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Best eco paints: Add colour with environmentally friendly and non-toxic paints

Amy Sedghi
·10-min read
 (Earthborn)
(Earthborn)

If you’re bored of looking at the same four walls, you’re not alone - and if you’re thinking they’d look better with a fresh lick of paint, then you’re definitely not alone.

Spending on DIY and household goods was a key driving force of increased retail sales in September, according to official figures from the Office For National Statistics, while B&Q and Screwfix have both seen sales of paint soar during lockdown.

Founder of London’s first environmentally friendly painting and decorating company, Paint The Town Green, Phil Robinson believes a surge of interest in eco-friendly paints has been driven by the public’s growing awareness of environmental issues, as well as by high-profile endorsement.

“Meghan Markle using vegan paint in her baby's nursery made more people aware about the impact of what they're putting on their walls,” says Robinson. “Also homeowners are more aware of environmental issues and toxic fumes now.”

But what exactly is an eco-paint?

“Confusingly there isn't a specific, industry-wide list of criteria for something to be called eco-paint so the precise definition of it can be tricky,” explains Robinson. As a rule, eco-paint contains sustainable, non-toxic ingredients and/or is manufactured in ways that are kinder to the environment. You also would expect eco-paints to have few volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in them, which as Robinson explains are the bad fumes that come out of paint when it’s used.

“Those fumes last for weeks afterwards and as we're now spending more time at home due to Covid-19 we all need to think more about our indoor climate as well as the outdoor one. Many conventional paints give off higher levels of VOCs and those fumes can trigger respiratory issues such as asthma, nausea and general feelings of lethargy and unwellness.”

Are eco-paints any good?

“Whilst in the past choice of colour and finish were an issue, there’s now a lot more choice and formulations of eco paints have significantly improved over the years”, says Robinson. “Despite a wide range for interiors, the options for exteriors are not as expansive, but even here products are better than they were a decade ago.”

What should you look out for?

With more and more choice and bigger brands jumping on the bandwagon, Robinson advises checking companies' eco-credentials to make sure you're not being 'greenwashed'.

“If you’re looking for a good eco paint, check the label. Some paints contain seemingly great things like natural oils but then sometimes you need chemicals like white spirit, rather than water to wash them off the paintbrush.

Watch out for paints claiming to be VOC-free as paint industry body, the British Coatings Federation, says such claims are: ‘misleading consumers…and contravene the UK government’s guidance on green claims, as there is no such thing as a ‘Zero VOC paint’.”

With the most sustainable option being to reduce the amount of times you repaint, it’s important to keep in mind quality, durability and longevity. As Robinson points out, it’s all about finding a balance between performance and principle.

Eicó

Manufactured in Iceland and Sweden, using 100% geothermal or hydropower energy, the production process of Eicó paints is carbon positive. It also claims to have one of the lowest VOC ratings of any paint sold in the UK and is particularly popular for people suffering from allergies, as it has practically no odour. As well as a vast library of more than 20,000 colours, the company also offers a bespoke colour matching service and a metallic range of 12 shades. Known for retaining their colour well, Eicó are an especially good option for brighter shades - we tested a vivid yellow, which we loved for its pigment, ease of application and superb finish.

Eico
Eico

Helmatt Emulsion, 2.5 litres: £40 | Ray Munn

Farrow & Ball

So popular are some of the shades from this much sought after brand that they have their own following (just check #Elephantsbreath on Instagram). As well as the low or minimal VOC content in its paints, the Dorset based company’s dry waste from its manufacturing plant is either recycled or converted into energy, whilst 97 per cent of its liquid waste is recycled. The entire range also rates A+ for interior air emissions according to the French Indoor Air Quality Decree, which measures the emittance from paint after 28 days of drying and curing.

Offering great coverage, sophisticated pigment and a beautiful finish, we were highly impressed with the Borrowed Light estate emulsion we tested.

Farrow & Ball
Farrow & Ball

Estate emulsion, 2.5 litres: £47.95 | Farrow & Ball

Edward Bulmer

Regarded by many as a pioneer of eco paints and one of the most well-known names in the environmentally-friendly interiors movement, Edward Bulmer’s range has an air of elegance and sophistication to it. Proudly plastic-free, the paint is microporous which means walls and woodwork can breathe. It’s also one of the many reasons why Edward Bulmer Paint is a top choice in heritage and listed buildings.

Made from naturally occurring raw materials of plant origin, like linseed oil, or from mineral raw materials such as chalk, earth and mineral pigments, the brand are very open about their paints’ ingredients, even publishing a handy A-Z of them. The depth of colour and the smooth finish these delivered were a delight.

Edward Bulmer
Edward Bulmer

Emulsion, 2.5 litres: £49.50 | Edward Bulmer

Paint The Town Green

Founder Phil Robinson set up his own paint range a decade ago, after struggling to find eco paints with the finish and colour choices he required. Manufactured using hydro, wind and geothermal power from volcanoes in Iceland, it has a lower carbon footprint than traditional paints and is transported in containers returning to the UK that would otherwise be empty. The stylishly curated range of water-based paints comes in three interior finishes: matt emulsion, wipeable emulsion and eggshell, and features some beautifully named shades such as Night Swimming and Moonlight Shadow.

Paint The Town Green
Paint The Town Green

Matt emulsion, 2.5 litres: £39 | Paint The Town Green

Nordfärg

If you’re looking for a calming palette then look no further. Nordfärg’s range of 30 soothing hues are inspired by Nordic landscapes, with soft greys, mellow greens and cool blues. The newly launched sister brand to Eicó, Nordfärg has been awarded the Nordic Swan - a highly regarded distinction for commitment to environmentally-friendly manufacturing methods.

Designed to be durable as well as aesthetically pleasing, we were pleased with the luxurious finish of the Vagg (an interior matt wall paint) which is washable, as well as the high-end look of the Tra (an interior wood paint).

Nordfarg
Nordfarg

Vägg, 2.5 litres: £47.90 | Nordfarg

Andrew Martin

If you’re itching to travel and adventure again, a more plausible alternative right now might be perusing the collection of Andrew Martin Paints. Having drawn inspiration from exploring the globe, the richly pigmented paints are designed to reflect the vibrancy of their namesakes, such as Persian Lime and Osaka Blossom.

The water-based paints are highly opaque (meaning fewer coats) and fast drying. We were really taken with the fun and flamboyant range of colours and seriously impressed with the punch it packed with just a few brushstrokes.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin

Matt, 2.5 litres: £51 | Andrew Martin

Linda Barker

Interior designer - and Changing Rooms alumnus - Linda Barker has recently collaborated with Easicolour to launch a low VOC chalk paint. All products are mixed to order by a small independent paint manufacturer in the north of England and use natural and renewable ingredients to minimise any impact to the environment.

The water-based formulations, coming in a palette of 90 colours are an ode to the gorgeous landscape surrounding Barker’s Yorkshire home. We were big fans of the colour options (with evocative names such as Malham Tarn and Borrowdale), and the way in which the shades within the range compliment each other easily.

Linda Barker
Linda Barker

Matt, 2.5 litres: £41.50 | Linda Barker Paints

Earthborn

Awarded the first UK licence of the EU Ecolabel for Indoor Paints and Varnishes, Earthborn have a vast array of beautiful earthy shades to choose from. Describing their paints as virtually VOC free, they don’t contain acrylics, oils or vinyls, aren’t tested on animals and the majority of their products are vegan-friendly. They also carry the Safety of Toys Standard, so are suitable for children’s rooms, toys and furniture.

We tried their Claypaint, which they say needs one coat fewer than conventional paint and is their most breathable option. The creamy formula has a beautiful depth, splatters less on application than traditional paints and has a smooth, matte finish.

Earthborn
Earthborn

Claypaint, 2.5 litres: £45 | Earthborn

Little Greene

Produced by an independent British paint manufacturer, Little Greene are focused on the environment and social responsibility, as well as high quality and richly pigmented paints (they claim to have 40 per cent more pigment than ordinary paints). They also work with the National Trust to reformulate original paint colours in their properties, with a contribution from each paint tin purchase going towards supporting the charity’s paint research project.

Little Greene have a vast offering of colours and finishes in their range, including several that are suitable for exteriors. We fell in love with Scree, a dark grey, which offered an understated but sophisticated matt finish.

Little Greene
Little Greene

Absolute Matt Emulsion, 2.5 litres: £47 | Little Greene

Victory Colours

Another Dorset based company, Victory Colours is an independent family business which produces water-based paints with a focus on the full life cycle of their products. Paint is made to order (eliminating the environmental cost of transporting and holding stock in warehouses), whilst all their packaging is either recycled or made from sustainable sources, such as bamboo. They’ve even shunned sample pots in a bid to lessen the amount of waste going to landfill - instead they provide hand painted sample panels which can be fixed onto the wall without ruining your current decor or the need to be painted over.

Containing only trace elements of VOCs, the paints are free from formaldehyde, heavy metals and are animal and cruelty free. They also boast a stunning range of colour options which have real depth and a luxurious finish.

Victory
Victory

Matt emulsion, 2.5 litres: £34.95 | Victory Colours

Cornish Milk Mineral Paint

Housed in a cute, retro style milk carton, Cornish Milk is an adorable eco and vegan friendly choice, especially for any upcycling furniture projects you’ve been eyeing up. With names such as seaglass, kelp and Cornish honey, they’ll have you daydreaming about the gorgeous Cornish coast in no time.

The water-based mineral paint, which has been designed to replicate a traditional milk paint finish, is surprisingly generous - the 500ml carton covers 8-10 square foot, while you can paint two dining room chairs with the smaller 15oml option. It’s also self-levelling and is both water and scuff resistant once cured.

Cornish Milk
Cornish Milk

500ml: £19.95 | La Di Da Interiors

Verdict

Once considered a niche area, we were excited to discover such a variety of eco paint choices with endless colour options, formulations and finishes. For a multitude of reasons, including ease of application, colour that delivers and their impressive eco-credentials Eicó, get our top pick. Earthborn’s claypaint range, and exquisite colour options, are also worth checking out, especially for older homes due to the paint’s breathability.

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