Non-toxic Paints for the Home

Private Property South Africa
Shaun Wewege

Repainting the family home is no task for the indecisive. Hours spent going over colour charts trying to decipher which of the two dozen shades of the same colour will work best in each room is no fun! Add to the list decision choosing a type of paint that is eco-friendly and many homeowners may opt to never paint again (or worse – go back to using wall paper).

Though it adds to the number of decisions that need to be made, the reasons for choosing environmentally friendly are compelling: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is three times more polluted than outdoor air. A major contributing factor is paint. Paints (and other products used in finishing) slowly release low-level toxins into the air for many years after their application. The source of these toxins is volatile organic compounds (VOC) that were, until recently, vital for the performance of the paint or finishing.

Eco-friendly paints, by simple definition, are non-toxic and manufactured from natural products. Some of these products have been used for centuries and include natural plant dyes, oils, waxes, clay, lime, chalk and even soured milk. Though few contain zero toxins, it is the degree of toxicity anyone looking to apply a coat of paint should be interested in.

Many of these paints are water, rather than petroleum, based and have little or no odour. They have low VOC levels and contain little or no little or no formaldehyde, ammonia, or acetone. First generation eco-friendly paints had a tendency to fade and if you were to wash your walls you would more than likely have had to apply another coat of paint. The newer formulas are much improved and far more durable.

Generally, eco-friendly paints and finishes are available in fewer colours and have been developed more for indoor use. You could still use regular paints for outdoors as the availability of air will dilute the VOCs and negate their toxic effects. It would be more “green” to use non-toxic paints and you could always look for a paint with low VOC levels.

The benefits of using eco-friendly paint include:

• There are few reported allergic reactions to them.

• Low odour, meaning you could occupy a painted area almost immediately after applying the final coat.

• They perform well – they are aesthetically pleasing, durable, washable and cover flaws from previous coats.

• As they are manufactured from non-hazardous material they reduce the amount of harmful ozone, landfill and groundwater contaminants.

You may have to remove an old coat of paint before applying a new one. Many products are petroleum based and contains high VOC levels. They also contain methylene chloride or, dichloromethane, which is metabolised by the body to Carbon Monoxide. Even if you do find an eco-friendly paint-stripper, it will more than likely contain some chemicals you would not want to ingest.

Visit for further information on non-toxic paints.

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