If you’ve ever redecorated, only to have to throw open every window (or even vacate the building) to escape the pungent chemical smell and avoid the ensuing headache, then you’ve experienced first-hand the pitfalls of conventional paint.
The cause of that distinctive, overpowering aroma? Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs for short. Found in most traditional paints, VOCs are carbon-based chemical compounds, and they’re harmful to health. Not only are VOCs released during painting, but for up to five years after your walls have dried, too. Shockingly, The World Health Organisation says that professional decorators are 40% more likely to contract lung cancer, demonstrating the devastating impact on wellbeing that chemical-laden paints can have.
Conventional paints are bad news for the environment, too, often creating toxic waste and by-products. VOCs increase global warming, and previous research has revealed that manufacturing one litre of non-eco paint can result in up to 30 litres of hazardous waste.
What makes a paint an ‘eco paint’?
Whilst there is still no cut-and-dry definition of what makes an ‘eco paint’, it’s generally agreed that to be considered eco-friendly and non-toxic, paint needs to have negligible to no detrimental impact on the environment or human health. Carbon neutrality, responsible sourcing, reducing hazardous waste, and controlled processing are additional factors an eco-paint producer should take into account.
Confusingly, paints can be low in VOCs but then cloud their eco claims by using non-natural pigments to create colours or adding vinyl or acrylic to bind ingredients together. Because of this, it’s important to look for a full ingredients list and always read the small print before you buy. Opt for paints which confirm in writing that they are either VOC-free or virtually so, child-and-baby-safe (‘Toy Safety Standards’ certified), free from petrochemicals, solvents, acrylic and vinyl, and odourless.
Though there may be varying degrees of eco-friendliness, paints that are water-based or made using a plant base or natural materials like clay are always going to be better for your wellbeing and the planet.
Happily, there are now lots of companies out there making incredible, non-toxic, environmentally-friendly paints in an array of colours and finishes. To help you decide which is right for your needs, read on for my review of five of the most popular brands.
FARROW AND BALL
Farrow & Ball need little introduction. A bastion of interior design, their luxurious, richly pigmented paints, in evocatively-named hues such as ‘Elephant’s Breath’ and ‘Slipper Satin’, are synonymous with style and elegance. They’re popular, too. Earlier this year, Farrow & Ball’s opulent ‘Hague Blue’ was named the UK’s favourite paint colour for every room except the bathroom. Often inspired by historic palettes, we know their paints are beautiful, but are they environmentally friendly and toxin-free? Read on to find out…
Farrow & Ball paint doesn’t come cheap. 2.5 litres of their Estate Emulsion will set you back £47.95, rising to £82.00 for 5L. Modern Emulsion is slightly pricier, at £49.95 for 2.5L or £85.00 for 5L. A tester pot costs £4.95.
Back in 2010, Farrow & Ball moved their entire range to an eco-friendly water-base that, whilst not entirely VOC-free, is classed as ‘Minimal or Low VOC’ – meaning it won’t release nasty fumes. Farrow & Ball say they ensure their paints are as kind to the planet as possible, from their responsibly-sourced pigments to their recyclable tins, helping to reduce the environmental impact of redecorating your home.
Farrow & Ball’s dedication to sustainable practice extends to the way they do business, recycling waste from their Dorset factory, working with FSC® certified printers, who use FSC® certified paper, and using 75% recycled material to make their cardboard packaging.
As mentioned above, all F&B paints are classed as ‘Minimal or Low VOC’. This means that whilst not absolutely odourless or free from VOCs, they’re easy and comfortable to apply and live with, without any headache-inducing fumes. Their 100% water-based Modern and Estate ranges are also certified child and baby safe following Toy Safety Standards, meaning they’re gentle enough to use in your little ones’ rooms, too.
Every one of Farrow & Ball’s exquisite 148 paint colours is available in a range of durable interior and exterior finishes, each meticulously tested to guarantee an outstanding depth of colour and long-lasting finish. For the best results, Farrow & Ball do recommend using a primer & undercoat.
Find out more: www.farrow-ball.com
Image from coatpaints.com
Clearly aimed at a more millennial crowd than some of its competitors, Coat offers an Instagram-worthy array of colours with names to match. ‘Festival Eye’ is a dark reddish-purple, ‘Detox’ is a sage green-grey, whilst ‘Screen Shot’ is a stark white. Water-based and low in VOCs, Coat paint is proudly carbon neutral. The brand offers a novel way to try before you buy too, with clever peel-and-stick colour swatches.
£40 for a 2.5L tin of emulsion, or £25 for a 1L tin of Eggshell, and only £1 for a tester swatch. This makes a tin of Coat paint almost £10 cheaper than Farrow & Ball, and £11.50 cheaper than Little Greene. How are they able to undercut these heritage brands? By finishing paint to individual orders, selling solely through their website, and not paying for advertising (only using Instagram, where they have amassed a loyal following).
All Coat paints are water-based, making them free from the solvents which are bad for our health – and the environment. Alongside their recyclable tins, the brand has worked hard to reduce the amount of packaging they use. Commendably, the whole Coat business is Carbon Offset through its support of UN Gold projects.
Compared to the other brands evaluated here, Coat’s website is a little skimpier on the finer details of their ingredients. They do, however, reassure you that all of their paints are water-based, free from solvents and ‘ultra-low’ in VOCs and odour – making it safe to inhabit your space straight after decorating.
Coat paints come in just three straightforward finishes: ‘Flat Matt’ for walls and ceilings, ‘Soft Sheen’ for kitchens and bathrooms, and ‘Eggshell’ for wood and metal.
Coat are also keen to stress how dreamy their paints are to use, with a ‘light and silky’ texture making it ultra-easy to get a professional, smooth finish. Coat paint is self-priming, too, meaning it should give full coverage in 1-2 coats.
I counted 32 colours on their website, so a smaller range than some brands, but each shade is bang-on-trend from soft pinks to rich teals.
Find out more: https://coatpaints.com
Eco-and-health-conscious Lakeland Paints make 100% VOC-and-solvent-free, odourless, organic paints for interior and exterior walls, masonry, woodwork and floors. Yes, their website isn’t the slickest of the bunch and could do with a bit of modernising, but they offer a huge range of toxin-free paints in 108 colours, with an additional colour-matching service. A big bonus for anyone with allergies, Lakeland Paints have the British Allergy Foundation's official seal of approval.
Costs range from £61.75 for a 5 litre can of Eco Matt Wall Paint, to £83.69 for 5 litres of
‘Super Luxury Carrara Marble Paint’. 1 litre of Lakeland’s ‘Eco Floor Paint’ will cost you £31.84.
Lakeland Paints pride themselves on providing paint which is entirely VOC-free, keeping the air in your home – and the wider climate – clean and pure. Vegan and non-toxic to boot, choosing Lakeland Paints means coming one step closer to a smaller carbon footprint.
Back in 1985, fed up with noxious, fume-laden formulas, Lakeland Paints founders Ian West and John Ashworth developed the world’s first odourless, organic, VOC-free paints and varnishes. With this focus on helping people to create healthier, safer homes still going strong today, Lakeland Paints are all about being toxin-free. Made with people with asthma, allergies, CFS and MCS in mind, Lakeland Paints count parents and pregnant women amongst their faithful fans. If you’re especially sensitive to your environment, or want odourless eco paint with absolutely no nasties (ideal for a baby’s nursery or child’s bedroom), then Lakeland paints are for you.
What they lack in trendiness, Lakeland Paints make up for in their dedication to providing natural, non-toxic options for all. Their wide range of wall paint, wood paint, clay paint, floor paint, masonry paint, and specialised paint (the list goes on), comes in a variety of colours. Popular wall paint finishes include ‘Matt’, ‘Soft Sheen Breathable’, ‘Luxury Cararra Matt Microporous’, ‘Eggshell Microporous’, ‘Feng Shui Multi-Purpose Paint’ and ‘Limewash Breathable’. Lakeland Paints also offer innovative options for a healthier home such as their ‘Anti-Mould Paint’ and ‘Anti-EMR Paint’, which tackle specific environmental issues of damp and electromagnetic radiation.
Find out more: www.lakelandpaints.co.uk
A company with a long history of fine paint making, Little Greene equals quality. They’ve even forged partnerships with National Trust and English Heritage. So far so Farrow & Ball, but there is a difference between these two stalwarts of designer décor. Whilst the entire F&B range is water-based, Little Greene offer oil-based paints, too. Their covetable colour palette balances heritage with modernity, from moody, Georgian-inspired hues to vivid, energetic yellows and pinks.
At £47 for a 2.5L tin of matt emulsion, £51.50 for ‘Intelligent’ matt emulsion or £66.00 for the same size in eggshell, Little Greene are up there with Farrow & Ball as the most expensive paint maker. Add a tester pot to your shopping trolley for £4.75.
All of Little Greene’s water-based paints have a VOC content of ‘virtually zero’. This means you don't need to worry about solvents leaking out into the environment or your home. Their oil-based formulas, which are loved for their longevity and outstanding finish, have been reformulated using sustainable, eco-friendly vegetable oils.
All Little Greene paint is manufactured in the UK, and the brand is dedicated to supporting the local business community. Their paint tins are made using over 50% recycled steel and can be used again. Admirably, they have also achieved a 57% reduction in waste in the last three years.
With Little Greene’s water-based paints being virtually VOC free, you won’t need to worry about triggering any chemical sensitivities or respiratory issues when using them, or the smell; they are virtually odourless. They’re super-safe for children’s rooms too and come ‘Toy Paint Regulations’ certified and proven safe from toxic metals.
The brand’s traditional oil paints, though eco-friendly, don’t come with the child-safety certification, and I’m presuming will have a slight odour in comparison to their water-based counterparts.
‘Absolute Matt Emulsion’, a classic, water-based, eco-friendly finish for walls and ceilings, is the brand’s most popular paint, whilst their ‘Intelligent Matt Emulsion’ is not only environmentally-friendly but completely washable too. There’s a good range of other finish options, including ‘Intelligent Eggshell’, ‘Intelligent Satinwood’ and ‘Intelligent Gloss Paint’.
Where Little Greene paints triumph is in the incredible depth of colour they provide, containing over 40% more pigment than many ordinary paints.
Find out more: www.littlegreene.com
Trend-driven eco paint makers Earthborn offer water-based paints for interior and exterior walls, woodwork and masonry in a tempting array of designer colours (their earthy neutral, ‘Donkey Ride’, proved popular on Instagram). Free from petrochemicals, their paints were the first in the UK brand to carry the prestigious EU Ecolabel, and are also certified child-safe. In tune with the blossoming biophilic interior design obsession, the brand has just launched The Earth Collection: 5 serene shades inspired by the beauty of the natural world to bring a sense of comfort and calm.
A 5L tin of their breathable Claypaint costs £79, whilst the same size emulsion is £79.50. 2.5L tins are also available, costing £45 and £47 respectively. You can pick up a 750ml tin of ‘Eco Chic’, Earthborn’s Claypaint for furniture, for £19.25, or try a tester tin of any shade for £4.50.
The content of environment-harming VOCs in Earthborn paints is ‘negligible’. The company notes that recent legislative recommendations issued by the British Coatings Federation mean that UK paint manufacturers should no longer advertise or label their paints as being ‘100% VOC free’ (although Lakeland Paints seem to be maintaining that claim). So, in the interest of taking an honest marketing approach, Earthborn have decided to describe their paints as ‘virtually VOC free’. Helpfully, all Earthborn paints come with a full list of ingredients, empowering the customer to make a more informed choice.
Earthborn paints are free from acrylics, oils and vinyl. According to Earthborn’s website, ‘many allergy and asthma sufferers experience benefits when using Earthborn products’. The brand attributes this to their careful ingredient selection, as well as the breathability of their paints – especially the moisture-absorbing Claypaint, which helps regulate room humidity naturally, resulting in a healthier, more comfortable living environment. Completely odourless, Claypaint is the finish to go for if it’s an ultra-natural product you’re after.
Choose from the luxurious, ultra-matt and highly breathable Claypaint (ideal for older or damp buildings), the hard-wearing, family-friendly ‘Lifestyle Emulsion’, or ‘Eco Chic’ and ‘Eggshell No.17’ for sprucing up wood and furniture. Paints come in 72 colours, ranging from soft and soothing to vibrant and playful.
Find out more: earthbornpaints.co.uk
Whilst each of the brands above brings benefits – if it’s a truly natural, non-toxic and environmentally-friendly option that you’re after, Lakeland Paints deliver. Their website claims to provide “the only range of totally solvent-free odourless eco-friendly non-toxic interior house paint available anywhere in the world today” which “has been independently tested to reveal 0.000% Solvents & VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)”. But that would be to overlook the huge range of incredible options offered by the other brands, many of which are certified virtually VOC-free, baby-safe and non-toxic, and come in a vast array of colours and finishes. There really is an eco-paint out there for everyone, as my final run-down below hopefully shows:
Best for those on a budget: At £40 for a 2.5L tin of emulsion and only £1 for a tester swatch, Coat paint is almost £10 cheaper than Farrow & Ball, and £11.50 cheaper than Little Greene.
Best for an eco-friendly designer finish (money no object): Farrow & Ball’s elegant Modern and Estate ranges, or Little Greene’s luxurious Matt or Intelligent Emulsion.
Best for those with allergies or sensitivities: Lakeland Paints have the British Allergy Foundation's official seal of approval, whilst asthma sufferers should experience benefits by using Earthborn Claypaint.
Best for the ultra-eco-conscious: All five brands make big eco-friendly claims, but if you’re keen on reducing your carbon footprint, the whole Coat paint business is Carbon Offset through its support of UN Gold projects.
Best for non-toxic nurseries: Both Farrow & Ball and Little Greene’s water-based ranges are certified baby safe following Toy Safety Standards. Lakeland Paints make a special, ‘pregnant & baby safe’ Nursery Paint.
Best for beautifully breathable walls: Look for limewash or clay paint formulas, like Lakeland Paint’s Limewash Breathable or Earthborn’s Claypaint.
Best for non-toxic furniture touch-ups: Smarten-up your favourite chair or cabinet with Earthborn’s oil-and-acrylic-free, water-based Eggshell No.17.
Best for playroom walls: Say bye-bye to crayon scribbles and mucky handprints with Earthborn’s family-friendly, virtually VOC-free, wipe-clean Lifestyle Emulsion, or Lakeland’s washable Nursery Paint.