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4 key principles for choosing paint products

Published 21.04.2022


The consumers have both the power and responsibility when spending their money on specific products. Namely, with their product choices the consumers support products with certain quality, durability as well as impact on human health and the environment. The paint products generally are characterised as diverse, complex and poorly understood by the general public, making the consumer choice largely susceptible to the product advertising or to the advice from the members of sales teams. To offer additional guidance and empower consumers to make a responsible and informed product choice, this blog post will provide an insight in the four main principles that can be followed when choosing paint products.

What responsible consumption means and why it matters

In the EU a number of policy instruments, both mandatory and voluntary, have been issued to promote more sustainable production and consumption recognising that these areas are largely responsible for environmental problems such as air, water and soil pollution (a).

Responsible purchasing of the paint products involves choices made in favour of the products with reduced levels of pollutants and emissions, therefore contributing to better health and state of the environment. Additionally, it is advisable to make a choice in favour of more sustainable products that are assessed for coverage as well as performance and durability throughout the product life cycle. Information about these qualities should be provided by the manufacturer and easily assessable (b).

Four main principles to follow when choosing paint products

1. Choose the most appropriate paint product for a specific application

The first principle for choosing the right paint product involves evaluation of the type of surface to be painted as well as the location of the surface. When considering architectural paints, it is important to only use interior paints for indoor paint projects and exterior paints outdoors, since paint film will be susceptible to different levels of withering. Coatings for furniture also offer a wide variety of products thus requiring prior examination of the furniture material and its planned location, noticing how often the surfaces will be exposed to moisture and rub-off, how often they will require cleaning and how accessible it will be to small children.

Five steps of typical paint application process: 

  • Acquiring and storage of paint
  • Preparations of the surface
  • Application of coating on the prepared  surface
  • Drying of coating
  • Cleaning of the equipment

After the initial evaluation of surface quality and its location the paint application process can be assessed. Paint application process generally involves five steps with various methods that require different inputs and generate different outputs. Main focus should be on the surface preparation stage and coating application stage with the necessary inputs.

Surface preparation requires the surface substrate preparation that typically involves grinding, degreasing and cleaning. To achieve better, longer lasting coating results, primer is typically used on the prepared substrate. Primer improves the adhesion of paint to the substrate but it is not used on wooden surfaces and furniture. Primer can be applied either by spraying or by brushing. It is worth noting that spraying of primers and paints contribute to significant losses of the product and therefore wastage of resources.

Coating application can involve a two-step process of applying base-coat and topcoat or alternatively just one or two layers of a mixed product. When applying base-coat and topcoat separately, the purpose of base-coat is to give colour. Then the topcoat adds the gloss and possible additional effects. Most efficient paint application methods include filling, rolling and casting.

For interior applications typical paint choices are solvent-based or water-based coatings, where water-based emulsion paints are recognised as more environmentally friendly and safer for human health due to the reduced content of volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) as opposed to the solvent-based paints and oil paints. For interior coatings attention should be paid to the paint gloss or paint sheen value, since this is the main criteria defining what paint products should be used in differing locations, for example gloss paints are more suitable for heavy duty application (kitchen cabinets, doors) while eggshell will be a better choice for medium-traffic areas (bedroom and living room walls) (c).

For more information on:

  • assessment for paint durability, visit our blog post: link
  • paint product gloss levels, visit our blog post: link

2. Avoiding negative environmental and human health impact

Paint products are widely used by general public yet poorly recognised and understood for their health and environmental impacts. Paint products generally are hazardous chemicals with their chemical compounds and emissions leaving negative impact on human health and the environment. Best understood hazardous compounds are — volatile organic compounds (VOCs), biocides and heavy metals. Such chemicals can have a devastating health effect on people with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma and allergies, as well as on pregnant women and young children. In the natural environment VOCs are known to contribute to the formation of the ground-level ozone (smog), biocides and heavy metals disrupt aquatic and soil life subsequently threatening the purity of these resources as fundamental sources of the global food chain.

As consumer awareness rises on hazards associated with the paint product use, even more people are looking for safer, allergy free, VOC free paint products. While the manufacturers support this trend by gradually entering this product segment, the most trusted indications for safer products are the environmental labels. The environmental labels are voluntary and are awarded only to the tested and third-party evaluated products, requiring that they not only meet certain health and environmental impact criteria but also comply with the performance criteria, some of the examples being the EU Ecolabel, Greenguard, Green seal etc. In addition to the environmental labels, consumers can look for the third party recognition such as the asthma & allergy friendly ® Certification Program as well as markings like “zero VOC” and “Formaldehyde free”.

For more information on:

    • what paint ingredients make indoor air toxic, visit our blog post: link;
    • how paint pollution impacts the environment, visit our blog post: link;
    • what is a healthy paint for people with asthma and allergy, visit our blog post: link.

3. Considering years of service for the painted surface

All painted surfaces have a somewhat different expected service life depending on the type of paint applied, the underlying substrate preparations done before painting as well as the climate and elements surface will be exposed to. Generally, the painted surface will require repaint every 5-10 years (d).

“According to the EU Ecolabel Background Report: Extending the life of a product contributed most to the environmental benefit of the paint”. Namely, the environmentally preferable choice of paint products favours paints with extended service life, resulting in fewer repaints and therefore less inputs of resources and energy. Paints that have proven to be highly performing and durable require smaller amounts of product for covering specific surface and typically allow for less frequent repainting. The environmental labels can provide the necessary guidance for finding such products (d).

When considering the years of service for the painted surface prior to purchasing the paint product, certain estimations can be done and considered:

  • Cost per litre of paint.
  • Spreading rate to meet performance criteria.
  • Time between repaints to maintain performance criteria.
  • Expected losses due to wastage.
  • Disposal costs of waste paint (d).

4. Calculating the actual costs per m2 of the painted surface

Acquiring and storage stage of paints can contribute to spills, volatile organic compound emissions and leftover paint. The leftover paint often becomes waste, more precisely hazardous waste that can require additional resources to dispose of it. Additionally, opting for cutting paint project costs by choosing cheaper paints can lead to necessity for more frequent repaints and subsequently the actual costs of the painting project can increase significantly in the long term. Thus, the recommended approach is to assess the paint life time including all associated costs over several years and to choose paint products of a good quality, which are suitable for the intended application. To avoid over-purchasing and storing of old paints, it is advisable to assess precisely the amount of paint necessary for a given project.

For more information on paint life time costs, visit our blog post: link

Standard calculation requires that from the surface area (surface hight multiplied by surface width) the area of windows and doors is subtracted. When painting multiple walls, each wall can be calculated separately and then multiplied by the number of coats required.

Paint manufacturers typically provide information about the spreading rate of paint on the packaging, meaning that the size of surface area one litre of paint will cover is indicated.

Additionally, to the paint and primer costs, the costs of painting equipment, cleaning equipment and disposal costs should be taken into account.




More sustainable consumption favours all — consumers, manufacturers and the environment, through reduced waste, energy and resources. The four main steps to follow in order to make informed product choice are: choosing the products suitable for the specific application; avoiding hazardous substances that threaten human health and the environment; considering the service life of the painted surface and how often it will require additional energy and resource inputs; true costs of a paint project that will depend on the size, material and location of the painted surface.

Upon purchasing a paint product, environmental labels can provide an easy to follow guidance.  For a paint product to receive such recognition, it is necessary to limit the use of hazardous chemicals, use renewable, recycled and sustainably managed resources, reduce the embodied energy and emissions as well as improve the environmental performance in its service life. In Europe the most common environmental labels are:

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