The best brands of natural house paint are made with nontoxic ingredients, are plant-based and contain zero VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Many ‘green paints’ say they have low VOCs. This is not green paint, as green brands have zero. This is called greenwashing. Most paint is made with crude oil or plastic (acrylic). Natural paints are made with plant extracts, earth minerals, chalk and linseed, and let walls breathe, so mould does not get trapped in the surface (especially important for people with medical conditions like asthma). WHO says that painters have a 40% higher chance of lung cancer, and most major house paint brands are tested on animals (including Dulux, which uses a lovely dog to advertise its products).
Since time began, people have used paint to decorate their homes. You’ve likely seen the beautiful blue doors in Morocco, which are used to help houses stand out in a sea of white buildings. Some say the blue is said to resemble the sky and heaven, others that it was simply attractive to tourists, so they painted more blue doors!
Paint is not just decorative. If you build a straw bale house and plaster it with lime, then often the colour is pretty dull. Adding a breathable paint helps to seal the walls, as well as make it nicer to live in. Wooden areas often have varnish rather than paint, which soaks into wood, to protect it.
Tips for Beginner Decorators
If you are new to decorating, start out with a few simple tips. Decorating is quite complicated, and if you don’t know what you are doing, or get too ambitious, it can become very frustrating, especially if you are adding wallpaper to the mix. See the furniture you are going to keep, then develop a palette from there. The site Design Seeds is very helpful for this, offering beautiful colour combinations to choose from. You don’t want more than one or two colours, just find a couple of neutrals, and a nice accent colour, then take it from there.
Remember that around 70% of painting walls is the prep work. So more sanding and plastering, and only paint at the end. Also investigate if there is lurking asbestos under Artex ceilings, before you start.
- Use good quality tools. Below are some eco-friendly ones, but go with good ones that will last years. Using cheap brushes usually means ending up with hair filaments in the paint, and then they will transfer to the wall. When brushes are not in use, keep them in buckets with a damp cloth.
- Likewise, use a good ladder that is safe and stable. If you are not confident with any of this, it may be worth finding a trustworthy decorator to do the job for you. TaskRabbit is good (locals with skills who can do the job for a good fee at short notice – just read the reviews, pay, then leave a review.
- Cover everything up. That means using masking tape and proper quality dust sheets (not those flimsy plastic ones, they will get stuck to your feet and paint will go everywhere). Keep pets and children out of the way (especially near squirrel mixers).
- Cut in first (paint the corners, ceiling edges, around windows/doors and above skirting boards.
- When you paint, start from the top of the wall, dip your brush in a quarter to the pot (then tap the brush), to avoid drips on your hands. Finish one wall in one day, as if you half-finish it, you will have marks the next day, and will have to repaint. Always ventilate rooms, even if using eco-friendly paint and leave it for a few days.
- Use a 7 inch (17cm) medium roller for walls, and a slimmer one for around radiators. Soak roller first in mild biodegradable detergent and water, to remove fibres that could end up on walls.
- Experts say the best way to paint walls is the W/M technique. You paint the letter M, then paint the letter W (using a roller) to get the best coverage. If you do get paint on the windows, leave it to dry and remove later with a window scraper.
- Never empty paint down waterways. Take it to the tip to dispose of safely. Donate unwanted paint to Community Repaint, and community groups will use it to do up local eyesores.
Non-Toxic Removal of Artex
You can buy nontoxic Home Strip and Trade Strip from Eco Solutions (it also sells Grime Go!, a unique surface preparation cleaner for walls). All items are water-based and some can remove Artex ceilings and graffiti from walls (call in professionals for expert removal, if you suspect asbestos in walls or ceilings).
You may have to contact the council to check if you have asbestos as it’s a serious health hazard (applied to walls before around 2000). If safe to remove, use X-Tex Natural Artex Remover. This is safe and easy to use, and uses water-based non-flammable technology. Just paint over (keep area wet at all times, use foil if leaving overnight), then it falls off onto old newspaper below. Dispose of at the local council.
If the Artex is painted, you’ll need to remove the vinyl silk. Apply a light coat, then score with a blade, then add another coat to work into score marks (remove with a long-handled blade scraper, takes just 30 minutes). The same company makes Trade Strip (for professional decorators) and Grime Go (removes grease, oil, dirt, paint splashes and adhesive residues).
Zero Waste Painting Tools
Some paint brushes are made with sable and other animal fur. Eco Ezee offers eco-friendly painting tools with bamboo handles and recycled stainless steel ferrules (the bristles are a mix of recycled material and synthetic bristles, to avoid animal hair).
This company also sells paint kettles and paint trays made from recycled materials (but you can wash them after use). And biodegradable dust sheets. You can find them online, or at some of the paint brand stores below, if buying everything together.
The Best Brands of Green Paint
Choose matte to conceal dodgy walls, eggshell for a slight sheen, silk for a washable sheen (kitchens and bathrooms) and gloss (nontoxic) for wood and metal like doors and radiators.
- Clayworks (Cornwall) makes pre-coloured clay plasters developed by a couple of experts, who have written books on natural plasters and cob buildings. Packaged in brown paper bags, these are ideal for cob or straw buildings, and conventional walls. It’s best to have one their trained experts to apply. Leftover powder can be stored or composted, although you should use a dust mask when mixing.
- Edward Bulmer Paint is one of the best, founded by an esteemed interior designer and environmental campaigner. These paints have no plastic film, and he offers 90 beautiful colours, along with natural oil thinners and decorating materials.
- Natural & Organic Paint Company offers many natural paints. The founder recommends Graphenstone for Interior Walls as the best everyday paint, along with exterior lime paint and varnish with a primer. Another good brand is Earthborn Paints, but casein paint/filler (and furniture wax) are not vegan.
- Unearthed Paints (US) is made from a combination of beans and peas, to make it vegan-friendly. It’s a powder sold in a brown paper bag, so you can store extra in the garage,.
Zero Waste Nursery Paint
NHS say that it’s best to avoid decorating if pregnant, especially during the first trimester, when a baby’s organs are developing. If you do paint after that, only use eco paints, don’t eat or drink in the room and wash hands afterwards, in case you accidentally ingest any paint. VOCs can cause harm to you and your baby (it’s what gives people headaches). So ideally don’t paint and have your partner do it using one of these brands (same applies to pets). Air room for a day or two, before use (to allow sanded particles to settle too).
- Earthborn Paints offers a nice line of mostly vegan paints.
- Edward Bulmer Nursery Collection comes in 12 soothing colours. Tough and durable.
- Natural & Organic Paint Company sells a baby-safe paint (the founder is not a fan of most baby-safe paints, saying most are greenwash).
Little Knight Paint offers a nice range of paints that are made in Northamptonshire, by a man who has recently bought 14 acres of beautiful countryside, so no company can build on it. Sold in easy-to-recycle tins (the plastic handle is designed to be easy to remove), the paint contains a certified antibacterial addictive, and their toy and cot paints are certified safe, so licking or nibbling won’t harm.
Zero Waste Wood & Metal Varnish
- Little Knight Exterior Metal Paint is good for furniture, fences, gates, railings, garage doors and guttering. It’s touch dry in 20 minutes. To use, remove loose materials and rust, then lightly sand before applying straight to the metal. Non-flammable and heat-resistant up to 80ºC.
- LifeTime Wood Treatment is the nontoxic alternative to creosote. This invention from Canada (sold here) claims to be harmless to all creatures (and the planet). Ideal for furniture, outdoor furniture and fencing, this is organic and biodegradable. It’s sold as a powder that you mix with water, so leftovers can be safely kept in the garage, for future use.
- Stain Oil Wood Paint Treatment is one brand of linseed oil paint. This is used for interior and exterior wood and metal, and very popular in Scandinavia, where it’s very cold and windy. This resin-free paint literally soaks into wood and can be topped up each year, without blistering or cracking. It is very flammable so soak linseed rags in water and keep away from naked flame. Linseed paint can spontaneously combust, so always dispose of safely. This brand offers several colours, which can be mixed and matched to make 100 combinations.
Nontoxic Wallpaper & Wallpaper Paste
Nontoxic wallpaper & wallpaper paste are ideal, if you use this over house paint. Conventional wallpaper is covered with all kinds of toxic glues, and cannot be recycled, after use. Ensure the papers are from recycled or sustainable papers, and printed with water-based inks.
Nontoxic wallpaper & wallpaper paste are ideal, if you use this over house paint. Conventional wallpaper is covered with toxic glues, and cannot be recycled. Ensure papers are from recycled or sustainable papers, printed with water-based inks. Remove old wallpaper with SimpleStrip (a blend of biodegradable detergent and enzymes, that can be used up to 50 times).
- To apply wallpaper, less toxic brand are Earthborn Wallpaper Paste (also works with fabric wall coverings), Veruso Lino (made with wood fibre) and Farrow & Ball (mixed with water, each tub can hang 5 rolls of wallpaper).
- Veruso Lino is the world’s first compostable wallpaper (in neutral colours, it features partly visible plant fibres for a delicate structure). Free from artificial dyes, when you change the walls, just remove it and pop it in the compost bin, along with their wood-fibre powdered organic wallpaper paste.
- Little Greene makes luxury wallpapers in several designs and colours, made with sustainable papers and printed with nontoxic inks, and use nontoxic wallpaper paste.