Currently, around the world there is a drift towards replacing solvent based paints with water based or even solvent free paints. In Perth over half of the paints in the market are still based on petrochemical based solvents. Supporting and using natural paint is less dangerous to the environment. It is also better for the people who surround by it, who work with it and also those who manufacture it.

What are paints made of?

  • Pigments – To add colour
  • Solvents – A solvent is a thinner to keep the paint in liquid form
  • Binder or Resin – To harden the paint
  • Additives – Improve the paints characteristics
  • Volatile Organic Compounds – VOC’s

    Nobody knows why we accepted VOC’s in our paints. Were they necessary? Manufacturers added VOC’s to the paint to reduce drying times. They were also added to avoid the paint from freezing when being transported. With newer technology we can now easily avoid paint from freezing by using insulated trucks.

    Off- Gassing

    Ever noticed how your home smells for a few weeks after it painting it?

    When paint dries, we can smell it for quite a few days. The smell will go away within a week, but the toxins in the paint will still keep on discharging for quite a few years afterwards. It has been estimated that less than 50% of the VOC’s in the latex paints (after being applied to a surface) are released within the first year. Airflow encourages the paint to dry faster, and also speeds up the release of VOC’s. Keeping these factors in mind, latex paint continues to release VOC’s for at least 3-5 years after application.

    Low VOC paints

    Did you know that low VOC paints are still not safe? In fact, when most people walk out of the hardware store with low VOC paints think they have a non-toxic product. Consequently, they don’t bother taking safety precautions.

    Low VOC is a ‘healthier’ alternative. They vary between 25% to 60% reduction in the Volatile Organic Compounds in paint. They are still deemed dangerous. There are no standards in place that define what is low. The labels can mislead you.

    Zero VOC Paints

    Zero VOC paints are available everywhere and come in different shades of colours. Remember that sometimes the pigments that are added as colour to your paint often contains VOC’s too. Ensure that you know what you are getting. Zero VOC paint will cost you more, but it reduces the risks during application and also for the future occupants. It will be a worthwhile investment.

    Low or Zero VOC paints sometimes may still have elements like ammonia, acetone, formaldehyde or even odour masking agents. These all cause indoor air pollution. If you’re trying to avoid polluting indoor air, ensure your dealer knows what the contents of the paint are before walking away with paint that has an ’Eco’ label on it. A lot of products have ‘Eco’ on them, but are still not environmentally friendly. It is important to research every product before you buy them. Especially when it can involve health risks and also adding contaminants into your home. Some companies will manufacture zero VOC paint but will neglect to advertise that there might be other chemicals that are dangerous in the colourant.

    Milk Paint

    Milk paint is fumeless and is completely safe for babies, children and pregnant women. It is also safe for people with chemical sensitivities. It creates a rustic look and can be cheaper than zero VOC paint.

    Milk paint is available in powdered form and to use it we need to mix it with water. Once mixed, strain it and then leave it standing for about ten minutes to thicken before applying it.

    Advantages of Milk Paint

    1. Milk paint is completely non-toxic
    2. We don’t need to prime the wall surfaces, but we still need to apply a bonding agent before painting. Ask your supplier for it
    3. No wastage – As it’s available in powdered form you can mix only what you need.

    Disadvantages of Milk Paint

    1. It’s more labour intensive than normal paint
    2. It’s not easy to find. It may need to be searched and ordered online.
    3. A limited selection of colours available

    Making your own Zero VOC Paint at home

    Are you wanting to decorate your home with a healthy non VOC paint and finish? You can
    instantly tell when that you are in a home that has natural paint on it when you step inside.
    Natural earth pigments and textures bring warmth to your home. Don’t forget the air quality
    is much fresher and cleaner too.

    Milk Paint

    • 5 Parts cottage cheese
    • 1 part hydrated lime
    • Natural Pigment

    1. In a bucket mix lime with water to make a paste.
    2. Add cottage cheese and stir it in. Let it sit for a couple of hours.
    3. Choose a colour pigment powder (lime proof) to add to the paste
    4. Add water if the paint looks too thick, or skim milk powder if its too thin.
    5. If you want fine paint then filter it through a nylon cloth.

    Natural Healthy Paint

    • Flour
    • Borax
    • Natural Earth Pigments (colour)
    • Fine sand (optional – gives a more adobe/natural look)

    1. Mix 2 cups cold water with 1 cup of flour. Once mixed, add 6 cups of boiling water. Mix until paste thickens.
    2. In a bucket mix the flour paste with the colouring pigment.
    3. Add sand (optional) – Sand will give your wall more of the earthy look, coarse to touch. If you are going to use the sand, use a brush to apply the paint instead of the roller.

    Natural pigments usually have different qualities and all of them will absorb moisture at different rates. Take the above proportions as a guide.

    Homemade paint dries much lighter than what it will look like in the bucket. Start by painting a swatch on the wall and let the paint dry to ensure it is the right shade of the colour you want before you paint the whole room. Also don’t add any white to it until you have done the test because it might already be light enough once dried.

    It might be easier to mix your paint with a paint mixer attachment on the drill.


    Lime is another paint substitute that’s all natural. It is a mix of pure slaked lime and water. Just like all the other homemade paints it’s quite laborious, but fully safe and environmentally friendly.

    Lime will react with the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (carbonation) and will return to its original state of limestone once the lime wash has been applied to the walls.

    When you apply the wash, it will look very opaque but the colour will become much richer as it cures. Natural metal oxides are used to add colour to the lime wash. Limewash colour will fade over time and reapplication is necessary every 5 years.

    Stripping off old paint

    Removing old paint from walls can expose you to a lot of toxic particles. It can cause significant health risks. Sanding the old paint will produce a lot of the airborne toxic elements. If you or anyone is going to undertake a project like this, we would recommend that you wear a face mask to prevent breathing in these particles. Open up all the windows and doors to allow ventilation through the area.

    Paint strippers are fast acting and very easy to use. They contain dichloromethane (a known carcinogen). Side effects of inhaling this chemical are nausea, headaches, fatigue and dizziness.

    Read all labels carefully and wear the safety precautions prescribed. Wear the right respiratory mask with cartridges rated for vapours, gloves and eye protection.

    If you are worried about the original lead paint on your walls, don’t stress too much. Paint over it with a lead-free paint and it will seal the lead paint underneath. Don’t try to remove it yourself as it can pose a greater health risk.

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