Brush masterclass: How to choose the right paint

Paint like a pro with these tips on picking the one most suited to your project.
Home Beautiful

It’s no secret that paint is the decorator’s best friend. Just a couple of coats in the right colour and finish will bring together all the elements of your home with a new level of polish. If the impeccably painted walls you’ve admired in other homes could talk they’d tell you that similar results are within reach; it just takes a little know-how. The paint you pick largely depends on what and where you’re painting:

Water-based acrylic

Pros: Fast drying and simple to use, water-based paints are currently enjoying the benefits of new technologies, with low-VOC formulas combining with easy-to-wash surfaces. There are now even water-based gloss and semi-gloss enamels, which are almost as reflective and resilient as their petrochemical counterparts.

Cons: Not all water-based paints are low VOC, so read the fine print; you want no more than 5g of VOCs per litre after the paint has been tinted, including any undercoats.

Cleaning and disposal: Wash brushes in a bucket of warm, soapy water. Paint solids will fall to the bottom and can be thrown out with your normal rubbish, while the water can be reused on the garden (well away from drains) and the tin can be recycled.

Oil-based enamel

Pros: Oil-based paints are hardwearing and gloss over a multitude of imperfections. They work wonders in heritage homes, doing architectural details justice.

Cons: Being solvent based, they are high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs; see below), the airborne chemicals that cause painters headaches and have been linked to asthma and allergies.

Cleaning and disposal: Chemicals are required to thin paint and clean brushes. If you go down this route, open windows, take lots of fresh air breaks and sleep somewhere else for the night. Ask council how to dispose of leftover paint and thinner responsibly.

Natural paints

Pros: Not to be confused with low or zero-VOC paints, which have a polymer derived from petroleum, natural paints are made from naturally occurring ingredients such as chalk, plant and mineral extracts, milk and clay. They provide a velvety-soft feel with wonderful textures that come in a variety of finishes and sheens. The surface is either porous or water-resistant depending on the type of finish, and it won’t peel or flake but wear naturally over time. Plant and clay-based natural paints have excellent depth and coverage, usually requiring two coats.

Cons: Natural paints on walls are washable but not scrub-able.

Cleaning and disposal: Because natural paints are biodegradable they can be washed into a bucket. Let the paint settle, pouring out cloudy water onto grass 10m away from any drains, then allow leftovers at the bottom to dry out on newspaper and throw out. Leftover paint can be stored in an airtight container without hazard.

Low VOC vs No VOC

Both low-VOC and zero-VOC paints are quick-drying, non-yellowing and have increased UV resistance and flexibility. Low VOC paints are ideal for commercial applications, are low odour and offer excellent scrubbability. Zero VOC paints are good for both residential and commercial applications, can also be scrubbed clean and have either faint or no odour. “When choosing a natural, low-VOC or zero-VOC paint, check for a manufacturer’s full ingredient disclosure either on the tin or on their website, or call them or speak to the reseller,” suggests Marcin Antosz of Green Painters.

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