Before coating walls with a new color, you might wonder what is actually in that can of paint. Check out Groupon’s guide to latex to learn how much is really on your walls.
Latex: From Plant to Paint
What is latex? In fact, there are two meanings, and both are important to fully understand latex paint and other products derived from it. In one sense, latex is a sticky, milk-white emulsion—comprising fats, gum resins, waxes, and occasionally poisons suspended in water—produced by about 10% of flowering plants, most likely as a defense against animals and hungry botanists. (Snap open a dandelion stem to see one form.) The most commercially friendly form of latex is Hevea braziliensis, commonly known as the rubber tree. By creating a sloping cut in the plant’s bark, farmers harvest the liquid and treat it with heat and sulfur to transform it into a strong, flexible, long-lasting rubbery material used in everything from balloons to medical equipment. This is also the substance that people with latex allergies can’t tolerate.
In the United States, latex also refers to any fine dispersion of rubber or synthetic plastic particles in a solution of water. Though the latex that comes out of plants fits this definition, not everything that falls into this category comes out of plants. In fact, latex paint is actually a water-based solution of synthetic materials such as vinyl acetate and acrylates. Since the paint contains no plant-based latex, it won’t upset anyone’s allergies, unless they’re also allergic to that shade of mauve. People commonly use it in place of oil-based paints due to its quick drying speed, superior opacity, easy cleanup, and reduced flammability, but it does have limitations. For instance, water-based paints typically don’t adhere well to glossy surfaces and can cause bare steel to rust.
Before Amazonian rubber trees caught the eye of Western explorers in the 1700s, early Mesoamerican tribes had already discovered the possibility of the substance. They created balls from the dried rubber for a traditional game, coated headwear in it, and even created waterproof shoes, shaping footwear around their feet and peeling it off when dry.