There’s nothing like a lick of paint to give your home a quick spring makeover – but with so many brands on the market, almost all of them making environmental claims of one kind or another, it’s not easy to sort the limewash from the greenwash.
Mark Beeley, director of Cornwall-based NaturePaint explains what is in a tin of paint: 'Most paints have three things in them: the binder – the sticky stuff that makes it cling to the wall; the filler – the inert material that spreads out on the wall; and the pigment that makes it colourful. Most fillers are inert materials like chalk and china clay that are pretty harmless, so they are less of an issue when making decisions about paint.'
Pigment choices are to do with toxicity, he says: 'A lot of pigments are synthetic and many have never been thoroughly tested as they have been around a very long time.' If you think that years of use means that something is safe, think again - the Canadian government has recently banned Pigment Red 3, which has been used in food, cosmetics and paint for generations, because of new evidence that it may be harmful to human health.
'Ideally we use natural pigments that are dug out of the ground, such as ochre and umber,' says Beeley. 'Others have to be treated, for example clay treated with sulphur goes blue. Occasionally we have to use manufactured pigments – for example, lapis lazuli is a semi-precious stone so we have to use a synthetic alternative or no one would be able to afford it. And natural doesn’t always mean best for the environment – if a raw material is in short supply it’s more sustainable to use a synthetic alternative.'