Updated in Winter 2020
Testing wood glues, construction adhesives and silicone caulks was the hardest part of building my tiny house since I did this when I was highly sensitive.
But you’re going to need glues, caulks and adhesives if you are building so it’s a good idea to start testing them out. You’re going to need them for repairs and renovations too. I would suggest knowing which ones work for you before that urgent repair is needed.
This post covers low VOC, non-toxic options that are suitable for the chemically sensitive or health-conscious.
This post contains affiliate links to products I recommend. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Non-Toxic Wood Glues
It’s difficult to extrapolate a small jar of dry glue to a house filled with it. (In retrospect I would have tested a much larger dry sample.) I smelled them wet because I got a clearer sign of their relative effects on me.
Since I have not figured out a better way to test materials, that’s what I’m working with.
It is often a better idea to sniff something dry/cured since there can be a dramatic difference between how tolerable something is wet and when cured. Testing it cured is the most important test in most cases.
Non-Toxic Wood Glue Brands – My Testing Results
1.Gorilla Glue – I found this to be difficult when wet, but not terrible. It seemed fine to me when dry. (Easy to find at hardware stores and on Amazon.)
2. Elmer’s Wood Glue – Not good for me when wet, but many chemically sensitive prefer this brand (Carried at hardware stores and on Amazon).
3. Roo Glue – White and wood glue – Not great when wet, but not terrible. It seemed totally benign when dry. The severely sensitive should try this brand even though it’s special order. (Available in the US and it ships to Canada).
4. Titebond – This is a brand that is recommended for chemically sensitive folks. I had already picked Roo Glue before I got a chance to test it. I do know people that build for the chemically sensitive who use this brand. (Easy to find at hardware stores and on Amazon).
I would start here since it’s inexpensive and easy to order from Amazon and find in stores.
5. ECOS Wood glue – ECOS makes extremely tolerable products, and while I didn’t get a chance to test this one, I would expect it to be quite good.
6. Hide Glue is the most natural glue option for wood. It is a strong glue with no VOCs but it is not waterproof. You can mix it yourself from beads or flakes for the most natural option, or you can buy it ready-made which does contain additives.
Non-Toxic & 0 VOC Caulks
Which Caulks are Mildewcide Free?
I would recommend getting a non-sensitive person to put them in jars and only testing them after they have dried.
Note that caulks labeled for bathrooms or mildew resistant contain a mildewcide. Currently GE I is mildewcide free, GE II contains a mildewcide and DAP makes an aquarium caulk that is free of mildewcides. Any caulk labeled aquarium safe is free of mildewcides.
AFM Safecoat and Chemlink Durasil are also mildewcide free.
Top Non-Toxic Caulking Brands
All caulks have a chemical odor when wet. I tested them at 24 hours, 48 hours and one week.
1. AFM Safecoat Caulk – This is one of the top choices along with GE.
I used this in my bathroom, you can use this around the shower and sink. It can be used around doors and windows.
My testing: Not the best when wet, not the best at 24 hours, but the best at one week.
Where to use AFM Caulk:
It can inside and outside. Around windows, cracks, tub and shower enclosures, backsplash, siding, walls and wood (like sealing molding) and general maintenance. It does not hold as long in the bathroom as silicone with a mildewcide.
It is polyether resin that does not contain solvents (it’s not acrylic, latex, silicone or polyurethane). It is non-shrinking. 0-VOC.
It can be painted.
Alternative: ChemLink, NovaLink 35 is similar but comes in different colors, if that is needed.
2. GE Silicone 2 Clear Caulk – This may be a better choice for some applications. This is the next one to test alongside AFM.
My testing: It was not as good at one week as AFM or Ecobond (Ecobond now out of business). I find that after a couple of weeks it is fine for me.
Offgassing: Most of the caulks would be suitable for the chemically sensitive at 2 weeks though the extremely sensitive may still pick up some offgassing even at that time.
Where to use GE 100% silicone: Windows, doors, siding, trim, molding, baseboards, vents, around wires/pipes, and more.
We used this on the underbelly of my house and on my windows. It is low-VOC.
Mildewcide: GE 1 is the one without mildewcide.
Alternative: If GE Silicone doesn’t work for you, you may want to try DAP, their aquarium calk is mildewcide free, or Dow Corning 100% silicone.
I have not tested this one myself but I would expect it to be up there with the most tolerable.
It comes in clear and white.
4. Silicone Aquarium Caulks – I have read that aquarium caulk is the least toxic because fish are exposed to it and they can’t handle chemicals (especially biocides).
I tested two brands, Aquarium Silicone Caulker and one called Marina from a local pet food store, they were much more expensive than brands for home use (for no reason), and they were both the worst of the worst to me.
So bad I would not recommend testing or using these brands. Though one super sensitive person preferred the Aquarium caulk Aqueon to GE I or II and Ecobond.
Marine caulking is not the same as aquarium caulk. I tested GE Marine Silicone Sealer. It had that same pungent odor though, like vinegar x a million.
5. Chemlink also makes an elastomeric caulk for sealing concrete and masonry called NovaLink35. I haven’t tested this one, but again it’s a great brand.
Caulking Materials – What Caulks are Made of:
Polyurethane caulks – Usually contain isocyanate. Not as safe.
Acrylic Latex caulk – They have mildewcides in them. Painters caulk are usually acrylic latex and are sandable and paintable.
Silicone – While silicone itself is not toxic, chemicals are added to keep caulking in liquid form are. These chemicals offgas at different rates until the product is fully cured. For silicone caulk, look for 100% silicone, but each brand has different additives that affect people differently and offgas at different rates.
100% silicone is not really 100% silicone, but the chemical additives are not listed. Solvents used to keep silicone in liquid form are listed here.
Polyether – specialty silicone replacement materials are often polyether.
Solvents common in caulking (of all types) include acetone, methyl ethyl acetone, toluene, xylene (Source).
Construction adhesives are used for subfloors, to install doors (glue down threshold), to build stairs, exterior brickwork, under countertops, etc.
- AFM Almighty Adhesive is the best adhesive I have ever tested. I had absolutely no problem and no reaction to smelling it while it was wet.
This was a pleasant surprise after all the other glues and silicones.
It is a highly tolerable very low chemical multipurpose adhesive (make sure it’s right for your application). It is a polyether adhesive with 1-3% silanes.
I used Almighty this to install my shower, on subfloors, countertops and really anywhere this can be used since it’s the healthiest adhesive I have found. It has many applications, I always use this, if it works for the project.
Insider tip, this is the same formula as Build Secure by Chemlink.
2. Chemlink Wallsecure is a good adhesive for subfloors (they say less toxic than Liquid Nails).
3. Liquid Nails subfloor adhesive is also well tolerated by many.
4. Ecotite is another good brand liked by the chemically sensitive. Their ET 5500 is an adhesive that works on a number of surfaces.
The 9500 is used for windows, doors and some kitchen applications. These links are to a Canadian store but you can find this product in the US as well.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 6 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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