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The ultimate guide for buying paint products

Published 21.04.2022


The abundance of available options, when choosing a paint product, can leave indecisive even experienced paint professionals, especially taking into account growing awareness and concerns about the product impact on human health and the environment. The choice of a paint product is not as simple as choosing one colour over others because such aspects like durability, application, hazardous chemical content also should be considered in order to make an informed and safe product choice that will result in longer lasting, better performing and less harmful coating. To help finding the right direction in navigating towards a more sustainable paint products, this blog post will provide 10 simple tips for the general public.

10 tips for choosing sustainable paint products

1. Responsible purchasing of paint products

Responsible purchasing of the paint products should involve choices related to low levels of pollutants and emissions resulting in less harm for the environment as well as human health and well-being.

Four basic principles include:

  • Choosing the most appropriate paint product for a specific application. The surface substrate and location as well as potential exposure to moisture, cold and abrasion should be assessed in advance. Basic needs for the most architectural paint applications will require cleaning and preparing substrate and applying primer followed by paint. Most efficient paint application involve tools like paint brushes and rollers, while spray-painting is known to produce substantial losses of product, therefore accounting for more resources and more money spent on a project.
  • Avoiding negative impact on human health and the environment. Most common paint ingredients known for their negative impact on human health and the environment are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), biocides and heavy metals. For indoor applications water-based coatings are a better choice than solvent-based coatings due to the reduced content of VOCs. Environmental labels, such as the EU Ecolabel, provide recognisable marking on product packaging indicating that paint formulation has low amounts of VOCs. Other markings indicating safer products may include “zero VOC”, asthma & allergy friendly®, “Formaldehyde free” and others.
  • Considering years of service for the painted surface. Estimations for the life time of painted surface can help in calculating paint life-time costs and potentially lead to choices in favour of higher quality paint products. Therefore, more significant initial investments can lead to lower long-term costs.
  • Calculating the actual costs per m2 of painted surface. It can be done by calculating the size of area to be painted, where all windows and doors are subtracted and the result then is multiplied by the number of required coats. Paint manufacturers indicate a value on paint product packaging that shows area one litre of paint will cover. Additionally, the cost of primer, equipment and labour should be considered in calculation.

2. Choose the most suitable paint for particular surface

It should be kept in mind that choosing the paint products, which are most suitable for a particular project, starts with taking into account the environment (indoor or outdoor) and surface to be painted.

Interior coating formulation allows for stain-resistant and wash-resistant properties and are typically applied on walls and ceilings.

Interior masonry coatings require additional attention to colour, texture and sheen (gloss levels) of paint, since these factors will determine the durability in different locations depending on exposure to moisture and abrasion. In the painting projects on wooden surfaces attention should be paid to the texture, tinting and abrasion resistance properties of coating products, while a rust-limiting coating could be necessary on metal surfaces.

Exterior paints are required to maintain performance regardless of extreme weather conditions. Masonry paints should be UV and moisture resistant and resistant to inhabitation of microorganisms. Wooden surfaces outdoors should be protected against biodegradation and allow for breathability, while metal surfaces require a rust-limiting coating.

3. Create feel and look

In creating the right feel and look the visual performance criteria can provide guidance for consumer in choosing the most appropriate products. There are three criteria: paint gloss, colour and texture.

Gloss level indicates two things — how washable paint product is and how well it covers surface imperfections, where higher gloss indicates better durability and better visibility of surface imperfections. Therefore, in high traffic areas, where regular cleaning and exposure to moisture will be required, the surfaces have to be well prepared in advance to paint application and in these areas semigloss, gloss or high gloss paint should be applied. In medium traffic areas satin and eggshell (glossiness level) is adequate, while in low-traffic areas, for example ceilings, flat (gloss level) can be applied.

Colour allows for setting a certain mood in a room, particular tones of the colour can help it look bigger or cosier, make objects “stand out,” have calming or energising properties.

Light colour tones reflect light and can make a room seem larger as opposed to dark colour tones that can make a large space seem cosier. Bright colour tones, like yellow or orange, are energising while soft colour tones are relaxing.

Texture paints are paints with added sand or other mineral components for creating decorative patterns and extended dimension on a surface. Additionally, texture paints can potentially extend surface durability.

4. Always check the label

Look for a hazard pictogram on a product packaging or carefully read the included product Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) or Technical Data Sheet (TDS) to find out if the paint product contains harmful chemicals.

Paint label can also include information regarding sustainability and health, where most commonly environmental labels indicate that the products are more friendly for human health and the environment. Most common environmental labels include: the EU Ecolabel, Nordic Swan Ecolabel, The Blue Angel, Green Seal, Greenguard, Environmental Choice. Label that indicates a sustainably produced product is Cradle to Cradle.

5. Beware of the VOCs

Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are harmful chemicals found in most paints. They are released in the air during paint application and drying often lingering in indoor environments and causing harm for extended periods of time. VOC concentration is calculated as grams per litre (gr/l) and typically is indicated on the label of each paint product.

Zero VOC paints contain less than 1 gr/l of VOCs, low VOC paints contain less than 10 gr/l. In the EU 50 gr/l of VOCs are allowed, where a product with VOC concentration above 50 gr/l is considered high VOC paint.

It is strongly recommended for indoor applications to opt for zero and low VOC paints, especially if children, pregnant women, asthmatic people and people with pre-existing health conditions may be exposed directly or indirectly.

6. Beware of the biocides

Responsible purchasing of the paint products also involves being aware of biocides. Namely, extra attention should be paid to the toxic chemicals/biocides used in the paint product manufacturing.

Biocides are chemical substances or microorganisms that are used to limit organic life from inhibition of (in this case) paint and paint film. Most common biocides added to paint products serve the purpose of product preservation in the “in can” and “dry film” stages and they are: Isothiazolinones (CIT/MIT 3:1); Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) and Benzisothiazolinone (BIT). These chemical substances can enter human body by skin contact and inhalation, causing potential harm. Released in the environment, biocides can also disrupt the living processes in soil and in the aquatic environment. In the European Union biocides are regulated and require mandatory labelling, when used in product formulation. Biocides can be recognised on paint packaging Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and in cases, when biocide additives exceed the permitted concentration, hazard statements H317 or EUH208 with accompanying warning ‘may cause an allergic skin reaction’ or ‘may produce allergic reaction’ are issued.

7. Assess paint durability

The durability of paint against mechanical exposure is described as washability/wet abrasion/scrub resistance class. In the EU five wet-scrub resistance classes are defined indicating the ability of paint film to withstand routine maintenance like wiping, brushing and cleaning.

Class 1 - Highly resistant and washable paint, best suited for heavy traffic areas that require frequent cleaning. Will last longer and require less repaints.

Class 2 - Paint with good resistance to moisture, very durable and best suited for interior walls and ceilings in kitchens, bathrooms, children's rooms.

Class 3 - Paint suitable for medium-trafficked areas that require less frequent cleaning, such as living room walls and ceilings.

Class 4 - Paint with poor resistance to damp cleaning. Best suited for areas where cleaning with dry cloth is sufficient.

Class 5 - Lowest wet-scrub resistance class, somewhat resistant to dry wiping.

All paints labelled with the EU Ecolabel (tinting base and with a white pigment content above 25 g/m2 of dry film (with 98% opacity)) are tested and meet class 1 or class 2 wet scrub resistance indicating durable and better performing paint products.

8. Estimate paint coverage capability

Knowing, how much paint product should be used, is essential. Paint product coverage is defined as the spreading rate of the coating on a given material. It is usually indicated on the paint product label expressed in square meters per litre of paint product, indicating how many square-meters one litre of paint will cover.

All paints with the EU Ecolabel have to meet a spreading rate value of at least 8 m2/l for indoor coatings and 6 m2/l for outdoor coatings.

Paint coverage can also be improved by preparing the surface substrate in advance (cleaning, drying, applying primers and undercoats), by choosing the most suitable paint for intended application (masonry, wood, metal) and by using efficient tools that limit paint losses (brush and roller application).

9. Know the paint lifetime costs

Comparing the costs of different paint products before purchase should not be simplified to looking only at the product price per litre. Paint lifetime costs begin with raw material sourcing, transportation and, in most cases, industrialised formulation into consumer-available goods. Even before these products reach the consumer, the costs accumulated during this process are often not fully reflected by the product price at the retailers. With that being said, the life time costs most significant to a consumer are the ones that he might be required to spend personally. The paint life time cost that the consumer will be responsible for paying consist of four main criteria:

  • The costs at the moment of purchasing (product price and personal transportation).
  • Paint performance regarding correct application and the amount of paint required to cover a given substrate (depending on the surface preparations, material, location).
  • How well a particular paint will perform in a long term and how often repainting will be required.
  • The disposal costs of unused or old paint.

10. Paint quality guarantees

Upon purchasing a paint product, environmental labels on the product packaging provide the end-user with the necessary information about the product quality and its environmental impact.

Environmental labels indicate that the awarded paint products excel in comparison with similar products available in the market by reduced concentrations of hazardous chemicals, reduced energy inputs in manufacturing, use of sustainably sourced, recycled and renewable materials and, last but not least, providing this good product performance in a long term.

Paint quality indicators are environmental labels like the EU Ecolabel, Greenguard, Nordic Swan Ecolabel and sustainability labels like Cradle to Cradle Certification.


Buying the well-suited paint product does require some preparations and estimations to be done before starting the painting project. Estimations should include the evaluation of surface substrate, location, size as well as exposure to abrasion, cleaning, moisture and cold.

When choosing between multiple paint products, it is advisable to consider the long-term performance of paints and how often repaints and touch-ups will be necessary based on the product wet-scrub resistance, gloss level and weather paint is intended for indoor or outdoor applications.

Health and environmental impact should also be considered, when choosing paint products, since most commercially available paints are significant sources of hazardous chemicals such as VOCs, biocides and heavy metals.

When looking for sustainable and well performing products, it is advisable to consider products awarded with environmental labels, since they require manufacturers to ensure their product performance with reduced and limited concentrations of harmful chemicals and practices.


Author: written by Anse Romančuka, edited by Linda Kikuste

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