Consider paint, paintbrushes and cleaning products which are both kinder to your health and nature.

Remember the days when we painted a room and almost passed out from the fumes. And only days later, after all windows and doors had been left open to air the house, did it feel habitable. Then we had no idea that the stinky chemicals in paint were actually bad for us. Today, there are a plethora of paint products that are kinder to your health and to the environment.

Understanding VOCs

Today, going to the paint department involves far more than merely picking a colour. You get to choose whether you want no-VOC, low-VOC or the pungent old fashioned paint which had any number of VOCs.

Sadly, VOC doesn’t stand for very old cognac. In fact, it refers to far less palatable and much more harmful substances called volatile organic compounds. These can be found in paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, glues and adhesives as well as permanent markers. In the case of paint, they’re released as it dries and occur as co-solvents (liquid additional to water). They aid the paint pigment binders, enhance brushing properties and prevent the paint from drying too soon to allow for application

Health risks

VOCs have been linked to eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; fatigue, damage to liver, kidney and central nervous system. Some can cause cancer in animals and humans. VOCs are significantly higher indoors than out. During and after using paint stripper, they can be as much as 1 000 times greater than outdoor background levels. So it’s especially important to paint in a well-ventilated area, clean brushes outdoors and to observe strict safety measures when storing paint and solvents.

Basic safety is key

  • Use household products strictly according to manufacturer’s directions and wear gloves, protective clothing and face masks as necessary
  • Ensure that the area you are painting is well ventilated (open all windows and doors)
  • Buy quantities that you will use soon and keep the containers properly sealed
  • Keep out of reach of children and pets
  • Familiarise yourself with the instructions regarding medical advice and keep the number of your local poison centre at hand

Eco-friendly paints

Most reputable paint companies offer low-VOC or zero-VOC products, especially in their waterbased paints, which are even more friendly to use than oil-based paints because you don’t need smelly solvents for the clean-up operation. Evolve is exclusive to Builders and was formulated with strict instructions to contain zero VOCs. The range of interior PVAs is also 100 per cent lead free, has no solvents and is 70 per cent organic. If the gorgeous gentle colours in the Evolve range don’t take your fancy, you’ll find low-VOC interior PVAs from Modo (also exclusive to Builders), Plascon, Dulux and others.

Eco-friendly brushes and rollers

UK manufacturer Harris has the superb Back to Nature range of biodegradable and recyclable brushes and rollers. The brushes and roller handles are 65 per cent corn starch. They’re lightweight and smooth to the touch. The brush ferrules are biodegradable and everything is packaged in recyclable material.

Towards caring cleaners

Solvents are one of the big VOC villains and, unless you’re prepared to boil your brushes in vinegar and bicarb, you won’t get a true solvent that’s totally VOC free. But they have come a long way from the household stalwart, turpentine. The first step towards protecting the environment is to have re-usable solvents. Despite what we may think and do, turps must be thrown away after use. So you use more. The trend is torwards re-usable solvents. Dulux Fixit Brush Cleaner is one such product. There are still a host of warnings including “high-VOC” and “dangerous for the environment” stated on the tin. But you will use less solvent if you can re-use it. Powafix Eco Powa Brush Cleaner is also re-usable and comes with the added advantage of being low VOC. Very important in terms of home safety, the container also has a lockable lid, making it near impossible for children to open.

Top Tip: The trick with re-usable solvents is to use an old glass jar. Once you’ve cleaned the brushes, allow the solvent to stand until the paint particles settle to the bottom. Decant the clean solution into another glass jar which you can then seal and store. The remaining paint waste should be disposed of (not poured down your drain!).

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