Updated Spring 2020
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If you need assistance choosing the best paints, sealers, and finishes for your sensitivities and project, please contact me for a one-on-one consultation.
1. Natural Non-Toxic Wood Sealers
i. Natural Oil Wood Finishes
Linseed, tung, refined hemp, soy, and walnut oil are drying oils.
Drying oils penetrate, harden and preserve wood and provide a long-lasting finish that does not turn rancid.
Coconut oil if refined is another drying oil. Just don’t use regular cooking coconut oil.
I wouldn’t recommend using olive or other (non-drying) oils that can go rancid on wood.
Linseed and Tung Oil
Although they are natural, legally 0-VOC, and technically non-toxic, they do offgas aldehydes (and other compounds), that can be bothersome for the chemically sensitive.
I look at additives including possible metals, chemicals added, which compounds they offgas and when do they fully cure.
Linseed and or tung are often labeled as teak oil or danish oil, though this is a general term that can mean either it’s pure or mixed with additives, as I go over in the post on these oils.
Hemp Oil Finish
Hemp Oil is my top choice for an all-natural drying oil for wood due to how mild and safe the odor is.
It does have a light aroma, which I would consider pleasant, but I would test for your own sensitivities (and allergies) by buying a small amount first.
I used hemp oil on all the interior wood in my chemical-free tiny home (floors, stairs, interior door, window sills). The ladder to the loft did get grimy, though the dirt did wipe off. It’s not the most durable of the wood finishes but it did function well enough for me.
Use refined hemp oil (made for a wood finish) as opposed to the edible oil from the grocery store.
This finish is certainly the safest and healthiest option for wooden toys, butcher block countertops, and other food-safe surfaces.
Walnut Oil, although there it is technically a semi-drying oil is used on surfaces like concrete countertops, raw slate, non-glossy marble and granite, soapstone, sandstone, and onyx.
I tried the Milk Paint walnut oil and the odor is very mild, even lighter than hemp.
Another oil to check out is Penofin Verde which is Brazilian rosewood oil based with other natural oils. They use “vegetable ester solvents” and zero VOC pigments. I would expect a solvent odor here.
Oils need to be reapplied to wood every few years or more in high traffic areas.
ii. Natural Wax Wood Sealers
Beeswax & Carnauba Wax
Wood (but not floors) can then be finished with a beeswax polish for extra durability. Beeswax takes 30 days to dry.
I used beeswax on the window sills to provide a water-resistant finish and I’m really happy with it, it would also work well on counters, cutting boards and toys.
This Beeswax/Carnauba Polish works well but has mineral spirits in it. Mineral spirits do evaporate quite quickly and leave the product once cured. I haven’t found odorless mineral spirits to be a very toxic ingredient.
Hemp and beeswax mixed, make a great food-grade finish for cutting boards and other items.
I like this Fusion brand which is 100% hemp and beeswax with no additives.
Wax usually needs to be re-applied every year.
Natural Shellac Resin
Shellac is a resin, and one of my top picks for many different purposes.
Shellac in the purest version is just the natural flakes and alcohol.
You can purchase flakes from shellac.net or Amazon.
Shellac can be used on many indoor surfaces, including floors, toys, and furniture.
Natural, de-waxed, would be the purest choice for most projects. It does come in a synthetic formula as well, so check which one it is.
If you want to buy it ready-made, Zinsser makes one they claim is only shellac and alcohol. I discuss this again in the section on sealing in toxins since this finish is great at sealing in offgassing and odors.
Oils for Earthen Floor Finishes
If you don’t have ox blood on hand, no problem, you can seal your earthen floor with any of the hardening oils we talked about under wood finishes.
I would use Hemp Oil, though a final coat of linseed and possibly wax, may be needed.
This blogger claims that Walnut Oil went rancid with time. Beeswax can also be used in the final coat for extra protection if desired.
iii. Natural Non-Toxic Wood Stains
Natural Oil Wood Stains
Each oil in the section above on its own will tint the wood to a varying degree, so you should test for the look you want to achieve – you might find that you don’t need a stain at all.
You may need a stain just to lighten it.
If you do want a stain I prefer the oil and stain in one options:
Low odor modified linseed with many color options. We don’t know a lot about what’s in it other than linseed and wax. It’s significantly lower odor than pure linseed. It does have a drier, the Part B. I review it in more detail in this post.
It comes in 40 different colors including lightening shades like greys and whites.
They claim 0 VOC, thought the MSDS does indicate some VOCs.
Brazilian rosewood oil based, with other natural oils. They use natural solvents and it contains a mildewcide. It comes in 18 shades including lightening grey and whites. They claim no odor, though the SDS indicates mild odor, and extremely low VOC.
Premixed oil and pigment stains that went on beautifully. This is pure polymerized linseed and nothing else but pigment added. The most natural option, with no solvent or additives.
It comes in 5 darkening shades.
Legally linseed is 0 VOC, but it does give off natural volatile compounds.
A well-known brand available worldwide. Their stains are very low odor but they are meant to be used with the top coat of Polyox Oil. Polyox contains sunflower, soya and thistle oil, waxes including paraffin, dearomatized white spirits, siccatives, and polysiloxanes. They declare all of their ingredients.
The Polyox oil had a noticeable solvent odor for me, the majority of that odor did flash off quickly but the general odor did take some time to go down.
I did really like the stain colors though. The Wood Wax comes in bright colors (along with the usual wood stain colors and greys and white) which would be fun for art and toys.
The Oil Stain which is for floors, comes in 10 colors including lightening shades.
They claim very low VOCs.
Water-Based Non-Toxic Wood Stains
The truly non-toxic water-based wood stains are more difficult to apply than the oil based ones.
1. ECOS Paints stains – ECOS makes the most tolerable finishes in my view. I have tried their clear finish and though it was very low toxin. The stains come in 14 different shades (one grey one) and a clear coat of varnish follows. All of their ingredients are fully declared.
2. AFM Durotone – A recently improved formula from a popular brand for the chemically sensitive. It comes in 11 colors including one lightening shade. A topcoat is required, either water-based or oil.
3. Non-toxic milk paint pigments can be used as a stain applied to the raw wood before finishing with oil and wax. Here is my how-to.
I found these stains too difficult to work with and would go for premixed next time. Earth Pigments also makes natural stains. If you do try these, be sure to test them first and follow the instructions on the type of wood and how dark you can go, and you will get better results than me.
iv. Clear Wood Sealers
1. ECOS varnishes, which I previously recommended, have had some reported problems. A few people are now reporting that water drops leaves stains on the wood. This could be a big problem.
I used ECOS sealer on the wood in my kitchen and am very happy with it. I have not had these problems so I do not know what accounts for it. Though other polyurethane finishes can also have this issue.
I found this a very tolerable brand that I was able to apply myself.
2. AFM Polyureseal is liked by many. It is a very tolerable formula by a high-quality brand.
3. Another zero-VOC polyurethane that is becoming more popular is Vermeister.
4. Danish Soap finish. An unusual non-toxic way to finish floors is a Danish process using a soap finish. You can either use just soap, or soap and lye. Lye is quite toxic while it’s reacting, and I don’t know how long that takes to dissipate.
When used in the making of soap the lye reacts with other components and in the end you just have a safe soap product.
2. Non-Toxic VOC-Free Paint
Which paints are safe for the chemically sensitive?
There is a myriad of paints claiming to be green or zero-VOC, but most don’t list their ingredients, others list the main components, while some only list what has to be disclosed on an SDS.
We know that 0-VOC is a legal term and does not always mean it’s 0-VOC (chemically), but I do still find this is the best place to start when choosing paints.
These are my top picks in the latex/acrylic categories with a price comparison. (Note: “latex paint” is a general term that means acrylic and does not necessarily contain latex).
Top Picks for Non-Toxic Paint – No Mildewcide (2020)
Their primer and paints are zero-VOC, certainly the most popular paint for the chemically sensitive.
They removed mildewcides from the formula (in 2017) however they have the ingredient 1-hydroxy-2-pyridinethione in there which is the precursor to one of the banned mildewcides, this is a preservative.
It’s highly tolerable and my go-to pick for healthy and chemically sensitive folks in 99% of cases.
This is the only synthetic paint I know of that releases its ingredient list in full, so they are the most transparent.
Both Lullaby Paints and Quiet Home Paints are both ECOs. Though Quiet Home is $12 more per gallon because they have “curated colors”. It is ECOS paint (and ECOS claims they can match any color).
It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t do well with ECOS, though the extremely sensitive need to air it out longer and may want to test out a number of brands as well as the more natural mineral options to see which one works best.
ECOS Paint Types
Their Low Luster Paint is lower odor than their Gloss Interior Paint. It’s common for a glossy paint to be higher in odor (with ECOS I estimate it’s double the level of odor).
Air Purifying Primer is just a little bit higher odor than the low luster paint.
These were compared when wet, not when cured.
Cost and Where to Buy:
You can buy it online from their website. $65 a gallon + shipping. They sell samples 3 for $10 including shipping to the US. They ship to the US and Canada. For 10% off email me at email@example.com for a code.
Tintable to thousands of colors. It is zero-VOC with zero-VOC colorants. (Though the primer is low-VOC).
This is a well-known brand that has been around for longer than most others.
They make it a focus to have no hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) – since “0 VOC” means it can still contain some hazardous substances.
This brand makes fantastic products, but the paint is not usually my top pick, especially for the severely sensitive.
Cost and Where to Buy:
You can buy this online. $64 a gallon + shipping. You can buy samples here for $6 each. They ship to the US and Canada.
3. Mythic Paint
This was the fan-favorite before they went out of business in North America.
This is now only available in the UK with some use in Asia.
In attempting to track the sale of this formula I looked at a few possibilities:
A commenter believes American Pride (by the same parent company as Mythic) may be similar, or the same. I have not been able to verify that.
ECOS, the new fan favorite, I have heard has the same scientist behind the formula. I’ve used them both and that makes sense to me, though I did not have them side by side.
Much Smarter Paint claims to have Mythic matched, but that appears to be a marketing statement, it is not a statement about buying the formula.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can buy American Pride in select stores in the Southern United States.
Much Smarter Paints you can buy online. The smallest quantity is a quart for $17. It’s $50 a gallon + shipping (only ships to within the US).
These two are smaller brands and I’m not convinced they have ECOS beat (but everyone is different, so you may still prefer them).
Zero-VOC, zero-VOC pigments.
Cost and Where to Buy:
Contact them for dealers across the US. You may find this at local green building or specialty paint stores.
Cost is $44 and up.
This paint is a little different, it is a zero-VOC acrylic and natural oil paint. No biocides.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can purchase it online through their website. $45 a gallon plus shipping.
Top Picks for Non-Toxic Paint – With Mildewcide (2020)
1. Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore makes a number of zero-VOC paints, one of their oldest lines is called Natura.
It is high-quality, and comes in great colors but contains a mildewcide (something you should generally avoid).
It was not very tolerable for me while wet, but very good when dry.
Make sure they are using their zero-VOC pigments with it.
Natura is a tried and true pick and fan-favorite next to ECOS for the chemically sensitive.
They have many more 0 VOC lines added now.
If you want something you can go out and buy from a store right now or on Amazon, this might be your best option.
Costs and Where to Buy:
Ben Moore stores are all over the US and Canada. You can buy samples online – samples only ship to the US.
Costs are, per gallon: Natura $80, Regal Select $70, ben $60, REGAL select $59.
2. Sherwin Williams Harmony
SW is another easy to source zero-VOC paint with zero-VOC pigments. It also has a mildewcide.
Sherwin Willians ProMar 200 and their EcoSelect are other affordable lines that are 0-VOC.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can buy this at select Sherwin Willians paint stores. Sherwin Williams color samples that you can buy online are not the real paint, you have to get this in-store to sample it.
Some lines have quarts sizes, but Harmony does not come in quart size.
Harmony $60 per gallon, (sometimes on sale online for 42), ProMar $70.
3. Dunn Edwards
Spartazero is zero-VOC with zero-VOC pigments.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can find this at smaller chain hardware and paint stores. The cost is $50 per gallon.
Non-Toxic Paint Price Comparison
|BRAND||COST PER GALLON (USD)||IS SHIPPING INCLUDED|
|AFM Safecoat||$64||no, unless you buy in store|
|Much Smarter Paints||$50||no|
|Ben Moore Natura||$80||Buy in store|
|Ben Moore ben||$60||Buy in store|
|Ben Moore REGAL select||$59-70||Buy in Store|
|Sherwin Williams Harmony||$60||Buy in Store|
|Sherwin Williams Promar||$70||Buy in Store|
|Dunn Edwards||$50||Buy in Store|
iii. Non-Toxic Exterior Paints
- ECOs has an exterior primer and paint. I tested their Exterior Vinyl Siding Paint and Exterior Porch and Floor. Exterior paints are usually more potent in their odors compared to interior paints, and these ones definitely are when wet.
- AFM Safecoat exterior paint
- Envirosafe exterior paint
iv. The Best of Natural Mineral Paints
My post on natural mineral paints compares the most popular brands – Romabio, Biosheild, Annie Sloan and Lime Paint.
I compare their toxicity, offgassing, additives, odor as well as how they perform.
I liked them all for different reasons but Bioshield was my overall favorite. These paints require a different application and different care.
I didn’t include Milk Paint because it’s difficult to use on the walls.
Green Planet Paints also wasn’t included. It is a natural oil based paint that describe as “bio acrylic paint”. It doesn’t fit neatly into any of the other categories here.
In the mineral paint post I also mention paints that claim to be “mineral paint” – those range from ones that are standard acrylic like Farrow and Ball to ones where it’s not clear just how much is minerals and how much is conventional binders.
v. Non-Toxic Primers
- AFM Safecoat Low VOC Transitional Primer
- AFM New Wallboard Primer for new drywall (both low-VOC, but they seal in toxins).
- ECOS makes primers including a new wallboard primer (no mildewcide) and wood primers. I like their Air Purifying Primer (APP) which is low odor. The APP primer has a similar level of odor to the low luster paint. This paint contains zeolite which absorbs VOCs, and I would suspect this is saturated already when in the wet paint, which may help to bring down the odor of the primer. Their Stain Blocking Primer arrived solid when I ordered it, though it did seem higher odor than APP.
- Sherwin Williams Promar 200 is a zero-VOC primer (no mildewcide).
vi. Non-Toxic Metal Primers
- AFM makes MetalCoat Primer (zero-VOC).
- Mythic Primer can be used on metal (now out of business in North America, but available in the UK).
- Auro Rust Protection Primer is another non-toxic metal primer for the chemically sensitive.
- Tung oil can be used to rustproof some types of steel. More on tung oil in a dedicated post.
- Annie Sloan Chalk paint can be used over some metals as a primer, I discuss that paint in the mineral paint post.
vii. Non-Toxic Kitchen Cabinet Stains and Paints
Non-Toxic Clear Finish for Cabinets:
- ECOs Clear Varnish 0 VOC
- AFM Acrylacq VOC 124g/l
- AFM Poly BP VOC 120 g/l
- Vermeister Polyurethane finish 0 VOC
Non-Toxic Painted Finish for Cabinets:
- AFM Safecoat Ecolacq is a Lacquer that works particularly well on cabinets. Ecolacq has its own primer and needs to be sprayed on to cabinets to get a professional look.
- Regular paint with a clear finish doesn’t usually look great on cabinets as it will look painted with brush strokes. If you do want to use a conventional paint on cabinets, Fusion makes acrylic paints with mineral tints for furniture that claim 0 VOC. You can buy a sample pack here. They have some tips on how to paint with fewer brush marks and they have a product to help you paint over old cabinets.
Natural Oil Finish for Cabinets:
- Rubio Monocoat oil plus for furniture comes in a lot of cool colors, is easy to touch up and has been reported to work well on cabinets.
- Penefin Verde rosewood/linseed 1g/l
There are clay-based plasters and lime-based plasters.
Plasters can be tinted with natural pigments. Here is a detailed post on my experiences using clay plaster and lime wash in my tiny house.
Plaster of Paris can be highly tolerable. The USG brand comes recommended by sensitive folks and can be found at hardware stores like Home Depot.
To learn more, get yourself a copy of The Natural Plaster Book.
i. Sealing in Toxins
AFM Safeseal is also used to seal in formaldehyde in wood products. You can also use a shellac which is one of the best sealers to seal in odors and VOCs.
For sealing in fragrance, smoke, terpenes or other VOCs please contact me for a consultation and we will find the best product for your application.
ii. Exterior Wood Sealers
AFM has a new exterior clear sealer EXT.
iii. Non-Toxic Tile, Concrete, Stone Sealers
Stone, Concrete and Brick Sealers
- AFM Mexeseal for unpolished marble, limestone, granite, sandstone, slate, fireclay (brick, tile, terra cotta, pavers), concrete (brick, tile, precast panels, cast in place).
- ECOS sealer/stain for concrete, masonry, brickwork, and plaster.
- ECOs sealer for most floors and worktop counters made from stone, tile, marble, and other hard materials.
- Lithofin for initial treatment for rough & honed (polished) surfaces – natural stone, engineered stone, and tiles: ceramic/porcelain/quarry and to touch up and protect polished travertine and limestone surfaces which have become matte or dull over time.
- AFM Penetrating Water Stop (zero-VOC) for porous, mineral containing surfaces such as brick, pavers, concrete block and other cementitious materials, stone and stucco. I am using it on my concrete bathroom tiles and have used it on the clay plaster in my kitchen.
- Milk Paint Soapstone Sealer (walnut oil and wax) for soapstone, concrete, raw slate, non glossy marble, granite, sandstone and onyx.
- Hemp Oil is also a drying oil and in theory should work like walnut oil on all the stones and concrete as well as wood.
- Kinloch is a 0 VOC sealer for granite, marble, concrete and some tiles.
- Metacreme for natural stones and concrete.
- Acri-soy is a concrete sealer that can also be used on stone.
Tung oil also makes a good finish for concrete. For a more detailed look at sealing stone and concrete countertops see my post on kitchens, where I go through the types of countertops and sealers (food safe) for each one.
For sealing grout there are a number of good options, I discuss grout sealers options in my post on grout and thinset.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 6 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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