The type of non-toxic paint you will choose for wood depends on how durable you need it to be, how safe you need it to be (is it going in a child’s mouth for example), what kind of wood it is, and what kind of paint or stain is on it already.
Some of the paints are all-natural and totally child-safe and food-safe, others are perfectly healthy to handle and be around if they are not going in anyone’s mouth.
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Non-Toxic Paint for Wooden Toys
1. All Natural Milk Paint
Milk Paint is the most obvious first choice for wooden toys. It’s the only 100% natural paint and it is the safest choice.
It’s made of milk protein (casein), limestone, clay (in some brands), chalk, and natural pigments. It comes in a powder and you mix it yourself with water.
It’s very easy to apply this to raw wood, and that is the best application for this paint.
The Real Milk contains no clay but it does contain titanium dioxide and iron oxides. The green colors contain Chromium (III) which probably wouldn’t leave it Toy Safe (depending on real-life leachability and durability of the topcoat). The topcoat would likely be enough protection, but their paints are not tested (with or without topcoats).
Old Fashioned Milk Paint has tested its product against Toy Safe Standard EN-71 in Europe. Not all colors passed the metal leaching tests (whites and blues did not make the cut). The following colors are certified safe: Scarlett (red), Marigold yellow, Mustard, Pumpkin, Salem Red, Barn Red, Bayberry Green, Tavern Green, Lexington (dark green), and Pitch Black.
If the wood already has a finish on it, I would likely skip Milk Paint. If it needs to be primed with an acrylic bond coat it defeats the purpose of going with a non-acrylic paint (just use a conventional paint in that case).
It requires a topcoat to be durable in any way to water otherwise the finish is quickly ruined.
Top Coats for Milk Paint
If you are painting toys you almost certainly want an all-natural and completely food-safe topcoat.
You can use any of the drying oils which do form a film that makes it durable to water and cleanable.
The oils darken the Milk Paint and cause the colors to lose some vibrancy.
Natural Shellac Resin
Shellac is a food-safe resin that is even used to coat some foods. It’s a resin from a beetle and when dissolved in alcohol it can be used as a wood coating.
Zinsser has said their shellac formulas are not food safe. If you wanted a purist option you can buy the flakes and mix them with Everclear alcohol.
Of course, the real purist option would be to not paint the wood at all, and just use the all-natural drying oils and/or shellac.
2. Non-Toxic Acrylic Paints
ECOS Paints and other acrylic paints can be used on toys as well. Once these paints are cured (at two weeks). ECOS Paints are EN-71 certified for use on children’s toys.
If you don’t mind the shiny look you can always put a protective coat of shellac over paint.
3. Non-Toxic Latex Paint
Farrow and Ball is a extremely low odor and low VOC paint, even when wet. This is a non-acrylic latex paint. It is certified Toy Safe.
Non-Toxic Paint for Wooden Furniture
When painting furniture it doesn’t need to be as food-safe as toys. There are a few more options.
1. Milk Paint
You can still use Milk Paint on raw wood, with an oil or shellac topcoat as above.
It would be easier to use an acrylic paint in my opinion, if it’s a high wear use item.
2. Chalked Paint
Chalked Paint is also a very low toxin ultra-low VOC option. The benefit of using Chalked Paint is it can prime over many other finishes. It is still a good idea to sand a little bit even though technically you don’t have to.
This is helpful if you need to go over a natural oil finish, oil-based paint, or unknown varnish. I have not yet found something this can’t go over.
You do need a top coat to make this durable. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is another brand that I like a lot.
3. ECOS Zero-VOC Paint
No-VOC acrylic paint is another option for bare wood or previously painted wood.
If the furniture is made of pine (like IKEA dressers and beds), use ECOS Stain Blocking Primer to prevent bleed-through of the tannins before painting.
Previously Painted Furniture
If the furniture was painted with water-based paint (or has a water-based polyurethane) you can paint over with ECOS water-based paint in most cases with some light sanding.
If you are going over oil-based paint you can use ECOS Universal Primer first to transition it to water-based paint.
Non-Toxic Paint for Wooden Panel Walls
I have a slightly different list for walls, first because in some cases it’s a good idea to keep the walls breathable, and second because wall paint doesn’t usually need to be as durable as furniture paint.
1. Milk Paint
You can use Milk Paint on walls. If it’s raw wood then I would consider it since it takes well to raw wood. If it’s previously painted wood I would not consider it.
You can add Outdoor Additive to decrease tannin leaching and discoloration from knots.
You do need to think about the work of adding a topcoat like oil to the walls which is wiped on and wiped off on top of multiple coats of Milk Paint.
2. Chalked Paint
If you don’t need the walls to be scrubbable, Chalked Paint is more durable than Milk Paint.
You need one or two coats. But again, if a topcoat/sealer is needed it would probably not be worth it.
3. RomaBio Mineral Paint
RomaBio EcoDomus Matte is my first choice for raw wood paneling. If you use the Matte that is the primer and the paint over raw wood.
You can probably do two coats total and be done.
It’s wipeable and breathable. This paint is a mineral (silicate-based) paint and is zero-VOC.
4. Acrylic Paint
Non-Toxic Paint for Hardwood Floors
1. Farrow and Ball
Farrow and Ball brand is a very low odor paint. They make a floor primer. Their Modern Eggshell line is then used on top of that.
This paint does contain methylisothiazolinone as the preservative.
This works well for wood floors. Make sure to read all info on substrate prep on their website.
You can buy this paint via their website or in local stores.
2. ECOS Paints
ECOS Paints Floor Paint is formulated for wood and concrete floors. I love ECOS Paints, it’s usually my top pick of paint brand.
They disclose all of their ingredients and they don’t use methylisothiazolinone. It’s zero-VOC at 14 days.
You can order this paint from their website, they ship to everywhere in the US as well as to Canada and Mexico.
Over pine floors you can use the Sanding Sealer first (then sand), then ECOS Universal Primer, followed by two coats of their Floor Paint.
3. AFM Safecoat
AFM Safecoat Concrete Floor Paint is an acrylic paint with PVA. It’s mostly used on concrete floors, but there are some conditions in which you can use it on wood.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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