Most of us don’t think twice before popping down to the local DIY shop and picking up a tin of emulsion. It is, quite rightly, assumed that all paint sold in the UK is going to meet legal requirements and is non-toxic. But is this really the case and should we think about eco-paints and organic options instead?
In the UK, there is no need to get Building Regulations approval for a simple job like painting our interior walls (you may, however, need approval to paint your exterior walls). The reason for this is simple: all paint is subject to checks before it goes on the market, so it has already been deemed safe. However, it doesn’t quite end there…
VOCs and other nasties
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) still count paint as being a hazardous chemical and warn that its use can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea and breathing difficulties. The main reason for this is the VOC content. Volatile Organic Compounds are added to paint as they help it dry as they evaporate. However, they let off a gas as they do so. All paint should be labelled to show the level of VOC. Some paints contain no VOCs.
Paint also contains a wealth of other chemicals designed to improve its staying power, its gloss finish, its spreadability, its colour and more. These include oils, petrochemicals, resins, acrylics, ammonia and formaldehyde. So it is important to choose carefully.
The term “eco” is a little meaningless when it comes to paint – it is down to how the product is marketed. The ingredients in paints are hotly contested as to whether they are eco-friendly or not. All paint will need chemicals of some kind to be able to function well. However, most people with concerns will be looking for the following:
- A product that is clearly labelled and shows its ingredients, so the buyer can make an informed choice.
- A product that has been carefully manufactured to reduce environmental impact.
- A product that is breathable and doesn’t create a barrier like other paints – therefore reducing the chances of mould growth.
- A product that uses the least number of chemicals and VOCs to achieve the best possible result. Bear in mind that staying within government guidelines is the only thing a paint company needs to do, so checking labels is important.
- A product that uses plant and animal-based ingredients where possible. Vegans may need to read labels even more carefully, however.
It really comes down to reading your labels, working out if you need a longer lasting product that might be more harmful or if you can get away with a less toxic option. Ask at your paint shop or get a professional opinion if you are in doubt.