: some companies claim that as they can be found in natural sources, they aren’t inherently bad. Other companies disagree.

If you’ve got any doubt, just reach out to the company to have a look at their ingredients list.

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Our favourite eco-friendly paint brands

But onto the good stuff. Here are our top picks for eco-friendly paint companies.

Farrow & Ball

This is one of our favourite paint brands – both for its sustainability credentials, and for the finish. Farrow & Ball makes its water-based paint using the finest quality ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, china clay, high levels of pigments which are fully traceable and it contains low levels of VOCs. The Modern and Estate range of paint are safe to use in all rooms of the home, including children’s rooms.

They make every effort to reduce the environmental impact of their day-to-day operations, including recycling 100% of the dry waste from their Dorset manufacturing plant. As well as this, they’ve recently introduced a programme to consolidate their deliveries, which will help to reduce the number of miles their delivery vehicles – and your tins – have to travel.

  • Ingredients: Farrow & Ball makes its water-based paint using the finest quality ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, china clay, high levels of pigments which are fully traceable.
  • Manufacturing: As well as what we’ve mentioned above, they also have their own water treatment facility and recycle 97% of their liquid waste. They’re now working to get this to 100%.
  • Breathable: Yes

Little Greene

As well as being sustainable in ingredients, manufacturing and breathability, Little Greene makes a point to oppose animal testing. All their paint finishes are, of course, free from any animal-derived products and the environment and related ethics inform their business decisions.

  • Ingredients: They have reformulated their paints to use sustainable vegetable oils, without compromising their quality. For their water-based paints, you can expect a very low – virtually zero – level of VOC content.
  • Manufacturing: All their paints are manufactured in the UK, and they actively source from suppliers who match their commitment to local industries.
  • Breathable: Yes

Earthborn Paints

Earthborn Paints were the first company in the UK to get a licence with the EU Ecolabel for Indoor Paints and Varnishes showcasing their commitment to eco-friendly practices.

These paints are made out of clay, which has the bonus effects of reducing condensation, mould and mildew.

  • Ingredients: Do not use vinyl, acrylic or oil. All of their ingredients are listed on their paint pots.
  • Manufacturing: No information available.
  • Breathable: Yes.

Nutshell Paints

Nutshell Paints pride themselves on providing an excellent non-toxic alternative to traditional paints. Their paints are not tested on animals providing a second layer of assurance for those seeking truly environmentally friendly products.

  • Ingredients: Oils, herbs and minerals. No petrochemical solvents, vinyl resins or formaldehyde.
  • Manufacturing: Recyclable packaging.
  • Breathable: Yes.

Eico Paints

Eico Paints are manufactured in Iceland and Sweden using geothermal or hydropower energy, making the production process carbon positive – A 100% plant-based paint. Their paints have one of the lowest VOC percentages in the UK market,  making it great for allergy and asthma sufferers. 

  • Ingredients: 100% plant-based 
  • Manufacturing: Carbon positive, using free solar energy 
  • Breathable: Woodwork, no – Walls, yes 


A note for anyone pursuing a more vegan lifestyle: most eco-friendly paints use Casein, a milk protein, making it unsuitable for vegans. It’s always best to double-check the ingredients list or with the manufacturer (You should also subscribe to our blog – we often share our favourite vegan and meat-free recipes).

 

Of course, if you’re working with Sustainable Kitchens on a kitchen project, we’ll help you choose the most sustainable materials possible. Sound good? Just give Sarah a call on 0117 961 6471 or email her on hello@sustainablekitchens.co.uk

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