Painting can be a super-fast makeover and comparatively cheap but it is important to prepare surfaces well, to choose paints suited to your region and not to skimp on the planning stage. 

You will notice many terrific sites on the net explaining how to measure up, estimating quantities, preparing and so on but the first rule is to pick someone local to make sure that you are not using the method recommended for some place where the climate is totally opposite to that where your house is sited.

There are a few facts about paints which would qualify as ‘green’ no matter what their colour.

It took many decades for people to realize the problems of lead paints (China still hasn’t quite figured that one out!).

Interior air can be three times more polluted than exterior air, paints and finishes among the leading causes. and according to the EPA, one of the top five hazards to human health.

They release low-level toxic emissions into the air for around five years after painting due to containing a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which, until recently, were considered essential to the coverage and life of the paint.

People with allergies and chemical sensitivities are considerably disadvantaged.

Low-VOC products perform well in terms of coverage, scrubbability and coverage.  They are water-based and easily cleaned up with soap and warm water.  The residue has little or no hazardous fumes.   Low odour during application; no odour once drying time has been reached. No off-gassing. Painted areas can be occupied sooner, due to no odour after drying.

Zero VOC – Any paint with VOCs in the range of 5 grams/litre or less can be called “Zero VOC”, according to the EPA Reference Test Method 24 in the USA. Some manufacturers may claim “Zero-VOCs”, but these paints may still use colorants, biocides and fungicides with some VOCs.

Adding a color tint usually brings the VOC level up to 10 grams/litre, which is still quite low.

Clean-up and disposal are simple as the cans and paint residue are not hazardous waste and can be dumped in landfill, eventually breaking down effectively.

You can even source Soy-based paints and I was continually oiling my deck with a fabulous natural product made with cloves, cinnamon, orange oil and so on.  It not only looked great, made the house smell terrific, but also kept mosquitoes away.

Natural paints and finishes  can be made from natural raw ingredients such as water, plant oils and resins, plant dyes and essential oils; natural minerals such as clay, chalk and talcum; milk casein, natural latex, bees’ wax, earth and mineral dyes. Water-based natural paints give off almost no smell and oil-based natural paints usually have a pleasant fragrance of citrus or essential oils such as cinnamon. Allergies and sensitivities to these paints is quite rare and as a result,  they are by far the safest for your health and for the environment.

Porters Paints in Melbourne has genuine lime wash and milk paints which are nontoxic paints made with milk protein, lime, clay and earth pigments.

Do some research on this at : and

There are also soy based paints but I haven’t seen these in Australia yet.

Low VOC – Low VOC paints, stains and varnishes use water as a carrier instead of petroleum-based solvents. As such, the levels of harmful emissions are lower than solvent-rich surface coatings. These certified coatings also contain no, or very low levels, of heavy metals and formaldehyde, the latter being a known carcigenen. The amount of VOCs varies among different “low-VOC” products, and is listed on the paint can or MSDS.

In the USA, Paints and stains, to meet EPA standards cannot contain VOCs in excess of 200 grams per litre.

Varnishes must not contain VOCs in excess of 300 grams per litre. As a general rule, low VOC paints marketed by reputable paint manufacturers usually meet the 50 g/L VOC threshold. Paints with the Green Seal Standard (GS-11) mark are certified lower than 50 g/L (for flat sheen) or 150 g/L (for non-flat sheen).

Low VOC paints will still emit an odor until dry. If you are particularly sensitive, make sure the paint you buy contains fewer than 25 grams/litre of VOCs.

Ethylene Glycol – a solvent used in latex paints, is listed as a hazardous substance and a toxic air contaminant under many USA federal and state regulations. A clear, colourless, odorless liquid, ethylene glycol and its vapor can be toxic to humans. Exposure may cause irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and allergic reactions are possible. Overexposure could lead to nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, coma, and respiratory failure. Repeated overexposure can permanently damage the kidneys.

Most paint strippers are caustic – they work by melting the paint. The active ingredient, methylene chloride, is a potential carcinogen.

A new generation of biodegradable paint strippers is now entering the market. They are water-soluble, noncaustic and nontoxic – some can even be washed down the drain. Some are citrus based strippers – ask at your paint or hardware store for these as some are available only by order. These new strippers are more expensive than their traditional counterparts and  take longer to work and you may need a lot more elbow grease, but given the strength and components of the others, it seems worth it.

Bird safe & pet safe paints

Pet birds can be ruin wooden or metal cages chewing, scratching or wearing the paint. They can eat paint which can be harmful to their health, or can be sensitive to fumes from new paint. Dogs and cats will scratch and chew wood and then clean their paws, eating the paint.  If you’re planning on re-painting a bird cage, make sure you use a bird-safe paint.  Teflon is a definite no-no.  Heated Teflon will kill a bird (even in hot sunlight.)

Here are a couple of starting points in the hunt for good non-toxic paint:

Above all, put pressure on your local Bunnings or Home Hardware or Mitre 10 to stock the good paints and get rid of a few more poisons in our lives!

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