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A Guide to Eco Friendly Paint

Eco-friendly paint is certainly a game changer within the UK painting and decorating world.

From an industry that has evolved from lead to oil to water, painting supplies are becoming more and more eco-friendly. Whilst water-based paints have lead the line when it comes to more sustainable paint, there’s companies taking it one step further by offering paints that are made from natural materials and without any VOCs.

But what impact does sustainability have on the actual quality of paints and how are these paints actually eco-friendly? We’ve put together a helpful guide to help you understand and have also included some of our favourite eco paint brands so you know where to get the best stuff. With that being said, let’s jump into it…

What is eco paint?

In the most basic of terms, eco paint is essentially paint that is friendly to the environment due to the fact that it’s either produced from sustainable materials, has little to no volatile organic compounds or simply has exceptional durability which means you don’t need to paint your home as often.

It’s also worth considering the entire supply chain of the manufacturer and whether they produce and sell the paints in the same country and if they use renewable energy to power their manufacturing processes.

What is environmentally friendly paint made of?

The ingredients of eco paint will vary and it’s often a case of what it’s NOT made of. It’s virtually guaranteed that any environmentally friendly paint is going to contain no traces of oils or solvents and will be VOC free. Common ingredients of typical eco paints include:

  • Vinyl Acetate/Ethylene (VAE) emulsion which is a water-based emulsion
  • Kaolin which is a clay that is naturally occurring in the environment
  • Methyl cellulose which is a compound derived from natural cellulose. Methyl cellulose is non-toxic and non-allergen

How good is eco-friendly paint?

The question of how good eco paint actually is is up for debate. To my knowledge and experience, professional decorators are split in terms of how they feel about it. Some love using it whereas other, more traditionalist painters despise it.

My feeling is that there are some very good brands already out there and R&D will only improve the paints moving forward. I would cite the initial, and probably justified, hatred of water-based gloss when it first came out as a good example.

Many painters heavily disliked water-based gloss at first but as it’s advanced over time, it’s hard not to convert even the most ardent oil-loving painter over to water-based.

In the next 5 – 10 years I expect something similar to happen with eco paints where we’ll all be wondering why we hadn’t switched to something more environmentally friendly sooner.

Aside from the professional opinions, consumers seem to be really taking to eco paints with whole social media communities now thriving based on a love of particular upcycling paints such as Frenchic.

Considering Upcycling

When thinking about eco-friendly paint, it’s easy to think linearly about how it’s made and what it’s made of. However, we should also take into consideration the fact that paint in general has a big impact on the world of upcycling.

There won’t be many studies on this area but think about how many pieces of furniture and other household items have been saved by the fact that they can be painted into something that looks brand new.

Paint has a huge impact on renewing and keeping items within a closed loop economy so you could argue that even the worst environmental paints still have a part to play in the overall picture of sustainability.

Best Eco Paint Brands

1. Earthborn


Earthborn have been around for roughly 20 years now and are one of the market leaders when it comes to eco-friendly paint.

Their paints are mostly based on natural clay and contain virtually no VOCs, acrylics or oil and are as close to odour-free as you can get with paint. The fact that their paints are odour free makes them ideal for use if someone within your home suffers with lung conditions such as asthma.

The range of products they offer include emulsions, eggshells and masonry paint. They also have an excellent, breathable wall glaze which can be used as a stabiliser before painting or put over the topcoat as a protective coating. This wall glaze works particularly well as a sealer on lime plaster.

In terms of price, you can expect to pay a premium. As the market leader of eco friendly paint, Earthborn have the ability to dictate pricing so you can expect to pay north of £20/L.

Pros

  • Their odourless paints are ideal for those with respiratory conditions or someone who works around paint often
  • They have a good range of different paints available
  • Their classic range provides a choice of 72 different shades whereas their masonry paint has almost 50 options
  • You can expect to achieve a highly attractive finish with whatever paint you choose

Cons

  • The eco range can look a bit patchy if you don’t use enough coats

Final Verdict

Overall, Earthborn provide high quality paints in multiple different options. If your priority is environmentally friendly paint then they’re worth the money.

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2. Graphenstone


Graphenstone are one of the most interesting paint manufacturers around right now. They were formed by an engineer almost 10 years ago but I can almost guarantee the majority of professionals and DIYers alike have never heard of them.

They’re the first company to introduce graphene (one of the toughest materials in the world by the way) into their lime-based paint formulas. The sustainably sourced graphene allows the paint to breathe, is anti-condensation and more importantly ensures the paint maintains its quality for years.

Their product range varies impressively with options for interiors as well as exteriors. The Ecosphere is perfect for interiors, dries to a matt finish and can withstand daily washing (that’s the graphene coming into play). Their Biosphere range on the other hand is perfectly suited to exterior use and has the added benefit of contributing to energy savings due to its remarkable reflective power and thermal emittance.

Incredibly, Graphenstone’s paint absorbs CO2. In fact, three 15L tins of their paint will absorb roughly 10KG of CO2 per year.

Pros

  • Absorbs CO2
  • Contains zero VOCs
  • They have multiple ranges suited for interior and exterior use
  • Can contribute towards energy (and money) savings

Cons

  • Difficult to source

Final Verdict

Graphenstone are a truly innovative brand and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the top manufacturers incorporating graphene into their formulas soon.

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3. Little Greene Paint Company

Little Greene were one of the first UK paint manufacturers to achieve the European environmental standard BS EN ISO 14001 back in 2004 and have since made an enormous effort to ensure all of their paints and business practices are as sustainable as possible.

All of their water-based paints are credited with the industry’s lowest environmental impact rating and it goes without saying that these water-based paints are virtually VOC and odour free.

It’s also interesting to note that they still produce oil-based paint too but with a twist. The oil used in their paint isn’t derived from solvents. In fact, it’s made using sustainable vegetable oil which ensures they don’t alienate the oil-loving professional painters and DIYers alike who prefer the advantage of a smoother finish and easier application process.

They’re range of paints is unmatched in terms of variety and quality in the eco-paint space and I’ve heard of many painters who have made the switch the water-based paints based on their experience of using Little Greene. Tom’s Eggshell is definitely worth a look if you have any exterior wood or metal that needs painting.

The only issues I’ve ever had with any of their paints is with very dark colours in their Estate emulsion but that typically means you’d need to apply an extra coat.

Pros

  • Huge range of different eco paints available
  • A massive variety of shades and colours
  • They offer sustainable oil-based paints

Cons

  • VERY expensive

Final Verdict

Little Greene are arguably the best eco paint suppliers in the industry. But with that comes a huge literal price to pay.

4. GraceMary

GraceMary are the new kids on the block in terms of manufacturing paint. But they’ve entered the market with a sole focus on producing eco-friendly chalk and clay paint (for now).

Much like the other manufacturers on this list, GraceMary are free of VOCs and odour which makes it incredibly easy to work with, especially for those with pre-existing health conditions.

GraceMary don’t exactly offer a huge range of paints as of 2021 with their main product being furniture paint. As mentioned previously in this article, the art of upcycling is often overlooked when we think about paint and sustainability. But it is important to consider.

In terms of their chalk paint, there’s a large option of colours to choose from, it’s easy to apply, durable (without being so durable that you can’t achieve a distressed finish) and overlook produces a stunning chic result.

Pros

  • Free from VOCs and odour
  • Offers smaller volume tins (250ml for example) so you don’t need to waste any
  • Over 20 colours to choose from
  • Perfect for upcycling old furniture

Cons

  • The only paint available is furniture-specific

Final Verdict

This is the perfect paint for eco-friendly furniture renovation.

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5. Frenchic


Last but not least to make our list is the more mainstream Frenchic brand. Much like GraceMary, Frenchic are manufacturers of chalk paint that’s ideal for furniture upcycling. And they even have a loyal social media community who like to share their inspiring projects with each other.

Where Frenchic differ from GraceMary is in the variety of different paints they offer. As well as chalk paint that’s suited to furniture renovation, Frenchic also have an ‘Al Fresco’ range that’s suited for exterior painting and can even be used on front doors.

Frenchic’s paint is free from VOCs, toxic chemicals and other nasties. It has even been certified for use on children’s toys which should give you an idea as to how safe it is.

Now, I would say that it’s marketed as a wonder product… but it’s not. But it’s not bad. As long as you do standard prep work (and ignore the tin) you will be able to get a nice, durable finish with it.

Pros

  • Gives a nice, durable finish
  • Available in smaller tins
  • Perfect for upcycling old furniture

Cons

  • It’s a bit too over-hyped

Final Verdict

Frenchic is a great paint if you do the right prep work.

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Are the big brands trying to become more sustainable?

So you’ve learned about some of the more niche paint manufacturers but what about the big guns? What are they doing to become more sustainable? Are they going to be manufacturing eco friendly paint?

Dulux have a variety of sustainable practices in place. These include programs such as RePaint which consists of a network of non-profit schemes across the UK who collect leftover paint and redistribute it to community groups and those in social need. This means that paint wastage is significantly decreased.

Dulux also have a Light and Space range which uses Lumitech paint technology. Lumitech is optimised to reflect more natural and artificial light which results in measurable energy savings.

You could also argue that the quality of Dulux’s water-based paints mean they’ll typically last longer than some of the eco friendly brands mentioned above.

Johnstone’s is another large manufacturer who are changing their ways. As well as the water-based paints on offer, they also have a new ‘Ecological’ range. This Ecological range contains the ‘Ecolabel mark’ which is only awarded to products that meet the highest environmental standards. Stringent tests are used to assess the product’s impact on the environment, from raw materials, to application and performance.

Summary

It’s interesting to see so many new eco-friendly paint manufacturers entering the market in the UK and good ones at that. With the progression of technology steadily advancing, we’re pretty sure that the majority of paints in the UK will be eco-friendly within the next 10 years or so.

Will they rival the established manufacturers in terms of quality? Perhaps not. What’s more likely is that the established manufacturers are the ones to adopt a sustainable approach. And that can only be a good thing.

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