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VOC’S AND TOXICITY

What’s the difference between low VOC paint and natural paint?

Low VOC paints are conventional acrylic paints, which have been formulated to minimize VOC s in them. VOC's are chemical compounds that out gas from paint or other products, causing poor indoor air quality and environmental smog. Low VOC paints and finishes have been developed over the last ten years to address the world’s growing air pollution problems. Hence these are modern paints that dont smell.

As with older paints there is a range of quality available in low VOC paints. The Rockcote Ecostyle paint we sell is a high quality paint, equally as durable and easy to use as other high quality paints such as Dulux Wash & Wear. The other good news is it is also a similar price.

Natural paints are paints made from natural ingredients such as clay, mineral or plant material. Because they don’t contain petrochemical compounds they are by nature zero, or very low VOC. These are the healthiest and most environmentally friendly of the two types of paint because they don’t create any ground or air pollution in their manufacture, use, or disposal.

Low VOC paints and natural paints both have their value depending on what your priorities are. Low VOC acrylic paints are usually more washable and cost less than natural paints.  Natural paints are often better tolerated by people who are highly chemically sensitive. Natural paints also have an appealing aesthetic quality. The choice is yours.


What are VOC’s ?

VOC's are chemical compounds that out gas from paints and many other products in our modern society. Typically you can smell them, but occasionally you may not be able to smell them. VOC's can be damaging to people's health, and they also cause environmental smog (air pollution).


Is ZERO VOC paint better than LOW VOC paint?

Not necessarily. The term Zero VOC is subject to misinterpretation and misrepresentation. For example some paint companies advertise their paint as “Zero VOC and therefore completely non-toxic”. This claim rides on a bit of sensationalism and can be misleading.

Firstly. Investigating the claim of one of these company’s shows that their GECA certification states only their paint contains less than 15gms /L of VOCs. So the assertion their paint is zero VOC, is only their assertion and not backed up by an independent examining body.

Secondly. To say “zero VOC means completely non-toxic” is an incorrect use of the term. The term VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) refers to a wide range of organic (hydrocarbon) chemical compounds that vaporize under normal ambient temperature. Some VOC’s are man made and some are naturally occurring. Not all VOC’s are toxic. However it is ONLY THE VOC’s THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE FORMATION OF SMOG (outdoor air pollution) that are measured in paint products. VOC’s are primarily an environmental smog producing issue. The toxicity of a product is a slightly different issue. See our FAQ Does non-toxic mean I can eat it ?

Thirdly. VOC’s are measured slightly differently according to the authority measuring them. For example in Australia Acetone is not classed as a VOC because it doesn’t contribute to environmental smog. In America Formaldehyde is not measured as a VOC for the same reason. Both however are VOC’s that contribute to poor indoor air quality and can be hazardous to people’s health. A product could contain these and still be labeled zero VOC.

There is however a less sensationalist and valid use of the term zero VOC. Several different authorities in Europe & America use the term zero VOC for products containing less than 2gms/L VOC. This is because levels below this are hard to measure accurately and would have negligible effect on the average person or the environment.

So when used this way the term zero VOC can be a helpful distinction (though not the whole story) for people with high chemical sensitivity. Standard low VOC paints can contain up to 15gms/L of VOC under the current Australian Green Building Council Standards, so zero VOC allows products to be recognized as having negligible levels of VOCs.

An example of this is the Rockcote Ecostyle paint. Their low sheen paint contains less than 1gm/L of VOCs. This has been independently tested and certified by GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia), so we can validly call this is a zero VOC paint. Natural paints are also generally zero VOC.


Does non-toxic mean I can eat it?

The toxicity of a paint or wood finish is most commonly measured in terms of degree, and exposure. Highly toxic products are those which even short-term exposure to can create illness or damage the health of an average person. Non-toxic products are generally defined as products which even long-term exposure to is not likely to damage the health of the average person.

However this definition of non-toxic does not work for all individuals. The sensitivity of the individual is also a major factor when looking at toxicity. For example children, pregnant women, and those with existing health issues, are more likely to be harmed by a slightly toxic chemical in their environment than a robust adult.   This is further explained on the National toxics Network website  http://ntn.org.au/2008/05/27/children’s-unique-vulnerability/

This is where natural paints and wood finishes play their part. These are made from natural ingredients, by companies whose primary goal is to make products which are non-toxic to people and the environment. They are therefore less likely to contain ingredients that could be toxic to a very sensitive person.  They can be compared to organic food. Conventionally farmed food is regulated so that the pesticide levels in them are supposedly safe for the average person. However sensitive people wishing to avoid all chemicals in their food will choose organic food.

The other consideration around toxicity is toxicity to our environment. Natural paints and finishes will generally not harm the environment in their manufacture or disposal. Chemical paints & finishes however can potentially pollute our environment during their manufacture and ultimate disposal, even if they are low VOC.

So products that are called non-toxic could be made from chemicals which wont harm an average person, or they could be made from non-toxic natural ingredients and be suitable for highly sensitive individuals. You really need to investigate further by looking at the ingredient list and reading the MSDS sheet of a product if you have a particular sensitivity.

Neither products should be eaten! Paints and finishes are designed to be applied to walls, not eaten as food.


What is a sustainable paint or finish?

We’ve used the term sustainable as a more encompassing term to include both eco friendly and non-toxic. It also brings awareness to the larger picture of why we need to choose eco friendly and non-toxic products.

To become sustainable humanity needs to consider both personal health and the health of our natural environment. To become sustainable we also need to consider both the short and long term consequences of our choices, and be aware of the type of businesses and technologies we are supporting with our dollar.

To be sustainable we need to consider our financial wellbeing along with our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Although we are passionate about natural paints and finishes we recognise it would not be sustainable for everyone's budget or lifestyle to use natural paints and finishes.

Hence we’ve chosen the word sustainable to describe the choices we’ve made in selecting the range of paints & finishes we offer.


 

WALL PAINT

The paint on my walls seems to have poor adhesion. It pulls off if I stick blue tack to it. Can I just paint over it?

No! If you do it will only be as strong as the adhesion of the coat underneath.

There may be a number of reasons why the current paint has poor adhesion. Such as no priming coat, a dirty / oily or waxy film on the wall that was not cleaned off prior to painting, or an oil based paint that was not prepared properly before painting over. You will need to do some testing on a small area to determine the best way to deal with it.

The simplest solution (if it works) is to use Zinsser Peel Stop as a primer. This primer has the capacity to creep into the paint underneath somewhat, and ‘glue’ it onto the wall. However, depending on the paint and the reason for the poor adhesion this may not always be successful. Hence you would be wise to do a test patch first before painting the whole wall in this way.

For the test patch. Sand off any flaking paint. Clean the area with sugar soap. Apply a coat of Peel Stop. Allow to dry. Then apply a coat of topcoat. Allow this to dry for at least two days. Then test adhesion by cutting a crosshatch pattern on it with a sharp blade, applying masking tape and seeing if any of the paint pulls off when you pull the tape off.

If the adhesion is still poor then you would be best to sand and clean off the existing paint entirely before painting the wall again.


How much paint do I need for an average size room?

This depends on the coverage of the paint.

Rockcote Ecostyle covers approx 14 sq.m/L.

An average size bedroom will need about 6L of wall paint (for two coats on primed or previously painted wall) and 4L of ceiling paint. A small bedroom may need only 4L of wall paint and 3L of ceiling paint. A larger room may need 8L of wall paint and 5L of ceiling paint.

Volvox Clay paint or Bio paint covers approx 10 sq.m/L.

An average size bedroom will need about 10L of wall paint (for two coats on primed or previously painted wall) and 4L of ceiling paint. A small bedroom may need only 8L of wall paint and 3 or 4L of ceiling paint. A larger room may need 12L of wall paint and 6L of ceiling paint.


I cant decide which paint to use ?

Ask yourself “What are my priorities ?” Look at the list below and put them in order of your priority.
Washable
Economical
Safe for my family
Colours from a commercial colour chart
Chemical free
Least polluting for our planet
Natural looking

If the first four are your top priorities then the low VOC acrylic paints are probably the best choice for you. If the last three are your top priorities then look at the natural paints.


 

RENDERS

I have an old cement render wall. It has never been painted but was coloured with oxides. It has now faded and I want to paint it. What paints could I use?

Option1. Prime first with AE primer then use Rockcote Ecostyle paint or a textured paint such as Render Paint Flat or Toscani.  The textured paint will be thicker and help fill any minute cracks, plus it will give a nice even new look to the render.

Option 2. Prime with Murobond primer and paint with Murowash (with or without sand added) or with Pentimento Limewash.


 

WOOD & FLOOR OILS

What is the best wood oil for saunas.

For the external parts of the saunas you can use either ARDVOS or KALDET. KALDET is a bit more water-resistant than ARDVOS. Both have good water vapour permeability. Kunos is less vapour permeable and not suitable for Saunas. Internal parts of saunas are generally not coated.


What is the best oil to use on Slate?

Meldos is the best oil for slate treatment. Kunos is also good, however may be too shiny or glossy.


What oil is best to use for a concrete floor and how much will I need?

Concrete can vary enormously in its porosity depending on how it was laid and how it was ground or polished.

If the concrete is rough or very porous then we recommended to prime first with LINUS Priming Oil, then apply two coat of KUNOS Oil Sealer, because it will absorb a lot of oil, particular in the first coat.

If the concrete is very dense and has been highly polished then three coats of KUNOS would be sufficient because it will absorb a lot less oil.

However if in doubt about the quality or density of your concrete it is safest alway is to use the LINUS Priming Oil as the first coat.

Another option to consider when oiling concrete is Kunos white. This will keep concrete a lighter colour. However we only recommend this on highly polished concrete as too much oil would be required for porous concrete. You can see an example of this in our picture Gallery.

The amount of oil needed will vary enormously depending on how dense the concrete is and how highly polished it is. The LINUS required for the first coat may vary from 20L for 100 sq.m for very porous concrete down to 5L for 100 sq.m for dense highly polished concrete. The KUNOS required for the second plus third coats will be significantly less because the porosity will be reduced by the priming oil. However this may still vary anywhere between 10L for 100 sq.m (2 coats) for porous concrete down to 2.5L  for 100 sq.m (2 coats) for dense highly polished concrete.


Water has left a white mark on my oiled timber floor. How can I fix this?

Water staining on an oiled timber floor usually means the floor is in need of a refresher coat. The original oil will slowly dry out and needs to be replenished in time. If the floor is properly saturated with the oil it will repel water. Though no timber floor should have water remaining pooled on it for a period of time. It is good practice to wipe up water spills as soon as they occur.

The white marks can be removed by a mixture of scrubbing with full strength Trena, or Monocoat Soap, and lightly sanding. Rinse and dry well after this and then re-apply more oil to the patch over several weeks. Ideally then refresh the whole floor with another thin coat of the original oil, to increase its water repellancy.


What is the best finish to use on a timber floor in a bathroom ?

Because a bathroom floor will be subject to regular steam and water it would be best to apply a penetrating oil finish that will repel the water but allow the timber to breath and release moisture. A film forming Polyurethane would seal the timber, but is likely to break down in time with constant exposure to heat & moisture ( which causes timber to expand & contract ). Once a tiny crack has opened in the film it will then allow water underneath and lead to the film lifting, peeling & discolouring.

The best oil finish in this situation would be Ardvos Wood oil as the first saturating coat because this is the most deeply penetrating oil. Leave this to dry for 2 days. Then apply 2 coats of Kunos Oil Sealer (a day between each coat) because this has a higher resin content that makes it more resilient to regular water on it.


I have a dark timber bookcase which I would like to finish without it going darker. What product can I use ?

Generally water based finishes darken timber less than oils. So you could use either Murothane of Volvox ProAqua wood finish.
Alternatively Kunos white is an oil finish that will maintain the lighter raw colour of timber when used as the first coat. You can then use Kunos clear for the topcoats.


 

METALFIX

I want to repair an old water tank made out of steel that has some rust and some previously painted areas. What can I use?

Spot prime the rusted area with Metalfix, then apply a coat of Metalfix 1000 over the whole lot. Overcoat this with an exterior paint of your choice.


 

WATERBASED ENAMELS

Can I paint a water-based enamel over an old oil-based enamel?

Yes, but you will need to prime it first with a special primer such as Zinsser Smart Prime that adheres well to oil based enamels. It will also be helpful to sand it lightly to dull any gloss before painting with Smart Prime.  

If you can allow 48hs for the Smart Prime to dry before topcoating (with Ecostyle satin or gloss) this is ideal. If this is not possible the Smart Prime will cure underneath the topcoat but will take 7 days to cure to its full bonding power. So avoid any major abrasion till after this curing time.


 

DECK FINISHES

I have a deck made with Merbau (also known as Kwila). I would like to stain or paint it to a lighter colour ? Is that possible ?  Also, can I can stain or paint the wood before installation?

Yes, it is possible to stain to a lighter colour with Rubio Monocoat Exterior Decking oil. This comes in strong stain colours (which also give good UV protection). Choose the colour you would like and apply this system.

Yes you can apply it before installation. In fact that's a good idea. I would suggest coating the underside to protect that as well.

Note however that Kwila is notorious for bleeding a brown tannin, and so is usually washed a number of times to try to leach out most of this tannin before applying a finish. Otherwise it is likely to bleed through your finish. You can sometimes buy pre-washed Kwila.


 

CLAY PLASTER

My clay plaster has grown mould spots on it ?

This can happen if an organic material such as straw was mixed into the clay and the render experienced damp conditions which slowed its initial drying. Once fully dry the straw doesn’t seem to grow mould but if it stays damp too long when first drying this can occur.
The best remedy in this situation is to clean the wall with a fungicidal wash and then apply another coat of render over it - in dry conditions!


 

WATER BASED WOOD FINISHES

I have a dark timber bookcase which I would like to finish without it going darker. What product can I use ?

Generally water based finishes darken timber less than oils. So you could use either Murothane of Volvox ProAqua wood finish.
Alternatively Kunos white is an oil finish that will maintain the lighter raw colour of timber when used as the first coat. You can then use Kunos clear for the topcoats.