DIY activities around the home can sometimes involve the use of products containing toxic chemicals, especially petrochemical-based solvents, which are not easy to dispose of without damaging the environment. They may also let off harmful gases called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde, that can cause headaches, nausea, allergies and contribute to asthma and potentially harm pets.

Products containing these chemicals include paints, wood preservatives, floor coverings such as synthetic carpets and vinyl, PVC window frames and doors. Composite board (multi-density fibreboard - MDF), particle board and chipboard are made from woodchips bound together by chemicals and adhesives. Kitchen units are usually made from these products as well.

Some wood used in furniture and fittings may be contributing to deforestation through unsustainable logging, which is destroying forests in tropical countries. These forests have an irreplaceable diversity of wildlife, and their loss is thought to be contributing to global warming.


  • Look for timber, wood flooring, wallpapers and MDF which carry the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) mark of approval. The FSC works to ensure that forests are managed in an environmentally appropriate way.
  • Avoid PVC window frames and doors and use instead wooden frames and doors from a sustainable source.
  • Avoid teak, mahogany, rosewood, kapur, ebony and ramin as these are all threatened tropical species.
  • Use natural products - a much wider range is now becoming available: use them to substitute for synthetics wherever possible. By minimising the chemicals in your home, you will prevent a possible health hazard from VOCs, particularly for your children, and create rooms which look fantastic with natural colours and textures.
  • Look for the European Union 'Eco-label' awarded to products, including paints, with a lower impact on the environment.
  • Matt or satin-finish paint contains fewer solvents than high-gloss paint. Water-based paint contains the least amount of VOCs, whilst oil-based paint contains slightly more, but less than high-gloss paint.
  • Try paints which use natural solvents such as citrus oils, or are thinned with milk casein or natural glue.
  • For floor coverings, consider wood, cork, natural linoleum or marmoleum, terracotta tiles, wool or natural fibre carpet (coir, sisal, jute), slate, limestone, sandstone.
  • Protect woodwork from insects and fungi by painting or varnishing exposed wood, and using wood preservatives based on natural substances such as borax.
  • Ask retailers and suppliers questions about how a product is made and what chemicals are used. Consumer pressure will help to widen the availability of natural products.
  • When disposing of unwanted paints and other potentially harmful substances, ensure that you do so in a safe manner, which will not put the environment or people's health at risk.


  • Community repaint schemes can be found throughout the country and collect unwanted reusable paint for refuse in the local community.
    Contact Vicky Wren. Tel 0113 2003959
  • Ecos Paints(Lakeland Paints)
    Tel 01524 852 371
    Fax 01524 858 978
  • Ely Building Supplies for reclaimed timber, slates and quarry materials etc.
    27 High Street, Addlestone, KT15 1TT
  • Forest Stewardship Council provides lists of retailers of certified products.
    Tel 01686 413916
    Fax 01686 412176 
  • Surrey Waste Management can provide advice on how to safely dispose of unwanted paint and other DIY products.
    Tel 0208 786 1090