By Joy Persaud

Watching the paint dry

It pays to pick a paint that’s fit for purpose and kinder to your home environment.

A lick of paint is the easiest, and often cheapest, way to give your home a whole new look, but as anyone who has set foot inside a DIY store knows, the array of options is staggering. From hundreds of hues to different degrees of coverage, there’s paint available for every purpose. But not all paints are created equal.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) warns that some paints and coatings may cause skin, eye and mucous membrane irritation, headaches, dizziness and sickness or lung problems. The HSE says certain paints could also have an impact on the nervous system, blood, liver and kidneys – or even cause cancer. So, it’s wise to do some research first.

Judy Smith, colour consultant at Crown, explains: “Oil-based paints are classed as hazardous household waste (HHV) and should not be [used] after being stored for a long period. This is because they contain high levels of solvents that become toxic over time. Water-based paint is not a hazardous waste and can be used after storage – however, make sure you use it up within two years.”

Smith warns that some paints contain high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – solvents that can cause dizziness and headaches. Crown’s Breatheasy paint is 99% solvent-free, making it particularly suitable for nurseries and bedrooms. The Breatheasy formulation is also asthma and allergy friendly, a certification that helps people improve their indoor environment and create healthier homes.

Getting it covered

Jessa Burnley, spokesperson for eco-friendly brand Earthborn Claypaint, says the first thing most people notice when using the product is it has little or no smell and covers exceptionally well.

“Totally free of oils and acrylics, this water-based, breathable emulsion is suitable for walls and ceilings,’ explains Burnley. “It’s especially suitable for lime plaster, older properties and buildings that may have suffered from damp problems, as well as painting over existing paintwork.

“The high clay content gives Earthborn a beautiful, creamy consistency and results in a distinctive totally flat matt finish. Typically, one litre of paint covers 10 square metres and requires one coat less than conventional paint.”

Burnley notes that allergy and asthma sufferers report benefits when using Earthborn because the breathability of the paints – in particular the moisture-absorbing qualities of Claypaint – helps to regulate the humidity in a room, making for a healthier, more comfortable living environment.

“The clay in Earthborn Claypaint emits negative ions – and higher ambient levels of these are widely accepted as being beneficial to health and well-being, especially for allergy and asthma sufferers,” adds Burnley. “The clay also helps destroy airborne odours and contaminants. [It also helps] less static electricity [to] build up, so reducing dust and allergens.”

“With the rise in collective consciousness about how the products we passively consume can affect our health, more homeowners and renters are expecting their homes to be a safe, non-toxic space”

Nicole Grey, lead interior designer, Pavilion Broadway

Ethically sound decor

Nicole Grey, lead interior designer for furniture store Pavilion Broadway, says customers are keen to make their homes more environmentally friendly.

She says: “With the rise in collective consciousness about how the products we passively consume can affect our health, more homeowners and renters are expecting their homes to be a safe, non-toxic space.

“Fortunately, there is an improving range of affordable decorative products [that] tick all of these boxes and allow us to live in cleaner, healthier spaces.

“For landlords, there is an ethical aspect to this, too – if they are mindful of using non-toxic products in their own home, most likely they would want to use these in the homes of their renters, too, if possible.”

When selecting paint for interior design projects, Grey leans towards Farrow & Ball, partly for health and environmental reasons. She says: “They are not only classed as minimal or low VOC, but they far exceed the standard for those categories. Another brand I am a fan of, because of its sustainability focus and environmentally conscious products, is Edward Bulmer paints.

“Its paints are made from naturally occurring raw materials derived from plants, such as linseed oil, or from raw material minerals such as chalk and earth. They take a very clear stance on not using dangerous solvents, pesticides, herbicides or toxins, which I admire.”

Grey adds that Farrow & Ball wallpapers are printed with their own paints, so the low VOC ethos applies to these, too, which means these coverings are worth considering when decorating nurseries and playrooms.

Safer paint

Another virtually VOC-free option that allow walls to breathe and resist mould is casein paint – this comes as a powder that is mixed with water and can be blended with chalk, lime, talcum, cellulose and other substances, plus colour pigment, depending on the finish required.

Martin Walker, home improvement expert at Fantastic Services, says limestone paint is especially good for landlords and tenants concerned about keeping their air clean and free of toxins.

Walker says: “Made from hydrated limestone and all-natural pigments, [limestone] paint can also be used in your bathroom and kitchen. It’s available in a wide range of colours and gives a cloudy appearance when used. Limestone paint lets the walls breathe, is mould-resistant and doesn’t allow bacteria to develop.”

Preparation is key

Finally, before you begin to sand or strip off old paint to prepare for redecorating, bear in mind that houses built before the 1980s may be decorated with paint that contains lead, which, according to the HSE, can cause serious health problems, such as kidney, nerve and brain damage. Wear appropriate protective clothing and a sturdy mask designed specifically for decorators and take steps to minimise the risks to your health.

And, when stripping off old paint, Walker recommends using an eco-friendly paint stripper that helps minimise any health risks.

“A qualitative eco paint stripper contains no acids, caustic soda, paraffin or any preservatives,” says Walker. “It is odour-free and shouldn’t cause eye-watering or any skin irritations. It successfully degrades all types of paint and can be used on various surfaces such as wood, stone, plasters, and so on.”