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Milk paint magic: bring natural style to your projects.

Many people are unaware that most of the paints used in their homes, workplaces and other public spaces, the places in which we spend the majority of our time, are extremely toxic. Commercially manufactured paints have very high levels of solvents containing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as well as thousands of other chemicals. They emit low level toxicity or outgas into the air both during and after application. A typical gallon can of acrylic household paint contains, by volume, up to a third VOC-based solvents. The same amount of enamel paint can be closer to half VOC-based solvents.

In addition to the solvents, commercial paints also contain a dangerous' mix of petrochemicals, mercury, formaldehyde, and benzene. Lead, cadmium, and chromium are also found in some pigments. VOCs are carbon-based chemicals that quickly evaporate into the air. Many VOCs bind with one another or with other molecules in the air and become different chemical compounds. Many of these compounds are natural and harmless, like the VOCs given off by just-cut citrus. Concentrations of VOCs are up to ten times higher indoors than outdoors; during the time just after painting, they can be many more times higher. Outdoors, VOCs produce ground-level ozone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nine percent of airborne pollutants contributing to ground level ozone come from the VOCs in paint.

Research done by the EPA and the American Lung Association has shown that exposure to paints containing VOCs can seriously impact our health. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, and dizziness are among some of the potential side effects of short-term exposure to VOCs. There has been little research done on the long-term effects of these chemicals on both human and environmental health.

Consumer awareness of the health risks associated with the use of VOC-based paints, more stringent environmental regulations, and subsequent demand from both environmentally conscious designers, builders and consumers have led to the development of low-VOC and zero-VOC paints and finishes. Many of the major paint makers such as Benjamin Moore, Glidden, Kelly Moore, and Sherwin Williams have all begun offering zero-VOC, low-VOC or odor-free paints. BioShield[R] Paints, one of the oldest and best known natural paint manufacturers based in Santa Fe, New Mexico uses naturally derived pigments from plant and mineral sources, components which have been traditionally used in paint-making. They carry a wide selection of paints, glazes, stains, waxes, and varnishes.

One of their products is milk paint, or casein paint, which has been in use for centuries. Some examples of European finishes using milk paints have lasted, intact, for hundreds of years. Milk paint was originally made with curdled milk, lime, clay, and natural pigments. It is made in much the same way now. Milk paint can be purchased in powdered form, which has an indefinite shelf-life if properly stored. It mixes with warm water and can be used on walls, furniture, and trim. It's a pleasure to work with and creates a beautiful matte finish, which can be sealed with either a natural varnish or a wax topcoat.

The choice to use natural paints and finishes can certainly be a sensible one for health's sake, and fortunately there are an increasing array of such products available today. You can even make your own paints using traditional recipes and techniques. A wonderfully informative book that details this information is The Natural Paint Book, subtitled "The complete guide to natural paints, recipes and finishes" by Lynn Edwards and Julia Lawless. There are classes offered in Black Mountain through Earthaven Learning Center in both earthen paints and plasters. A listing of their 2005 programs can be seen on their website


Painting a chair or a picture frame are easy, satisfying uses for milk paints as well as good introductory projects for someone interested in getting a feel for this paint. Casein paints can be used for walls, wood trim, and furniture. Washes and sponging techniques can be done with milk paints as well There are a number of good mail order suppliers for milk paints, including Bioshield:

1. The paints come in powdered form to which water is added. Use warm water and allow the paint powder and water mixture to sit for a half an hour or more. Then mix the paint with a wire whisk or a mixing wand attached to an electrical drill. If stored properly, these paints can last for years, which makes touch-ups simple. The paints are matte, cover very well and are easy to use. Milk paint comes in a variety of ready-made colors or colors can be mixed to one's liking, following the instructions provided with the products.

2. As with any refinishing project, the piece should be cleaned well, dry and sanded, to give the surface some tooth. In some cases, you may choose to prime before painting. Priming is recommended for gypsum surfaces and is helpful as an undercoat for some furniture, like cabinets.

3. After your primed layer is dry, apply your paint with a good quality brush. It's best to apply two coats with a thorough drying between them. Different colors can be layered upon one another and then sanded through the top layer, to reveal the base color and even the underlying wood.

4. Finishing: A lovely wax finish can be made by mixing equal parts melted beeswax, boiled linseed oil, and a citrus-based natural solvent, like Citra-solve[R]. It can be applied to the painted piece with a soft lint-free cloth and buffed. There are also good quality zero-VOC solvent-free glazes available for use as a sealant. Bioshield makes a glaze that can either be used as a finish or mixed with pigment for a color wash for walls or furniture.

Valerie Klyman-Clark and Pomegranate Designs offer interior decorative painting using naturally-derived, earth-based paints and plasters. Contact her at 828-252-3498 or
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Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:the healthy home
Author:Klyman-Clark, Valerie
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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