Usually, interior paints are highly chemical substances and we accept it. But sometimes you might want to have a non-toxic paint (for example in the nursery, kids rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms), or - when you're pregnant and painting. You might want to maintain a susbainable lifestyle, or simply have a more natural kind of paint. Egg- and Caseine-tempera paints were used in the oldest painting techniques (ancient Egyptian tombs and Italian dry fresco). Caseine is made of milk, eggtempera is simply egg. Egg-tempera is 100% non-toxic, and caseine-tempera is getting close.
What is non-toxic paint?
Toxicity means: harmful when exposed to in too big amounts. Water can be toxic if you drink more than 7 liters. That said, I have to tell you that most paints have a degree of toxicity. Only egg-tempera can be called 100% non-toxic (if you use non-toxic pigments, that is). Caseine is quark (the raw material for cheese), but you have to add borax, which is slightly toxic. You can't eat it (but for the rest, it's pretty harmless). Caseine paint can be considered less toxic than latex. Here's an estimation of toxicity in paints:
- 100% non toxic: Egg-tempera (walls, panels, canvases)
- 100% non toxic: Encaustic paint (bees wax)
- 100% non toxic:Milk paint (wood, walls). This is an instant product (ready to use when mixed with water).
- 95% non toxic: Caseine paint.
- 80% non toxic: latex paint
- 60% non toxic: Shellac paint. During the painting job, it's high on VOC, but when dry shellac is considered safe for children's toys and furniture.
- 60% non toxic: home-made oil paints
The above estimates only go when you take non-toxic pigments. And then the acrylic and alkyd house paints:
- 40% regular acrylic house paints
- 0% regular oil based house paints
- Check here for Low VOC house paint
Egg and caseine are good for walls and untreated wood. Ready-made sustainable paint for wood can be milk paint, or organic oil based paint. Oil based paint goes over oil based paint, and milk paint goes over latex or untreated wood. Acrylics are nice because they're water-soluble, but they're still highly chemical and still exhume gases, long after they've dried. Bees wax is an interesting option for art painting, but on itself not suitable to apply to interior painting - or maybe as a shiny finish over latex- or milk paint. Scroll down for that. Click here to find a website on non-toxic housepaint. Here you can find organic oil-based paints too.
In terms of regular house paints, acrylic paints were a good step towards getting more healthy paints. Still, acrylics are very chemical substances. Latex is a rubber which is more natural, it breathes too, but it shouldn't be swallowed. Acrylic paints are known to exhume funny gasses long after they've dried.
Pigments for making non-toxic paint
Paint is made of a pigment (dry color-powder) and a medium, a 'glue'. Both should be non-toxic - and some pigments are verytoxic. Cobalts, manganese colors, cadmiums, phtalocyanine and flake- or cremser (lead)white are all poisonous.
These pigments you can use for making non-toxic paint:
- all earth pigments - yellow ochre, burnt umber, raw umber, burnt siena, green earth, caput mortuum
- The Monozao family: red (PR17)and yellow PY175, 156, 154 and 151, 98, 97
- Antraquinone Blue (PB60), Ultramarine
- Iron oxydes (yellow, brown and black)
- Hooker's green (PG8)
- the Quinacridones (gold, PO48 and 49, magenta)
- Naphtols, for example naphtol red (PR14)
- Titane white
This list contains about all the colors you need. For more info on pigments, check Ralph Meyer's book on artists' materials and techniques - it has all the information and is available at Blick Art Materials.
A painting idea for kids: give them some (non-toxic) pigment paste, or even kitchen spices like curry and pepperoni powder, and let them add some milk to them - and voila, you have made paint.
Egg-yolk and caseine are good for wall painting techniques. Bee's wax or encaustic is also an interesting option. It's done on panel and you can already guess it: you need a heated steel palette, and palette knives to work with.
More on bee's wax
Bee's wax can be turned into a polishing agent, by adding potash (kalium carbonate). Potassium is slightliy toxic (it might irritate the skin). It turns the wax to a very fat 'soap'. You can apply it on the tempera with water. It still looks matte then. When, after drying, you rub it with a cloth, it will attain a high-gloss - just like shoe-polish.
More on shellac paint
Shellac is a unique material - it can be used on difficult surfaces like laminate, glass, or ceramic tile. It can only be painted over with latex paint or oil-based paint. Shellac is a very pure and non-toxic substance, but it can only be solved in pure alcohol. That's what makes shallec paint a less non-toxic paint, but this toxicity ends when the paint is dry and the jar closed. In that way, shellac is a good alternative to acrylics.
- Low VOC paint
- Kitchen painting ideas
- Bedroom painting ideas
- Interior painting techniques
- Painting wood trim
- Oil painting techniques
- Making oil paint
- Color theory basics
- Color mixing guide
- Beginner oil painting
- Material oil painting basics
- landscape painting techniques
- Portrait painting techniques
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