How ‘eco’ is my paint?

So, you’re thinking about paint colours. The choice is infinite, with so many weird names (elephant’s breath, dead salmon, etc). But maybe you’re starting in the wrong place.

Instead of starting from the colour, it makes sense to narrow down your options by prioritising sustainability and choosing an eco-manufacturer first. There are still thousands of shades and the quality is excellent. The bonus is that your natural finish will help the planet.

But here’s the bad news. No paint is ‘eco-friendly’. All paint is manmade, so the term is at best misleading. It’s also why the term ‘eco-friendly’ is not universally defined, leaving lots of room for greenwash.

If you start from the premise of minimising impact, there are some pointers to look out for. As you’d expect, eco-paints maximise their use of sustainable, non-toxic ingredients, but how they are made and packaged is just as important. Look out for claims about sustainability on websites and paint tins, citing ways in which production is kinder to the environment.

As for the paints themselves, they should minimise volatile organic compounds (VOCs), indicated by the nasty fumes you detect when you take the lid off. Not only do solvents smell bad, but ingredients like vinyl resin, synthetic dyes, oil-based petrochemicals, acrylics, formaldehyde and ammonia can trigger respiratory issues like asthma; cause nausea; and make you feel literally sick and tired.

Don’t be fooled by ‘VOC-free’ claims though: every paint has some of these chemicals and we’ve yet to find one that is purely natural (but at least we’ve moved on from using arsenic in green paints, which killed a fair few unsuspecting users in the 19th century).

If cleaning paintbrushes involves white spirits, that’s a sure sign of oil-based chemicals (eco-products are usually water based). If you can’t see the ingredients on the tin, the chances are there’s something nasty inside. The word ‘breathable’ is a plus (traditional paints use plastics to trap air). So is ‘durable’. It’s worth investing in a long-lasting paint, for the simple reason that fewer coats and repainting cycles uses less paint and hence lower impact.

Unfortunately, there is no magical solution or true eco-paint. However, have compiled a useful list of recommended UK paint suppliers, based on good practices and ingredients. This includes Farrow & Ball, Little Greene, Earthborn Paints, Nutshell Paints, EICO Paints, Edward Bulmer, Victory Colours, Andrew Martin and Nordfärg.

Do your own research. Ask difficult questions. Then expect to pay between £35-£50 for 2-3 litres – a premium on lesser options. It’s worth it though: you’ll feel a lot happier, better and healthier for having made a genuinely good, more sustainable choice!