Human beings have been using paint for over 17,000 years. Painting is an activity that many of us do on their own without professional help. But most paints found in shops can’t be recommended, as they are made with petroleum products, and contain toxic ingredients that we breathe while the paint is being applied, while it dries, and for some time afterwards. They also prevent moisture from escaping from walls…

How can we reduce our impact as consumers when buying paint? Before choosing the best colors and textures for painting a space, ask yourself if that space really needs to be repainted and if you have to buy paint in order to do so.

How can we go about it:

  • You can cheer up tired spaces in many ways, such as by moving furniture or hanging things on the walls.
  • Ask your friends who have painted recently if they can give you any left over paint that they have.

One of the basic reasons for painting is to decorate a space: what we seek is to feel good in our environment and fit it to our tastes. The color and the texture of walls creates a certain mood in a room. In the case of the exterior of a house, it’s the face we show to the outer world, and forms part of the community aesthetic. Choose colors and textures that create a feeling of well-being

How can we go about it:

  • Depending on what colors we choose different sensations are generated. Don’t choose colors that you will easily tire of.
  • In the case of synthetic paints, wall colors are completely flat and homogenous, and over time it can tire the eyes. If the sun shines directly on the wall, synthetic dyes fade over time.
  • With mineral paints one advantage is that the colors are more pleasing to the eye. There are more nuances, it’s less homogeneous, with a richer tonal variety.
  • Natural paints can contain plant pigments that fade over time.
  • Lighter colors brighten up a space and can keep you from needing to turn on lights during the daytime.
  • In hot climates, if you whitewash the exterior walls, it will keep the house cooler.
  • There are many techniques to texture walls: using a sponge with two tones of the same color or with cotton or linen rags to give it a “stamped” appearance, painting watercolors on light walls, using special paints to give the appearance of marble… Ask the vendor which paints are suitable for each technique.

Another principal reason for painting is to protect walls from corrosion, sunlight, and in the case of exteriors, also from the wind and the rain. Synthetic paints contain large molecules that do not integrate with the wall, but form a film covering them. That is why paint cracks and peels more easily from exterior walls. Synthetic paints can last from 5 to 10 years on a house. Choose paints that offer the best protection and last the longest possible time.

How can we go about it:

  • Mineral pigments penetrate the wall and react chemically with it, (petrifying) to creating an integrated layer of stone. That is why they last longest, especially silicate paints, which can last for over 25 years in exteriors. They are widely used to protect architectural heritage sites.
  • Lime paint does not last as long in high rainfall areas, and is particularly susceptible to acid rain, or rubbing such as interiors, corridors and stairwells. However, it is recommended in hot climates, such as the Mediterranean, due to its high vapor permeability.

There are three main families of paints: mineral paints, natural paints and synthetic paints; here we can see a description of each, what types of surfaces each is suitable for and some basic advice for their application. When looking for a paint that is the best for the environment, most durable, and healthiest, the best choice is a mineral or natural paint. Buying these paints supports the development of a cleaner chemical industry, and lessens our dependence on the petroleum economy.

How can we go about it:

  • Here we can get to know some brands of natural and mineral paints, along with some information of how to find them in the market. In general they will only be available in specialized stores.
  • If they are hard to find and you wind up choosing synthetic paints, look for brands with the Ecolabel seal.
  • Labels can help us to find out more about the qualities of a paint, but they can also be misleading.
  • When hiring professional painters, ask them to use natural or mineral paints. If they cannot find them, you can provide the paint yourself.

Just as with most things, maintenance is the key to ensure that walls can last a long time without needing to be repainted.

How can we go about it:

  • Keep walls clean: take care not to rub them with tables or chairs.
  • Dust sticks more to synthetic paints. Those that can stand up best to washing are mineral paints; the worst are the natural paints.

When done painting, if all the paint is used up, you can recycle the empties (either in the proper recycling bin, or if you can’t find one, ask at the town hall). Throwing leftover paint down the drain pollutes the water downstream. Natural paints should not be disposed of this way (vegetable oils are not water soluble), nor should mineral paints, as they can petrify inside the drains (depending on the type of pipes). Try to recycle them, or if that is not possible, dispose of them properly.

How can we go about it:

  • Give it to comeone who can use it.
  • Save it for the next time you paint. Close the can well, and store it upside down in a place which won’t drop below 5ºC. IF the can or the lid are bent, put the paint in another paint can, so that it will seal properly. Since some paints contain water, they can start to spoil if microbes are in contact with the air; cans should be stored upside down (so the part which is in contact with the air will be on the bottom of the can when we go to use it). In this way, paint can be stored for a year or so without spoiling.
  • The last option is to throw it out. Natural and mineral paints are biodegradable and are not classified as hazardous wastes, so they can get thrown into the trash. Synthetic paints should be taken to the local Punto Verde (hazardous materials collection site) because they are classified as hazardous waste.
  • When cleaning up painting tools, try to keep even the smallest amount of leftover paint from going down the sink. Take wash water used to soak brushes and tools to the Punto Verde.