Decorating a nursery is one of the things we do to welcome a new baby, especially for a first baby. We paint the walls, we put up new curtains, we buy a cot and a change table and a nursing chair so that the environment is comfortable, welcoming and safe for baby.
Making the space safe for baby is not just about babyproofing with corner guards and stair rails, however. It’s also about choosing the safest materials for baby’s environment, and one of the first things we do in that environment is paint it.
Using standard paints means that the paint that you choose can be full of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) and toxins that will affect the air that you and your new baby will be breathing.
Paint can contain toxins like:
- epoxy resins
- ethyl acetate
- methylene chloride
These VOCs carry risks of respiratory, cognitive, and developmental health problems, and can off-gas for years afterwards. According to the World Health Organisation, professional house painters have a 20% greater risk of a range of cancers, and a 40% greater risk of lung cancer.
So what is paint actually made from?
Paint has been around for millenia. The Egyptians and Ancient Greeks used simple mixtures of binders like eggs, flours, waxes, oils and animal glues and mixed these with ochres, clays, charcoals, minerals and even insects and plants to create paints.
Modern paint ingredients are considered to be commercially sensitive, so manufacturers don’t have to disclose what’s in the tin. What you’ll generally see are poison labels, and warnings to use in a well ventilated area. Clearly there are some hazardous chemicals in there.
What we do know is that modern paint is made up of pigments for colour, a binding agent that hardens when the paint dries, and solvents to dissolve the binding agent so that it’s liquid enough to paint onto the wall. There can also be additives like plasticizers, biocides to inhibit mould growth, and other ingredients to improve opacity or water resistance.
One of the ingredients that used to be used in paint is lead. Lead used to be put into paint to reduce drying time, to increase the moisture resistance and to make it more durable. Different lead compounds were used in paint to get different colours like lead carbonate for white paints and lead tetroxide for bright red paint.
Lead paint was phased out in Australia in 1970, but even now, a small amount of lead is allowed into paints at a limit of 0.1%. If you’re renovating a house that dates before 1970, and you suspect that there’s lead paint on the walls, don’t touch it yourself, especially if you’re pregnant.
If you suspect that the paint contains lead, you can send it off for testing.
Babies and children, and pregnant women are most likely to be affected by lead, so if you’re pregnant, you need to stay well away. Don’t be tempted to do it yourself, you’ll need to get professionals involved. They’ll either treat it and remove it, or cover it up safely and effectively.
There’s an Australian government fact sheet here, which will help if you suspect that your house has been painted with lead paint.
What’s the alternative to standard paints?
Modern manufacturers are reverting to both old techniques to make natural paints, and new technology to make low VOC or zero VOC paints.
Low and zero VOC paints are acrylic paints that are made without the toxins and off gassing effects. They’re hardwearing and durable, and they’re not that much more expensive than standard paints.
Natural paints are made from ingredients like clays, plant and mineral ingredients. They’re ideal for people looking for the most natural products available, and perfect for people who are highly chemically sensitive. Natural paints are definitely more expensive than standard or low or no VOC paint, and it’s not as washable. But it’s the most environmentally friendly option available, and is great for a healthy and natural home.
There are a number of brands available in Australia, both imported and locally manufactured, where you’ll be able to find natural, low VOC or zero VOC paints for your nursery.
Where can you find natural, low VOC or zero VOC paints in Australia?
Bauwerk Colour paints are made in Western Australia with clay, minerals and natural pigments. They’re a natural paint, so no VOC’s and no fumes, and you can dispose of them safely without polluting. Bauwerk Colour are GECA certified, and they even use 100% green power in their production. Their range of colours, I have to say, is truly gorgeous!
Ecolour paints are Australian made, non-toxic and GECA certified. They have zero VOC paints and say that they can match just about any paint colour. The paints clean up in warm soapy water, too. The factory is in Byron Bay, but they have a trade store in Abbotsford in Victoria as well.
Livos is a German paint manufacturer, who make plant, earth and mineral based natural paints. They’re been making eco friendly paint since 1974. Paints are biodegradable, there’s a full ingredients list, and they’re low or no allergen.
RockCote are another Australian brand who are GECA certified. Their paints are zero VOC and non-toxic, in all standard finishes like matt, satin and gloss. They also have natural paints that are completely free of synthetics.
Volvox paints are made from non-toxic and natural raw materials, and are acrylic free, VOC free and have no smell. They’re made in Germany, and have a beautiful colour range, too.
BIO Products are another Australian company that has both imported and manufactured natural non toxic paint products since 1985. Their paints have full ingredients disclosure, and they’re all low allergen, non toxic, and low VOC.
Conscious Paints do pre-packed non-toxic paint kits especially designed for nurseries. They’re GECA certified, and I think this is a brilliant choice for parents-to-be, as it’s so simple. And it’s delivered free!
There are also a number of retailers that stock a range of eco friendly paints.
Colours by Nature stocks eco friendly paint brands Livos and Volvox brands, as well as BIO Products. They ship Australia wide.
Painted Earth carries both low VOC paints and wood finishes as well as natural paints and wood oils. Find them here:
Designer Paint Company has solvent free, zero VOC paints from Oikos. It’s not a great website, but if you click on the contact us page you’ll be able to find stockists around Australia. Find them here:
If you’re not keen on paint, you could also go with an eco friendly wallpaper, like the lovely stuff at EcoChic. It’s nowhere near as easy to find, and it can be expensive, but for a natural nursery with a unique touch it could be just the ticket.
How did you paint your nursery? Share your ideas below!
Get the latest posts straight to your inbox every week!