Sara Walker talks to Mark Gardner of Little Knights about the challenges of producing the UK’s safest paint and why his product is unique.
To Mark Gardner, owner and founder of Northampton-based paint company Little Knights, all paints are definitely not the same. “I’ve spent forty years in the chemical industry, specialising in coatings for the leisure industry,” he explains. “That’s things like varnishes for pub tables, which have to be long lasting and durable. I’ve also done a lot of work for the NHS, working with anti-bacterial coatings to manage the spread of disease.
“For a long time there’s been an issue with the big companies supplying paint for domestic use, which is that they’re fulfilling a demand for cheap paint by producing a poor quality product. Most people don’t know that in a litre of cheap paint there’s around 200ml of glycols, which is the same family of chemicals used in antifreeze. It’s what causes skin irritation, sore eyes and exacerbates asthma.
When you take the lid off a tin of paint, the fumes that hit you at the back of the throat come from glycols – not the sort of thing you’d really want to be painting your child’s bedroom in! The big companies use glycols as an expander, because it allows them to increase the volume of the product and sell it cheaply, but those chemicals are not doing your health any good. Historically, though, it’s been impossible to make paint without those compounds.
“Now, technology has moved on and we’re delighted to be able to announce that we have created the UK’s first VOC-free paint (VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds which is how glycols are classified).
When we set out to make a more user-friendly paint, we first looked at using natural ingredients. The trouble with that, though, is that the main purpose of anything natural is to biodegrade, so the ingredients just weren’t robust enough.
We wanted to create a paint that was not only completely safe for people with lower immune systems, such as children and the elderly, but was actually a good quality product that people would enjoy using, and getting that balance took a lot of time and research. These days, we homeowners tend to hermetically seal our houses with efficient windows and insulation, so when damp does get in it can’t get out again, and you’ll sometimes see black mould growing in the corners of rooms. With that in mind we also wanted to invest a paint formula that would inhibit the growth of mould and have anti-bacterial properties, all without losing the safety factor.
“We started off by looking at ‘safe’ chemicals, the ones used in the food and medical industries, and gradually expanded our research until we came up with our unique formula. We have created the UK’s first VOC-free paint – something which I was told numerous times couldn’t be done. It has absolutely no odour at all, and it’s passed 16 different tests carried out with equipment first used by NASA, as well as facing and passing a challenge from an industry body. It’s suitable for use in children’s bedrooms, on cots, on pet sleeping areas, in care homes and doctors’ surgeries, and will actually help to inhibit the spread of disease.
We’ve taken other aspects into account, as well. For example, lots of people wash paint rollers and brushes in the kitchen sink, releasing those VOCs into the environment where they can be harmful. When the ingredients in our paint meet UV light and water, they break down harmlessly over 24 hours. When you paint them on the wall, they stay durably encapsulated in the coating.
“We’ve taken care to look at every detail of our process, and 100% of our packing is recyclable, from the paint cans themselves to the tape used to seal the transport boxes.
“As a paint company, we’re not just different, we’re actually unique. No-one else in the UK is doing what we’re doing at the moment, and we’re setting the bench mark for quality and safety.
Little Knights, our retail company, is a family business with me, my wife and my two sons all involved. We currently have over 50 colours in the range – we had some fun naming them! – and we’ve got plans to add more.
At the moment, the only way to buy our paint is online, and we’ve worked hard to make it affordable. A five-litre tub will cost you £58, including delivery anywhere in the UK, and the quality is so good that most surfaces will need only one coat.
We chose the name ‘Little Knights’ as we’re providing protection for your little ones and family, and also the product will help you get a good night’s sleep with full peace of mind. I firmly believe that we make the best paint on the market today, and it can be safely used for and by anyone, from asthma sufferers to little children. We’re setting the standard for modern paint – and we’ve set it high!”
To browse the colour range or buy online, visit the website at Little Knights.
Main image shows Little Knights paint in Meadow. All images (c) 2019 Little Knights.3