Paints, glues, varnishes, solvents… These are products that we often use, without knowing that they contain volatile organic compounds, VOCs, which attack our bronchial tubes and are dangerous for the central nervous system. It is now possible to renovate your house from floor to ceiling without spreading persistent chemicals that are all as aggressive to your health as each other. Buying products bearing the European eco-label or the NF environment label is already a good start.
- 1 The good interior paints… and the bad ones
- 2 Beautiful and clean dyes
- 3 Ecological stain
- 4 Environmentally harmless solvents and strippers
- 5 100% healthy wall coverings
- 6 On the ground, only crude
- 7 VOC-free glues
- 8 Varnish and vitrify without risk
- 9 Treating wood with the help of nature
- 10 Furniture without chipboard
- 11 Eco-friendly DIY
The good interior paints… and the bad ones
With the brush well in hand, does the handyman suspect that he risks spreading a mixture of solvents, dyes, pesticides, etc. on his walls, which will diffuse into the room long after it has dried? Paints are the main source of emissions in the home of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) harmful to health and the environment, including the dreaded formaldehyde, recognized as a carcinogen.
In the hit parade of indoor pollutants, glycerophthalic paints (“oil paints”) contain up to 50% organic solvents, which are toxic to the skin, liver and kidneys.
Some paints also contain additives such as fungicide-based anti-moulds… as if industrial agriculture didn’t give us enough of them!
In acrylic paints (“water-based paints”) the solvents are replaced by water, but 5-20% of harmful co-solvents such as hydrocarbons, alcohols or glycol ethers remain ( some of which are toxic to reproduction).
On the other hand, “alkyd emulsion” paints, recently offered by major brands, contain very few solvents (from 0.01 to 0.3%).
To identify in-store paints that emit the least VOCs, trust the official eco-labels: NF Environnement (Couleurs du Temps range at Ripolin, for example); European eco-label, more demanding (Everywhere range from Castorama, etc.); Blue Angel, even stricter.
But the safest thing is to turn to natural paints, based on substitute products such as lime, casein (extracted from milk), citrus or turpentine essences, linseed oil, carob or beeswax, propolis, larch resin.
The most resourceful can even make their own milk and lime-based paint! There are very good tutorials on the net.
Beautiful and clean dyes
The paints often contain mineral pigments that are potentially toxic and polluting to produce, the best known being lead, now banned (but still present in the paints of old houses).
Organic distributors offer very varied ranges of pigments and dyes made by enthusiasts, based on earth, plants, even insects, with names more poetic than each other: Tuscan ochre, Lectoure blue, earth Falun red, cochineal violet, dragon’s blood, etc. They come in dry form, in more or less fine colored powders, to tint your paint or coatings yourself: let your imagination run wild by drawing on this great ecological “coloring box”!
The stains provide a satin finish that protects and enhances interior woodwork (paneling, doors, etc.) or exterior (windows, cladding, etc.). For the latter, they also play a role of protection against bad weather and ultraviolet rays, delaying the aging and graying of the wood.
They carry the same risks as paints, due to the organic solvents they generally contain. There too, there are products in the aqueous phase, less charged with solvents, or better, ecological alternatives without solvents, based on linseed oil, soybean oil alkyd, wax, lead-free siccative.
Environmentally harmless solvents and strippers
Solvents of plant origin, based on citrus terpene or turpentine are an alternative to “traditional” petroleum solvents (White Spirit, ethylbenzene, sylene, etc.) or organochlorines (trichloroethylene, known as “triclo”). Discharged into the rivers after cleaning brushes in the sink, these industrial solvents are a source of pollution.
Beware of cold stripping products which are often based on chlorinated solvents. An interesting alternative to report with BFA® Liquide containing neither chlorinated solvent, nor acid, nor soda.
100% healthy wall coverings
In addition to paints, many ecological solutions exist to dress interior walls:
– wooden paneling or cork plates are easy to install, they provide additional insulation and a warm appearance. If chosen correctly, of local origin and without chemical treatments, they are perfectly healthy and ecological. In addition, since their thermal conductivity is low (these are so-called “low effusivity” materials), they can contribute to reducing heating inputs.
– the interior coatings adapt to all types of support: they can be based on clay, lime, or raw earth: the luckiest can even use the earth taken from their land or around, if it contains enough of clay.
– wallpapers, on the other hand, should be avoided: they store and release pollutants, in particular cigarette smoke. Vinyl wallpapers are laminated with PVC, they are impermeable to water vapor and emit VOCs.
On the ground, only crude
To cover your floors, choose “raw” materials such as terracotta tiles, solid wood floors (preferably local, or FSC certified) or cork, and real linoleum (based on linseed oil, cork and wood).
For carpets, prefer wool: they will be less polluting than synthetic carpets.
Plant fibers (coconut, seagrass, sisal, hemp, etc.), even if they are often imported, can be a good ecological alternative if they are lined with jute and not synthetic materials.
For the installation of wall and floor coverings, beware of solvents and other toxic products contained in the glues: to avoid VOC fumes, turn to solvent-free glues of animal or vegetable origin offered in organic stores.
You can also make your own rice glue or flour.
Varnish and vitrify without risk
Floor sealers generally contain many VOC-emitting solvents. Ecological stores offer ecological alternatives based on water, wax or hard oils made from natural products: they dry quickly, emit little odor and allow the brushes to be washed with water.
To varnish, also turn to natural alternatives such as shellac, made from crushed shells.
Treating wood with the help of nature
Wood treatment products, preventive or curative against xylophagous insects (capricorns, termites) and fungi, are, even in the opinion of DIY stores, increasingly toxic: Xylophene products, for example, are guaranteed up to at 30, proof of their effectiveness against babies… and human health!
To avoid having to use these “weapons of mass destruction”, the first alternative is to choose naturally resistant species, in particular chestnut, larch, or Douglas fir for local species.
You will choose them “purged of sapwood”, the peripheral part of the trunk most sensitive to attack. And you will listen to the advice of the Elders, which says that a wood cut on the “old moon” (new moon at the end of the cycle) of Christmas will be naturally resistant to all attacks by insects or mould! A well-chosen and well-cut species can thus completely do without treatment.
For new wood outdoors (cladding, terrace, etc.), you can also use wood treated by retification (process which consists of treating the wood without chemicals by heating it to high temperature in several phases), or better, by oleothermy (new process which impregnates the wood in depth with entirely vegetable oils, at low temperature.
For preventive treatments on new or old wood, organic stores offer many solutions based on essential oils, linseed oil, coumarone resin, etc. Boron salt (in powder or diluted ready to use use) is the solution most often chosen for interior woodwork, due to its efficiency and low cost.
Furniture without chipboard
No way to redo all the decor! Adopt just a few good reflexes: do you need to buy a new chest of drawers for your baby? Avoid chipboard (laminated or melamine furniture), whose glues contain formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical substance responsible for the increase in cases of asthma and allergies. Priority to raw wood. And if you fall for tropical species, prefer those with the FSC label, a guarantee of ecological forest management.
Maintain and clean the house
You can clean from floor to ceiling, in all rooms, with just a few natural products: baking soda (to strip or disinfect), white vinegar or lemon (to descale), mops and microfiber cloths (to dust) and multiple natural soaps (to detach). This avoids all household products that emit volatile organic compounds… while saving a lot of money! You can also buy green cleaning products that are increasingly present in certain supermarkets.
Gardening, a high-risk activity