Being inclined towards no-tox living as we are, when it came time to transform the house we’d just purchased into something beautiful and welcoming rather than a shrine to flaking polyuerethane, tired jarrah floorboards and paint which is a yellow and blue ode to the local football team, we did our research into the chemicals that we’d be looking at surrounding ourselves with.
The canvas that we had needed new floor finishing, wall, ceiling and architrave painting.
A quick look at the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in conventional paint assured us that we wouldn’t be using a conventional acrylic paint around ourselves or our children, especially as baby R was only 5 months old. The american Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says VOC’s cause:
“Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some (volatile) organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.” (1)
Understanding the alternatives took time and research…. and more research. Eventually we narrowed it down to these 4 products:
- Volvox Clay Paint for the walls and ceiling in most of the house
- Bio Paint for the walls in the kitchen, bathroom and family room
- Volvox ProAqua enamel paint for the trim and doors
- Ardvos universal wood oil for the floors.
To save you reading ahead, I’ll jump straight to the verdict. I wouldn’t use the Volvox clay again, it’s just not washable enough for a house with kids and pets, but the Bio paint is great, the ProAqua enamel is amazing and the Ardvos on the floors is just what we were hoping it would be.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at the specifics.
We purchased all the products from the Planet Ark store in Fremantle WA. These guys are a wealth of knowledge on Eco-friendly, Health-friendly solutions to home maintenance. They seem to have a more flexible agreement with time than me, so allow them the space to unfold their knowledge into you at a leisurely pace and call before you head over, to make sure that they are actually open.
The Volvox Clay process:
We decided to use the Volvox for most of the house because we’d heard good reviews from other friends and there is a Perth based stockist. Over most colours, it only needs one coat as the clay particles have great coverage in the white based colour range. We avoided choosing a colour needing the Ivory base as it’s less opaque so you might need an extra coat, we wanted to minimise time, money and hassle. Volvox comes in a great range of colours and after hours of debating we decided to go with something perfect. Not too cool, too warm, too pink, too yellow, too anything really, just a calming background colour called horrifyingly, Beige. Turns out that Beige and Lychee are the biggest sellers by far and it was quite a disappointment to us to realise that we have turned into Beige people. I’m sure I used to like more interesting things.
The price is attractive when only one coat is required, it costs about twice the price of acrylic paint, but if you only need half the amount, it comes out about equivalent to a good quality conventional paint.
The Volvox Clay experience:
You need big fluffy rollers preferably made from wool to apply it. It’s a very straight forward application, simply wash the walls first to remove any flakes and dirt, before rolling it on, overlapping the edges to roll out any seams. After finishing nearly the whole house, and literally smashing it over and over into the walls while watching it flick back off onto the roller, we learnt that you can just thin it down with water as the clay is absorbent and drying it out quicker than you can get it on. Always keep the roller damp. As soon as it starts drying out, wash it and start again or the roll marks will be visible. When it comes from the store, there are big clay chunks in it, so straining it through an old sieve before pouring it into the paint tray is helpful unless you particularly like the bonding experience of going around behind a person who is rolling paint on and scratching pieces off. I’d also recommend mixing it with a paint mixer that attaches to a drill. It really is lumpy when you get it.
After we learnt to water it down, it applies easily and stays on well. Coverage over white paint and in the rooms that had ceilings the sunny colour of a yellow post-it note was only one coat. The parts of the house that were more vibrantly coloured, it took 2 coats to cover a sage green, 2 coats to cover a hideously vibrant light blue, 2 coats over the westcoast eagles yellow and 3 coats to cover the westocoast dark blue. It smells like wet clay when it’s going on and dries odourless. Mr S says I’m his canary in the mineshaft and I found this paint to be completely free of toxic effects. I didn’t get any headaches or itchy dry skin. Surprisingly, I found painting to be quite an enjoyable exercise without a splitting headache.
The Volvox Clay verdict:
The colour is really beautiful, the texture is appealing, not quite as smooth as an acrylic, it’s something a little more tactile, more sentient even. You can tell that it’s a clay, which is soothing to something that yearns to return to the wild in me. After the application shenanigans, we were really hoping to find this paint durable, but it’s not. It’s fine if it gets wet, water does it no harm as long as you let it dry before touching it. The problem for us, is that I can’t wipe dirty finger marks off it without wiping back to the acrylic underneath. The best technique I’ve found is to use Wot Not baby wipes and broad sweeping motions. Fine scrubbing using a cloth with texture is not a good idea. I estimate that we’ll need to repaint in 2 years unless we can train our children, pets and visitors that the walls are not for touching. Ever. Overall, there are so many things to love about his paint, that if you don’t live with young children, it’s definitely worth considering.
The Bio Process:
We came to consider the Bio paint when we couldn’t get the warm sunny yellow that I wanted for our kitchen and family room area. Volvox has it as an outdoor paint which you need to tint yourself using literally 10 tiny tins of tint costing $10 each, plus the cost of the white base. The Bio paint branding is quite dated and unappealing compared to the sleek packaging of the Volvox, which I think was subconsciously putting us off considering it more closely from the outset. After going in circles trying to get a similar colour in Volvox, we realised that Bio have the exact same colour which is even more amazing, because Bio only have 10 primary paint colours with shades being achieved through the use of either the white or deep base paint and different dilutions of the tint. You do your own tinting at home. The Bio tints must be less diluted than the Volvox, as one tiny tint cost $10 and we had enough to do our 10Lt of paint with plenty of left overs.
The Bio Experience:
After buying a syringe from the pharmacy, we decanted 1 cup of the base paint into a container and carefully added the correct amount of tint to it, mixing thoroughly before adding that dilution back into the paint tint and mixing again very thoroughly. We felt like chemists. Being extra careful knowing that the chance of us making the exact same colour again if needed was fairly slim, so we mixed enough for the whole job plus touch ups later.
This was the last paint we used, the last rooms we did. Which I’m glad about, because once we’d discovered the ease of using this paint, going back to the Volvox would have been a challenge. This paint is smooth and flows on effortlessly, as it is scented with essential oils to inhibit microbe growth, so it smells fresh and citrusy. The coverage is great, although it was only going over a white paint and we did choose to do two coats to give it more depth. Again, I experienced no negative side effects when painting with this paint other than sore shoulders and arms from painting with a heavy sleeping baby wrapped to my chest.
The Bio Verdict:
This is great. All our paints have been on the wall for 4 months now and this paint is holding up well to everyday use. It is wipeable. Not scrubbable like an acrylic would be, but definitely better than the Volvox. I can touch up marks using a baby wipe without it rubbing off. It is slightly absorbent, so some of the more greasy little finger marks have left a shadow. This paint I would definitely consider using again. The colour is just what I wanted and the texture is smoother than the Volvox, but that might have been due to the dryness of our Volvox application, the price is in the same ball park as Volvox.
The ProAqua Process:
As far as my research could discern, this is the only no-VOC enamel available. There are a number of low-VOC paints available, but I wasn’t comfortable taking the chance on any avoidable toxins near our babe until his blood-brain barrier forms at around the age of 2.
The ProAqua Experience:
This paint has a pleasant smell, not earthy like the Volvox clay paint but definitely not nausea inducing like a regular water based enamel. It’s quite thin and streaky to apply and we needed two coats over a lot of the green based trim in our house. It dries a pleasant matt texture.
The ProAqua Verdict:
It’s crazy expensive at $250 for 2.5Lt. But after 4 months on the walls, it looks great, it’s wipeable, doesn’t scuff when the vacuum bumps it and I’d definitely use it again.
The floor sanding Process:
We wanted to avoid the toxins of a water based polyurethane and along the way we discovered that a natural oil floor finish also preserves the life of the floor. Once it’s been sanded with an extra fine sanding disc, it never needs to be sanded again, which prolongs the boards indefinitely, because sanding floors takes mm’s off the thickness. After successive sandings, the boards themselves are too thin and need replacing. Ardvos can easily be reapplied yourself and any scratches can be spot sanded and repaired. This type of finish allows the floor to breathe and the timbers to expand and contract seasonally without splitting. After calling around. A. Lot. we went with the recommendation from Planet Ark and hired one of the few floor contractors in Perth who have the sanding equipment to give the boards the extra fine sand needed before oiling. The price was equivalent to getting a polyurethane finish.
The floor sanding Experience:
Day 1. Saw the whole floor sanded back to bare timber. We were able to walk on it that night and continue painting with drop sheets. Despite our fervent efforts to prevent any spills on the boards, our Mr Z aged nearly 4 managed to spill every drink we gave him, but after the fine sand the day after, no marks were visible. Phew.
Day 2. Was the fine sand, effectively buffing the floor boards. Again we were able to keep painting that night.
Day 3. First application of the Ardvos wood oil which is a combination of different oils and waxes (Linseed oil, linseed oil – stand oil – natural resin ester, linseed oil – stand oil, linseed oil – wood oil -stand oil, natural resin glycerol ester, orange oil, isoaliphates, silicic acid, micronized wax, dehydrated amino sugar and drying agents free of lead.(2) It has a beautiful smell, like grandfathers wood shed. Something a little chemically smelling, but quite pleasant to my nose. We couldn’t walk on the floor for 48 hours while the first coat soaked in. The colour in the Jarrah is amazing, much richer and more red than previously. I didn’t realise, but polyurethane is actually quite yellow and gets more so with age, which changes the way the jarrah looks.
Day 4. Waiting for the floor to dry.
Day 5. The second coat was applied. Took him only an hour or 2 to do the whole house.
Day 6. More waiting for the floor to dry.
Day 7. We were able to walk on it again and resume painting with drop sheets.
The floor sanding Verdict:
It looks lovely, a warm rich colour with a light sheen, the nuances of the natural timbers are really highlighted. The first 3 weeks after the application are the hardest to navigate, while the oils and waxes are soaking in and hardening, the floor can’t get wet at all. No spills, no mopping, no tiny wet feet running down the hallway from the bath to bounce on the bed. Nothing. Not a drop of water can get on them, which was harder than it initially seemed in a house with kids and pets.
There were a few scratches made on the floor when the furniture was moved in, which I simply sanded very lightly with a sanding block and added a few drops of the Ardovs oil over them, they are invisible now.
The floor doesn’t like acid substances like fruit juice or alkaline like plaster dust, so I wipe spills quickly and we are careful not to leave plaster dust on the floor if we drill a hole to hang something. All in all not too difficult for us to manage. The only negative that I am starting to notice, is that oil seems to soak in and leave little stains on the floor, I can see something that looks like a bruise where baby R rubbed his bread and butter into the floor in the kitchen, it doesn’t look dirty excatly, but there is a mark.
Washing them is easy, for 4 consecutive washes, you use 5ml of a pH neutral floor cleaner called Treana which strips them lightly and cleans the dirt off. Every 5th clean, use 5ml of a wax based floor cleaner Glanos which cleans as well as nourishes and conditions the floors protecting and strengthening the coating.
Overall, I’m very happy with the floor finishing. It feels nice under bare feet. Mr S says that next time he would prefer more gloss, which is an option using Livos Kunos oil. It’s a similar product, it just needs buffing between coats and the final coat gets another buff.
Check out my quick video on how to maintain and re-oil your timber floors:
I hope this helps you to cut out some of the hours of research we did.
Feel free to ask me any other questions you have, either below or over on my facebook page.
In love and light,