When I set out to write about eco-friendly wallpaper I thought this would be a pretty straightforward exercise of looking at the VOC levels of the inks.
It turned out that newer wallpaper materials are far more complex and contain a lot more chemical additives than just paper and ink.
When The Ecology Center last did a study of the 11 leading wallpaper brands, they found that almost all of them contained PVC, and half of them contained other major chemicals of concern, including metals and toxic flame retardants.
This post outlines what I look for in a wallpaper and my top picks for healthy, non-toxic, eco-friendly brands.
The post covers brands available in North America, Europe and Australia.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
What to Look for in an Eco-Friendly Wallpaper:
Water-Based Ink Printed Wallpaper
Generally, water-based ink is preferable to solvent-based ink. Solvent-based ink is likely to be higher in VOCs.
Low & Zero-VOC Wallpaper
Wallpapers labeled with the Greenguard certification mean they have low levels of VOCs. But I would be surprised if any water-based ink wallpaper couldn’t meet that level. Look for low or zero-VOC water-based inks or paint. Get a sample if you are chemically sensitive.
The vast majority of wallpaper is coated in PVC/vinyl which contains harmful plasticizers that are not counted as VOCs or measured in certifications like Greenguard Gold. In 2010, The Ecology Center tested 2,300 types of wallpaper (from 11 different brands), 96% of them had PVC as a coating.
Fifteen percent of wallpapers tested by the Ecology Center contained Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) in 2010. This flame retardant is not likely used very much anymore, but others will have taken its place. Some brands contained tin, which is another flame retardant. Silver and titanium dioxide can also be added to the mixes. Newer chemicals include intumescent flame retardant, which is supposed to be safer.
The Ecology Center report also revealed that wallpaper commonly contains arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, and tin. With 1/5th of all samples containing cadmium.
Healthy Eco-Friendly Brands of Wallpaper
PVC-Free Wallpaper Lines
Spoonflower wallpaper is made with water-based inks. They are formaldehyde, phthalate, and PVC-free.
This is one of a few brands of peel and stick that is not made of PVC, so I really like this brand.
The peel and stick and pre-pasted are not fire rated so they would not contain a flame retardant. The non-pasted is fire rated and it’s not clear if it contains a chemical flame retardant.
The peel and stick does have a noticeable but fairly mild odor both from the plastic side and from the sticker side (as expected of anything that is a sticker or tape), the pre-pasted was the lowest in odor with the glue seeming odorless to me, the non-pasted one was in the middle odor wise – the woven backing does have an odor.
They sell samples 10$ each.
They have offices in the US and Germany, and ship around the world. You can buy the wallpaper on Amazon.
2. Juju Papers
Juju Paper is a clay-coated wallpaper made with inks that are water-based and low VOC.
No PVC and no flame retardants are added, they stated in an email.
The papers are made in the USA and you can buy them online at Burke Decor.
Farrow & Ball, a well-known UK based paint company, also makes wallpaper.
They use their line of low and zero-VOC water-based paints to create the wallpaper. Their paint is far lower odor than even zero-VOC acrylics. The binder in their paint is PVA, making it one of the lowest toxin paints I have ever tested.
These are PVC free. The company claims they are free of flame retardant chemicals.
I was happy with the samples I ordered. They seemed odorless to me. They appear more like a painted surface than an ink or plastic-coated surface since they are made with paint.
They have showrooms in Europe, the US, and Canada. You can also buy it through their website and Amazon.
4. Ferm Living
Fern Living papers are printed with water-based colors on non-woven fleece paper.
They are PVC-free and the company claims they don’t add flame retardants.
They ship within Europe and the US and have showrooms in Europe.
In the US, you can order through Burke Decor (they also ship to Canada and internationally).
Missprint’s wallpapers are printed with organic pigment inks, which are non-toxic, free of heavy metals, and classed as non-carcinogenic.
This is non-woven wallpaper, applied by pasting the wall.
The wallpapers are not coated in PVC, nor do they contain any PVC. They do not contain any fire retardant chemicals or metals.
All MissPrint products are made in the UK and they ship worldwide via their website. Some designs can be found on Amazon UK.
This environmentally-friendly wallpaper meets the Oeko-Tex® 100 Standard.
The wallpaper is free from formaldehyde and other harmful VOCs. The toner is even food safe.
It’s made of high-quality non-woven wallpaper. All of their wallpaper is PVC/vinyl-free, except for the Hotel Chique collection which is vinyl coated.
Based in Amsterdam, you can buy this brand online in North America through Burke Decor.
Graham & Brown uses water-based inks to produce a final VOC-free product.
They have a few different types of wallpaper: flocked, paper-based, as well as vinyl.
The “eco collection” mentioned on many other websites no longer exists, however many of their papers are still eco.
Some of their wallpapers are PVC – they recommend these for kitchens and bathrooms. It’s not possible to tell on their website which ones are vinyl other than the ones labeled kitchen and bathroom surely are.
Out of the sample I got: Rene Shimmer, Skulls Black, Brian Eno Flower Mask, Grasscloth and Orbit White Grey, only the last one is vinyl, the company said in an email.
The company has not yet responded to an email asking about flame retardants.
Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada can order directly through their website.
Allira Tee makes PVC-free pre-pasted wallpaper with cute designs. They are made with acrylic based inks and are GreenGuard Gold Certified.
You can buy it through Hygge & West.
9. Flat Vernacular
Flat Vernacular’s digitally printed papers are made with water-based inks that are low-VOC. The grasscloth wallcoverings are handwoven from sisal fiber and are also printed with low-VOC waterbased inks.
Their hand-printed papers are printed with solvent-based inks.
All of their wallpapers are vinyl/PVC-free.
They don’t add chemical (or metal-based) flame retardants to the digitally printed wallpapers.
Their wallpapers are made in the USA. You can buy them from their online shop.
Lisel Jane Ashlock makes PVC-free pre-pasted paper with floral designs. They are made with water-based inks and are GreenGuard Gold Certified.
You can buy it through Hygge and West.
11. Maison C.
Maison C papers are printed in an “ecologically friendly manner” in the USA. They are PVC/vinyl-free.
They have two different papers that they use, one is Type II paper (PVC free), and one that is clay coated.
All inks are water-based and low-VOC. No flame retardants are added.
They are sold through showrooms in the US and Canada.
Makelike papers are printed by hand with natural dyes/inks on recyclable paper. Unlike most conventional wallpapers, Makelike’s papers are not bleached.
They don’t use PVC anywhere in the products and they are not treated with flame retardants.
Based in the US, you can buy it from their website, they ship internationally or you can find a local stockist.
Woodchip & Magnolia is a UK based company that produces their papers in small batches. They use water-based inks.
They have a whole “eco manifesto” and are very dedicated to sustainability.
They don’t use any PVC in any of the wallpapers and they don’t add any flame retardants. The substrate reaches the highest FR standard without the need for additional flame retardant chemicals.
Based in the UK, they ship worldwide.
Stories for Walls makes traditional non-woven pre-pasted wallpaper. It’s PVC-free.
It meets flame retardant standards, but the company did not respond to an inquiry on if flame retardant coatings or chemicals are added.
15. Erica Wakerly
Erica Wakerly papers are printed with environmentally friendly, light-fast, and non-toxic water-based inks.
The wallpapers are tested and certified for fire ratings without needing to add any flame retardant chemicals or coatings. They do not coat the paper in PVC.
A British company, Erica Wakerly has stockists around the world. If you are in the UK you can buy it online.
Brewster Wall Coverings carry a line on Burke Decor that is listed as PVC-free and 0-VOC. They use waterbased inks.
It is listed as washable.
You can buy them online through Burke Decor.
17. Veruso Lino
This is a completely purist option! It is biodegradable because it is not made using inks or paints. It does not use any artificial dyes and produces no VOCs.
It is made only of organic fibers: 65% flax and 35% viscose. There are no other ingredients. If you are looking for the most sustainable wallpaper, this is it.
The flame-retardant attributes come from the natural properties of the material. No chemical additives are used.
You apply it with a simple methyl cellulose paste.
The company that sells this line, Wallpaper from the 70s, also sent a number of other samples. Like with all brands here the simplest options of true paper based wallpaper with ink (or paint) are low odor and are a great bet. Some of their samples did have more of a plastic coating and those did have some offgassing as expected.
This is a German company. You can buy it online – it ships around the world (including to North America).
18. Mind the Gap
Mind the Gap papers are printed with eco-friendly latex inks, which they say are odorless.
This non-woven paper is certified by the Nordic Swan Environmental Standard. None of their papers are coated in PVC.
Made in Romania, you can find them in North America through Burke Decor.
19. York Wallcoverings
York Wallcoverings uses low VOC, Water-based inks, printed on managed renewable forest paper.
Another exciting thing about this brand is their peel and stick. This is on non-woven paper. I got samples of these and they were very low odor to me.
Some vendors have listed it as a non-vinyl peel and stick, though the company did get back to me directly and said it contains “trace PVC”.
20. Magnolia Home by Joanne Gaines
Joanne Gaines collection of wallpaper is non-woven prepasted paper.
It’s low VOC, make with water-based inks and I like that they make a point to make sure there is no cadmium or mercury.
Even the Peel and Sticks are listed as PVC-free on some vendor’s websites.
You can find it through DecoratorsBest.
21. Seabrook Wallcoverings
The Tortuga Collection by Seabrook Wallcoverings uses a non-vinyl acrylic-coating on the paper. Acrylic is much safer than vinyl.
This wallpaper comes unpasted and is washable.
You can find it through DecoratorsBest.
Wallquest papers are printed on paper from renewable forests or recycled sources. They use water-based inks.
None of the non-vinyl wall coverings have PVC added as a coating.
You can buy it from Burke Decor.
Types of Wallpaper by Application
- Pre-pasted – has the paste is already on the back. Usually, you just add water.
- Unpasted wallpaper – you either add the paste to the wall or to the paper.
- Peel and Stick – there is no paste, it’s like a sticker. This is almost always vinyl. (Spoonflower has a non-vinyl peel and stick!)
Types of Wallpaper by Material
- Vinyl – the most common type of wallpaper is vinyl backed which is vinyl on the face with paper or fabric on the back. Paper can also be vinyl coated (which is a slightly different type than vinyl-backed). Solid vinyl wallpaper is also available, this makes up most of the peel and stick market. If a paper is labeled as strippable, this is most likely vinyl coated, but not always.
- Paper – this type is printed onto paper. Many paper wallpapers are clay-coated. Many paper wallpapers are not coated in plastic (acrylic or vinyl). Ask if you are unsure. They are often very breathable.
- Non-woven – a mixture of synthetic and natural fibers (cellulose and polyester usually). The fibers are combined with acrylic binders. You can “paste the wall” instead of the wallpaper. It may or may not be vinyl coated.
- Fabric – these wallpapers are made of textiles like cotton, silk, raffia, felt, linens, or twines, and sometimes they are laminated onto regular wallpaper. They can sometimes be coated with vinyl or acrylic.
- Grasscloth – made from natural fibers including grasscloth, hemp, jute, reed, or arrowroot. You will also want to know what the backing material is, it might be paper.
- Flocked – these have a suede-like or fuzzy velvet-like texture, and they are printed on a paper backing. The texture is a polyester, nylon, or rayon flock applied to an adhesive-coated backing. If it says wipeable, I would inquire into the face coating.
- Metallic – these are usually paper backed with foils laid on top. The foil is usually aluminum.
- Hessian – made of hemp or jute, this natural textile has a burlap look.
- Wood veneer – this is a real wood veneer backed on to paper, hung with standard wallpaper paste. The coating is likely a waterbased polyurethane. You should verify the backing and coating.
- Mylar – the top layer decorative design is covered with a thin film of polyester making it washable. The backing is paper.
- Fiberglass – this can be in the form of a fiberglass fabric like wall covering. It can be vinyl-free or it can be coupled with vinyl wallpaper.
Non-Toxic Wallpaper Paste
When hanging wallpaper, you’ll also want to make sure you use a non-toxic paste (glue/adhesive).
First, talk to the company about which type of paste is needed. Or start with looking only at paper-based or non-woven wallpapers that can be applied with the least toxic cellulose or starch paste.
Personally, I would stick to light to medium weight paper-backed wallpaper that is not coated with vinyl. These wallpapers are breathable, less toxic than other options, and can be hung with a simple non-toxic paste below. Just check with the company to be sure. Many non-woven wallpapers can also be applied with the basic paste.
If you would like to go with a wall covering that needs a stronger adhesive. I would talk to the brand about the options and test them for your own tolerability if you are sensitive to chemicals.
Types of Paste:
Made of methylcellulose or starch these work for light to heavy paper-based wallpapers. They are totally benign.
Auro makes a wallpaper paste that is just methylcellulose for paper-backed wallpaper, both thin and some heavy wallpaper types.
The powder is made of pure (beech) methylcellulose and is mixed with water. There is no need to buy a branded version unless that is easier for you.
Make you own:
- 1. Methylcellulose – you can buy methylcellulose on Amazon to make your own paste. Cellulose paste is particularly suited to light to medium weight paper backed paper. It can also work on some grass-cloth and paper-backed cork wall-coverings.
- 2. Starch-based paste – usually made from flour and alum. Caution with alum, as this is aluminum sulfate. In some cases, an essential oil might be added as a preservative. Dextrin can also be used in some formulas.
- Branded starch-based powder like Graham and Brown’s paste does have a biocide in it.
- If the company allows for methylcellulose as a paste, I would mix it myself.
Clay-based paste has a base of clay, dextrin, and cellulose. What else is in it is not obvious.
This adhesive is used on vinyl wallpaper, heavyweight fabric, flexible wood, mylar and foil types.
Clear vinyl paste is made of natural polymers such as wheat and corn starch or of synthetic polymers. It’s not been made obvious what the synthetic polymers are. Other additives may include cellulose, biocides, and flow agents.
Roman PRO-838 Heavy Duty Clear Wallcovering Adhesive is a clear wallpaper paste for medium to heavy wallpaper, that has the VOCs listed as less than 5 g/l, which is very low.
Some pastes have PVA in them, this is a safe adhesive that is the base of white Elmer’s glue and carpenter’s glues.
Typical wallpaper paste is made with fungicide – both dry mix and ready mix.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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