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Prior to the 1970’s paint used in countless homes worldwide contained harmful and in some cases toxic levels of lead. When the lead paint began to deteriorate this created dust and paint chippings that were ingested, predominantly by toddlers and small children – due to their nature of crawling and ingesting items at floor level.  Just to put it in perspective one small chip of lead paint contains tens or hundreds of milligrams of lead. This was a worldwide problem and as we all know elevated levels of lead in the body causes a whole range of deadly effects and even death.

In light of this, through time and technology, paint is now a much less harmful material to work with than it was in the past.

Through an environmental scope, modern house paints break down in a much faster and greener fashion than do paints created previous to the 1970’s. Commercial paints are now starting to integrate natural and biologically derived substances into their formulas. On this note, many consumers have sought an alternative to commercially produced paints, turning to the greenest option on the painting market: homemade paints. At the most basic level, wall paint consists of a pigment and a binder a.k.a. the glue. While the majority of paints also include fillers, solvents, and other drying agents, homemade paints can be made simply with a pigment and binder.

The pigments in commercially produced paints are often artificially created chemical compounds that may be toxic. In homemade variety paints, pigments can be derived anywhere from organic sources like plants, insects, minerals, and powdered oxides. When these pigments are mixed with a binder, which have natural sources like starches, casein, and seed oils, a basic natural and organic house paint is created. Additional substances like fillers and solvents can then be added to create any desired paint. Fillers are responsible for giving the pain body and bulk. In homemade paints, fillers can be derived from chalk, limestone, sand, clay, silica, marble, and a plethora of other materials. Organic thinners in commercial paint can often outgas, causing harmful and noxious VOC gases to build up in an unventilated area. Theses VOC gases can cause headaches, blurred vision, and nausea. In homemade paints, organic thinners that release very low levels of VOCs can be citrus thinners and natural turpentine.

The next time you have a big painting project to tackle, I encourage you to think about your environmental impact when you introduce new paint to your home. Creating your own unique colors and textures with paint is also a great way to add charm and personal touches to your home. Take a look at some of these great paint recipes, courtesy of MotherEarthNews.com, and have fun with your painting ventures!

Basic Flour Paint

1 cup flour
5 1/2 cups cold water
1 cup screened clay filler (clay can be purchased in a wide variety of colors)
1/2 cup additional powder filler, such as mica

  1. Mix flour with 2 cups cold water, whisking to remove lumps.
  2. Bring 11/2 cups water to boil, then add the flour water from Step 1.
  3. Turn heat to low, stirring until thick paste develops. Remove from heat.
  4. Dilute the paste with 2 cups water, a little at a time.
  5. In a separate work bowl, combine clay with powder filler.
  6. Add filler mixture to diluted flour paste until desired consistency is achieved.

Yields 1 1/2 quarts

Basic Oil Glaze

An oil glaze can serve many purposes. Sometimes you will want to put a glaze over flour or milk paints to increase water resistance. Oil glazes also make nice wood stains, with or without added color.

  1. Dissolve 1 teaspoon each pigment and whiting (powdered chalk) in approximately 1/2 cup linseed oil.
  2. Stir in an additional 1/2 cup linseed oil.
  3. Add 2/3 cup natural solvent and 2 tablespoons whiting, whisking to remove lumps.

Yields approximately 2 cups.

-Josie