Want to find out more about low VOC paints? The difference between natural and acrylic paints ? Or need help to decide which paint or wood finish to use?

The answers to many of these queries can be found in our Frequently Asked Questions below.

If the answer you are looking for is not there please call us on 0431 721 073 between 7.30am and 4pm (NSW time) Monday to Friday or 10am and 2pm on Saturday and we'll do our best to answer your queries.

1.1 What's the difference between low VOC paint and natural paint?

Low VOC paints are conventional acrylic wall paints, which have been formulated to minimise VOCs in them.

VOC's are chemical compounds that out gas from paints and other products. There are a range of VOC compounds. They all cause environmental smog and some are also damaging to people’s health. Low VOC paints and finishing products have been developed over the last ten years to address the world’s growing environmental pollution problems. These are modern paints and most are equally as durable and easy to use as the old high VOC paints. The other good news is they are now similar in price to the older paints. For example Rockcote Ecostyle zero VOC paint is a similar price and quality as Dulux Wash & Wear. 

Natural paints are paints made from natural ingredients such as clay, mineral or plant material. Because they don’t contain petrochemical compounds they are by nature zero, or very low VOC. They are the healthiest and most environmentally friendly of the two types of paint because they don’t create any pollution in their manufacture, use, or disposal.

Both low VOC paints and natural paints have their value depending on what your priorities are. Low VOC acrylic paints are usually more washable and cost less than natural paints. Natural paints are often better tolerated by people who are highly chemically sensitive. Natural paints also have an appealing aesthetic quality. The choice is yours.

1.2 What are VOC'S?

VOC's are chemical compounds that out gas from paint or other products causing environmental smog and poor indoor air quality.

1.3 Is ZERO VOC paint better than LOW VOC paint?

Not necessarily. The term Zero VOC is subject to misinterpretation and misrepresentation.

For example some paint companies advertising their paint as “Zero VOC and therefore completely non-toxic”. This claim rides on a bit of sensationalism and can be misleading.

Firstly. Investigating the claim of one of these company’s shows that their GECA certification states only that their paint contains less than 15gms /L of VOCs. So the assertion their paint is zero VOC, is only their assertion and not backed up by an independent examining body.

Secondly. To say “zero VOC means completely non-toxic” is an incorrect use of the term. The term VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) refers to a wide range of organic (hydrocarbon) chemical compounds that vaporise under normal ambient temperature. Some VOC’s are man made and some are naturally occurring. Not all VOC’s are toxic. However it is ONLY THE VOC’s THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE FORMATION OF SMOG (outdoor air pollution) that are measured in paint products. So VOC’s are really an environmental smog producing issue. The toxicity of a product is a slightly different issue. See our FAQ: Does non-toxic mean I can eat it?

Thirdly. VOC’s are measured slightly differently according to the authority measuring them. For example in Australia Acetone is not classed as a VOC because it doesn’t contribute to environmental smog. In America Formaldehyde is not measured as a VOC for the same reason. Both however are VOC’s that contribute to indoor air pollution and can be hazardous to people’s health. A product could contain these and still be labeled zero VOC in these countries.

There is however a less sensationalist and valid use of the term zero VOC. The Green Painters website mentions it as used by an EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) to refer to paints with less than 1gm/L of VOCs. See http://www.greenpainters.org.au/Consumer-Information/Low-VOC-Paints.htm. Several different authorities in Europe & America use the term zero VOC for products containing less than 2gms/L VOC. This is because levels below this are hard to measure accurately and would have negligible effect on the average person or the environment.

So, when used this way, the term zero VOC can be a helpful distinction (though not the whole story) for people with high chemical sensitivity. Standard low VOC paints can contain up to 15gms/L of VOC under the current Australian Green Building Council Standards, so zero VOC allows products to be recognised as having very low levels of VOC's.

An example of this is the Rockcote Ecostyle low sheen paint we sell. This paint contains less than 1gm/L of VOCs. This has been independently tested and certified by GECA (Good Environmental Choice Australia), so we can validly call this is a zero VOC paint. Natural paints are also generally zero VOC.

1.4 Does non-toxic mean I can eat it?

The toxicity of a paint or wood finish is most commonly looked at in terms of degree and exposure. Highly toxic products are those which even short-term exposure to can create illness or damage the health of the average person. Non-toxic products are generally defined as products which long-term exposure to is not likely to damage the health of the average person.

However this definition of non-toxic does not work for all individuals. The sensitivity of the individual is also a major factor when looking at toxicity. For example children, pregnant women, and those with existing health issues are more likely to be harmed by a slightly toxic chemical in their environment than a robust adult.  This is further explained in two articles. one by the Australian-based National Toxics Network: website https://ntn.org.au/are-australian-children-at-risk-2/ and two and article published on the American-based Health Affairs.org:   https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0151

This is where natural paints and wood finishes play their part. These are made from natural ingredients, by companies whose primary goal is to make products which are non-toxic to people and the environment. They are therefore less likely to contain ingredients that could be toxic to a very sensitive person.  They can be compared to organic (chemical free) food. Conventionally farmed food is regulated so that the pesticide levels in them are supposedly safe for the average person. However sensitive people wishing to avoid all chemicals in their food will choose organic food.

The other consideration around toxicity is toxicity to our environment. Natural paints and finishes will generally not harm the environment in their manufacture or disposal. Chemical paints & finishes however can potentially pollute our natural environment during their manufacture and ultimate disposal, even if they are low VOC.

So non-toxic doesn’t mean you can eat it!  Paints and finishes are designed to be applied to walls, not eaten as food.

Non-toxic could mean it’s a paint made from chemicals which wont harm the average person when applied to your wall, or it could refer to a paint or wood finish made from natural ingredients. You can investigate further by looking at the ingredient list and reading the MSDS sheet of a product.

1.5 Are the class of synthetic preservatives known as isothiazolinones used in Rockcote paints?

Isothiazolinones (and close derivatives) are the main preservatives used in waterborne coatings.

Ecostyle uses a different compound which is not an Isothiazolinone but the material is manufactured in the same plant that does use these compounds.

The range of tints does contain Isothiazolinones.

1.6 What is a sustainable paint or finish?

We’ve used the term sustainable as a more encompassing term than eco friendly or non-toxic. It includes both eco-friendly and non-toxic, and also brings awareness to the larger picture of why eco and non-toxic are important.

To become sustainable as a society we need to consider both our personal health and the health of our natural environment. We need to consider both short and long term consequences of our choices, and be aware of the type of businesses and technologies we are supporting with our dollar.

Sustainable includes our financial wellbeing along with our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. Although we are passionate about natural paints and finishes it would not be sustainable for some people’s budgets or lifestyle to use only natural products.

Hence we’ve chosen the word sustainable to best describe the choices we’ve made in selecting the range of paints & finishes we carry.

1.7 Are there low/zero VOC products which can seal off outgassing products, eg formaldehyde from chipboard?

In our research to find a product on the Australian market that states it will seal in formaldehyde, we have been unsuccessful. There is American product called Safe Seal, but it is not available in Australia. 

The best recommendation we can offer would be to use a product we sell called Murobond Murothane. It is a low VOC floor sealer that is simple, easy and economical to use, It will definitely slow down the formaldehyde emissions but not totally seal them in. 

2.1 How much paint do I need for an average size room?

Rockcote Ecostyle low sheen covers approx 14m2/L.

Allowing two coats of paint (ie on primed or previously painted walls), an average size bedroom needs about 6L of paint for walls, plus 4L of paint for the ceiling.

A small bedroom may require 4L for walls plus 3L for ceilings, or a larger room 8L for walls and 5L for ceilings.

Volvox Clay Paint or Bio Paint covers approx 10m2/L.

Allowing two coats of paint (ie on primed or previously coated), an average size room will require 10L for the walls & 4L for ceiling.

A small bedroom may require 8L for walls and 3 or 4L for ceiling, and a large room 12L for the walls & 6L for the ceiling.

2.2 I can't decide which paint to use?

Ask yourself “What are my priorities?”  Look at the list below and put them in order of your priority.

  1. Washable
  2. Economical
  3. Safe for my family
  4. Colours from a commercial colour chart
  5. Chemical free
  6. Least polluting for our planet
  7. Most natural looking

If the top four from the above list are in your top priorities then the low VOC acrylic paints are the best choice for you. If the last three are in your top priorities then look at the natural paints.

2.3 I need help to purchase these products online

If you’re new to purchasing sustainable paints & wood finishes you can read short descriptions of products available in each category. Then go on to read more about a particular product by clicking on that product.

If you would like to try out a product before deciding on a large amount you can purchase sample pots of most products.

If would like further help to decide on an appropriate product for your purpose we are available on the phone from 7.30am - 4.3pm (NSW time) Mon–Friday or 10–2pm Saturday. Call us on: 0431 721 073 Or you can send an email to: [email protected]

To help you prepare, questions we will ask you are:

What surface you are covering?

Is it bare or previously painted or finished?

If previously finished what condition is the previous finish in, and how shiny is it?

What are your priorities for the finish – eg do you want a Natural or low VOC synthetic finish? What are your durability requirements? Appearance requirements?  budget constraints?

We can then suggest one or more possible products for you to look at.

2.4 How do I choose colours?

It is valuable to choose colours by seeing a sample in your room. This allows you to see how it combines with other elements in the room such as flooring and furnishings, and gives you time to live with it for a few days.  Another good rule is to recognise that when a whole wall is painted one colour, it may appear stronger than on a small chip. Therefore think of choosing a shade lighter.

There are several ways you can see potential colours in your room.

  1. We can post you a colour chart for the Volvox Paints we sell. There is a price for the chart, however, if you return the chart in good condition when you’ve finished using it we will refund the price. This conserves resources – both ours, yours & the planet’s. The colour chart for volvox paints can be found here

  2. You can view online colour charts for a number of the paints we stock. However this should be used as a guide only, because colours displayed on computers are not always an accurate representation. This may be sufficient though to narrow your choice down to several colours, and you can then request sample pots to trial these in your room.

  3. Sample pots  are available for each of the paints.

  4. We can match colours from other major paint company charts – eg Dulux or Wattyl. This is  only possible with the Rockcote Ecostyle low VOC paint. So, if you have access to one of these charts, you can specify a colour from this and tell us which chart you used, and we will match as close as possible to that. If we have any problems we will give you a call.
2.5  I have applied wall paint to a room that is off-gassing. Do you have any products that will seal and stop the off-gassing?

Applying Zinsser B-I-N sealer product to the walls will seal and block permanently and completely the off-gassing odour.

This is a Shellac Based product that has an odour while it is being applied and is wet, but disappears when the product dries (15min drying time).

Low VOC or natural paint can then be applied over the B-I-N sealer.

NOTE: This is a specialist product. Please contact us directly if you require this and we can order it in.

3.1 Can I paint a water-based enamel over an old oil-based enamel?

Yes, but you will need to paint with a special primer such as Zinsser Smart Prime first. Sand lightly to dull any gloss then paint with the Smart Prime.  Allow 48hrs for this to form its full adhesion and then paint with two coats of water based enamel such as Rockcote Ecostyle in either satin or gloss.

4.1 What is the difference between Livos Kunos and Ardvos oils?

Both the Kunos and Ardvos are suitable for a wide range of uses including for floors, furniture, and woodwork. It can just be a personal preference, however, there are some differences between Kunos and Ardvos.

The Kunos range is our premium product. Kunos has more waxes and resin, so is water repellant quicker than the Ardvos. It also means that Kunos can be buffed to a higher gloss level than Ardvos.

The Ardvos oil deepens the colour of the timber more so than the Kunos as it reaches deeper into the timber.

Kunos is also certified food safe so can be used with confidence on kitchen bench tops and chopping boards etc that come in direct contact with food.

Kunos oil sits closer to the surface, while the Ardvos is a deeper penetrating oil.

Kunos is therefore best to use on veneer panelling, because Ardvos is deeper penetrating. While we have had no reactions with the glues used in panelling in Australia it is perhaps best avoided, or at least test prior on a sample piece.

Kunos is available in clear as well as stains (for example, the white can maintain a timber at its original sanded look without yellowing).

Another comparison could be price. The Ardvos is more economical per container however the Kunos has a better coverage rate...so again, here not much difference to speak of.

Another popular variation to the Kunos is the  'Kunos Counter Top' oil. This has the added benefits of being heat resistant to 50 degrees, so great for tables as it is able to withstand direct contact with hot cups, plates etc.

4.2 What is the difference between Livos oils and Rubio Monocoat oils?

The Livos oils are true oils, which mean they penetrate deeper into the wood. These oils generally require 3 coats.

The Rubio Monocoat is a unique oil wax finish, which bonds to the surface layer of the wood.

The Rubio Monocoat requires only one coat. The Rubio Monocoat plus 2C oil has an extra hardener and accelerator, which means it significantly increased the rate of curing – the Moncoat Plus 2C will be fully cured in only 7 days, compared to 3 weeks for most oils.

In terms of price, Rubio Monocoat is more expensive per litre, but it has a much larger coverage rate compared to the other oils, so smaller quantities are needed.

4.3 What oil is best for Saunas?

For the external parts of saunas you can use Livos Ardvos or Rubio Monocoat Oil 2C. Both will allow the timber to breath and release moisture.  Livos Kunos  has a higher resin content, so it's less vapour permeable and not suitable for Saunas. Internal walls of saunas are generally not coated, however individual parts such as seats could be coated with Rubio Monocoat Oil 2C. Ideally these should be left outside to fully cure before use. 

4.4 What oil is best to use for a concrete floor and how much will I need?

Concrete can vary enormously in its porosity depending on it's hardness when poured and how it was ground or polished.

If the concrete is rough or very porous then we do not recommend using oils to finish it as it will absorb a lot of oil and stay matt and dull. A water based sealer such as Murothane would be preferable for this type of concrete.

If the concrete is relatively dense but not highly polished we recommend to prime first with LINUS Priming Oil, then apply two coats of KUNOS Oil Sealer. This is because Linus is more deeply penetrating so will give a more even first coat and Kunos will sit on the surface more and give and nice sheen. 

If the concrete is very dense and has been highly polished then three coats of KUNOS would be sufficient because it will absorb a lot less oil. However, if in doubt about the quality or density of your concrete, the safest way is to use the LINUS Priming Oil first.

Another option is to use Ardvos Wood Oil for all 3 coats. This has good penetration and leaves a nice matt finish.

All oils will darken the concrete - similar to the appearance if you put water on it. However if you wish to keep it a lighter colour you can add a little White Vindo paint to the oil. This will keep the colour close to the raw colour of the concrete or turn it white depending on how much paint you add. 

LIVOS Kunos Oil Sealer in white on concrete floor

The amount of oil need will vary enormously depending on how dense the concrete is and how highly polished it is. The LINUS required for the first coat may vary from 10L / 100m2 for more porous concrete down to 5L / 100m2for dense highly polished concrete. The KUNOS required for the second plus third coats will be significantly less because the porosity will be reduced by the priming oil. However, this may still vary anywhere between 5L / 100m2 (2 coats)  down to 2.5L / 100 m2 (2 coats) for dense highly polished concrete.

4.5 Water has left a white mark on my oiled timber floor. How can I fix this?

Water staining on an oiled timber floor usually means that it requires a refresher coat of the original oil to make it more water resilient. 

The white mark can be removed by a mixture of scrubbing with full strength LIVOS Trena or Rubio Monocoat Soap and light sanding. Rinse and dry well after this and then reapply more oil to the patch over several weeks. Ideally refresh the whole floor with another coat of oil as above.

4.6 What is the best finish to use on a timber floor and timber panelling in a bathroom?

Because a bathroom floor will be subject to regular steam and water it would be best to apply a penetrating oil finish that will repel the water but allow the timber to breath and release moisture. A film forming Polyurethane would seal the timber, but is likely to break down in time with the constant exposure to heat and moisture (which causes timber to expand & contract). Once a tiny crack has opened in the film it will then allow water underneath and lead to the film lifting, peeling & discolouring.

The best oil finish in this situation would be to use Ardvos Wood Oil as the first coat because this is the most deeply penetrating oil. Leave this to dry for 2 days. Then apply 2 coats of Kunos Oil Sealer (a day between each coat ) – because this has extra resin content that will be more resilient to regular water on it.

Alternatively, on timber in a bathroom you could try the Deck Cote in clear. It will allow breathability and not crack but can be brought to a higher sheen than oil.

4.7 I have a dark timber bookcase which I would like to finish without it going darker. What product can I use?

Generally water based finishes darken timber less than oils do. So, you could use either Murobond Murothane or Volvox ProAqua Wood Finish.

Alternatively Kunos Oil Sealer in white is an oil finish that will maintain the raw colour of most hardwoods if you use it as the first coat and then Kunos Oil Sealer in clear as the topcoats.

5.1 My clay plaster has grown mould spots on it?

This can happen if an organic material such as straw was mixed into the clay and the render experienced damp conditions, which slowed down its initial drying time. Once fully dry this doesn’t seem to present a problem but if it stays damp too long when first drying this can occur.

The best remedy in this situation is to clean the wall with a fungicidal wash and then apply another coat of render over it - in dry conditions.

6.1 I want to repair an old water tank made out of steel that is rusty and previously painted. What can I use?

Spot prime the rusted area with Pheonix Metalfix, then apply a coat of Phoenix Metalfix 1000 over the whole lot. Overcoat this with an exterior paint of your choice.

7.1 I have an old cement render wall. It has never been painted but was coloured with oxides. It has now faded and I want to paint it. What paints could I use?

Option 1. Prime first with Rockcote AE Primer then use Rockcote Ecostyle Low Sheen, or a textured paint such as Rockcote's Render Paint Flat or Toscani.  The textured paint will be thicker and help fill any minute cracks, plus it will give a nice even, new look to the render.

Option 2. Prime with Murobond Primer and paint with Murobond Murowash (with or without sand added for extra texture) or with Murobond Pentimento Limewash.

Option 3. If not powdery on the surface (ie if no colour comes off when you wipe it with your hand) you can paint with two coats of low sheen Rockcote Armour (no primer). This is ideal on rendered surfaces prone to cracking as it is a thicker membrane paint which has more crack resistance.

7.2 What is the difference between lime and clay plasters and renders?

Plaster and render are mortar coatings – the main difference is the consistency of the mortar.

Both coatings are designed to cover blockwork. The coatings on inside walls are called plaster, while the coatings on external walls are called render.

The main difference between plaster and render is the consistency of the mortar. Render generally contains more cement than plaster because it needs to be weather resistant, which is its main function.

7.3 What acrylic render over blueboard will give a fine finish?

Rockcote Finecote can be used as a render – either as a thin topcoat over high build or as two thin coats over blueboard. It is a product that fits between the renders and the coloured render top coats. Not quite a resilient as Rockcote's Quicksand or Sandcote so would often use it and paint over the top or apply Rockcote Clearcote to give added protection and water repellency.