Which Paints are Truly Safe?
There is a myriad of paints claiming to be green, natural, or zero-VOC, but most don’t list their ingredients, others list the main components, while some only list what has to be legally disclosed on a safety data sheet (SDS).
This article investigates past the marketing jargon to compare all of the options that claim to be zero-VOC or natural.
This post covers interior wall paints for drywall, plasterboard, plaster, and wood.
I break the paints into categories based on their formulas:
- 1) Latex Paint which includes acrylic paint and VAE paint
- 2) Natural Paint which includes mineral paint, clay paint, and milk paint
- 3) Linseed-Based Oil Paint
We know that zero-VOC is a legal term and does not always mean it really has no VOCs (chemically).
Keep in mind there are products that are higher in VOCs that will “flash off” and cure quickly, while other low-VOC, or even zero-VOC, formulations can take longer to cure.
Exempt VOCs, meaning those that are not counted in that term legally, include ammonia and acetone.
Other Chemicals of Concern: APEs
Apart from VOCs, alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are surfactants used in acrylic paints, can disrupt the hormone system.
Preservatives & Mildewcide
All paints except powdered Milk Paint have preservatives. A few brands in the post disclose which ones they use. With others, we can only guess based on the list of commonly used preservatives/mildewcides.
Those who are chemically sensitive should test multiple brands for tolerance after looking through the ingredients and reviewing what works best for the most severely sensitive folks.
In my view, a truly eco-friendly paint is zero-VOC at two weeks’ time but is also ideally low VOC and low odor when wet.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
There are three main categories of safe healthy paint:
1. Latex Paint
This is the most common type of paint used in homes. The majority of latex paints are made with 100% acrylic binder. Some paints are made with a PVA binder. They are both water-based.
This paint type is widely used due to its ease of application and durability against water and stains. I list my top picks in the latex paint category with a price comparison.
2. Mineral Paint
This category includes paints that have a more natural base. Though technically “mineral paint” means paint made with a silicate binder that does not polymerize, in reality, this term is used much more broadly. The term mineral paint can include silicate paints, clay-based paints, lime paint or limewash, chalk paint, and milk paint.
3. Natural Oil-Based Paint
Most of us think of oil-based paint as not very healthy and high in VOCs. However, there is oil-based paint made with bio-based ingredients. As long as you are not sensitive to natural oils like linseed, you might really like this option.
Top Picks for Interior Latex Paint
What is “latex paint”? Paint used to contain styrene-butadiene rubber (synthetic latex). Standard latex paints do not contain this ingredient anymore. Today latex paints are made with either a 100% acrylic binder or with polyvinyl acetate (PVA) as the binder. Some are a mix of both.
1. ECOS Paints
ECOS primers and paints are zero-VOC and are certainly the most popular acrylic paint for the chemically sensitive.
Like most paints, they are zero-VOC after 14 days of curing under normal conditions.
This paint is highly tolerable and is my go-to pick for both 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.
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.
The paint performs well, has good pigments (great ability to color match), and good coverage. I have used this paint and I did find it to be as low odor as an acrylic paint can get and it’s fast to cure. I can see why it’s the most popular of the zero-VOC acrylics.
Free of mildewcide: They use 1-hydroxy-2-pyridinethione as a preservative which is a non-red list chemical.
Free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs). Free of natural latex, it has been safely used by folks with a latex allergy.
Note: Both Lullaby Paints and Quiet Home Paints are both ECOS brand paint. Quiet Home has “curated colors”. This is the exact same product as ECOS paint.
Cost and Where to Buy:
You can buy ECOS Paints online from their website. It’s $78 a gallon with free shipping over $100 in the US. They sell samples, 3 for $10, including shipping.
They ship to everywhere in the US as well as Canada and Mexico.
In the UK this brand is called Lakeland Paints.
2. AFM Safecoat Zero-VOC Paint
Tintable to thousands of colors. Safecoat is zero-VOC with no-VOC colorants. (Though the primer is low-VOC).
This is a well-known brand that has been around for longer than most others.
It does not have as good coverage as ECOS.
They make it a focus to have no hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) – since “zero VOC” means it can still contain some hazardous substances.
In a survey of chemically sensitive folks, this was the second most popular choice after ECOS, but it also gets the most complaints (in my experience working with sensitive folks).
Though you may want to use AFM Transitional Primer and their paint to seal in offgassing since it does a better job at sealing in offgassing than other brands.
The preservative is an isothiazolinone (BIT).
Free of natural latex, it has been safely used by folks with a latex allergy.
This is an acrylic paint. The Pearl sheen also contains PVA.
Cost and Where to Buy:
3. Mythic Paint
Mythic paint was the fan-favorite amongst acrylic paints before ECOS. I used Mythic Paint in my tiny house when I was extremely sensitive and really liked it.
This paint seems to have disappeared for many years before coming back to Pigment Paint Supply. It’s also available in the UK with some use in Asia.
In attempting to track the sale of this formula in North America I looked at a few other possibilities:
A commenter believes American Pride (by the same parent company as Mythic) may be similar, though the company was not responsive to attempts to contact them.
ECOS, the new fan favorite, is tolerated as well as Mythic was. This is definitely my pick for a replacement paint. I have heard from multiple industry sources that the same scientist was involved in both brands, but there is sufficient evidence that they are not the same formula. I believe based on my use of both that ECOS is the closest match.
Much Smarter Paint claims to have Mythic matched, but that appears to be a marketing statement, it is not a statement about the formula. I don’t know that this company has any basis to say that they matched the formula.
It is my understanding that none of these companies bought 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 within the US).
I’m not convinced they have ECOS beat. You can buy ECOS paint online.
4. Green Planet Paints
This paint is a little different. Although it’s an acrylic paint, the acrylic is naturally-derived (and not from petrochemicals).
Green Planet Paints is one brand that’s made with a bio-acrylic binder. I tested this one and didn’t find it to be noticeably different from a regular zero-VOC acrylic.
Green Planet Paints is free of isothiazolinones.
Bio-acrylic paints are not always compatible with painting over an existing synthetic paint. Be sure to ask the company.
Durasoy is also a bio-acrylic paint but with two major complaints in the comments, and no personal experience with the paint myself I’m not comfortable recommending it.
Costs and Where to Buy:
Green Planet Paints sells their paint online through their website. It’s $48 a gallon.
The most common preservatives in paint include isothiazolinones (MIT or BIT) and/or pyrithione zinc. MIT and BIT are red list chemicals, although the main problem is with skin contact (source 1, 2). Pyrithione zinc, the active ingredient in Head and Shoulders also comes with health concerns (source). ECOS uses Pyrithione (without the zinc).
5. Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore makes a number of zero-VOC acrylic paints, one of the original non-toxic paint lines was their Natura (now phased out).
Ben Moore paints do contain a mildewcide (isothiazolinone). It is free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs).
Natura was phased out in March 2021, you might still find some cans in store.
They have many more zero-VOC lines now like ben and Aura is so very close to zero-VOC that the difference is not significant. If you want a super tough bathroom paint with added mildewcide, Aura Bath and Spa is one of the only zero-VOC formulas that meets these performance specs.
The company reps claim that their Eco Spec is the closest paint to Natura, however, it’s not as good quality.
If you want something you can go out and buy from a store right now or on Amazon, Ben Moore might be your best option. I really liked Natura and was sad to see it go but I would have no problem going with Aura now.
Costs and Where to Buy:
Benjamin Moore stores can be found all over the US and Canada. You can buy samples online – samples only ship to the US.
Costs per gallon: EcoSpec $48 Natura was $80, ben $47.
6. Sherwin Williams
Sherwin Williams Harmony was a paint that some chemically sensitive folks liked. It has been discontinued at the end of 2021. It’s being replaced by another one of their zero-VOC acrylic paints, SuperPaint with Air Purifying Technology.
They claim the paint can reduce VOCs in the home.
Based on patents by this company, it’s likely that their air-purifying paints contain sodium bicarbonate, zeolite, and possibly cyclodextrin.
It does have a mildewcide/preservative which is not disclosed.
Sherwin Williams ProMar 200 and their EcoSelect are other affordable Sherwin William lines that are zero-VOC.
Most Sherwin Williams lines are confirmed free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs).
In terms of a more durable enamel paint, ProClassic Waterborne Interior Acrylic Enamel has been reported by moderately sensitive folks to offgas relatively quickly.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can buy this at Sherwin Williams 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 the paint itself.
Some SW lines have quart sizes.
Harmony $60 per gallon (sometimes on sale online for $42), ProMar $70.
7. Valspar Paint
Valspar paint lines are the most affordable of the zero-VOC non-toxic acrylic paints, and the brand is wildly available.
Because it’s so affordable this could be a good option when you need to convince a property owner or management company to use a healthier paint.
Costs and Where to Buy:
Valspar Pristine is one of the zero VOC lines, and it goes for 29 USD at Walmart.
2022 update: Valspar Simplicity is not discontinued but it’s been mostly out of stock. A comparable product is HGTV Ovation Plus by Sherwin Williams (from Lowes, $16/gallon).
Valspar 4000 is also 0-VOC but a lower grade paint than the Valspar Simplicity.
8. Farrow & Ball
Despite being just slightly over the threshold for what is considered zero-VOC, Farrow & Ball in my opinion is the most tolerable paint in this section.
It is much lower in offgassing and odor when wet than any other paint I have tried.
This is a good reminder that VOC levels don’t always correspond to how good a product is in reality.
This is partially because there can be exempt VOCs in paint, because the rate of offgassing can vary greatly, and because we are all different in which chemicals are the most triggering.
This to me, seems to be the safest paint when wet in the conventional latex category. And it also cured quickly.
The binder in this paint is a vinyl acetate/ethylene copolymer (PVA). It’s a latex paint but not an acrylic paint.
It does contain isothiazolinones like most other paints on the list.
It’s extremely similar to BioShield paint, which is marketed as a “clay paint” but in my experience, Farrow and Ball is much easier to apply.
Costs and Where to Buy:
This UK-based company has stockists around the world. You can order online with paint shipping out from the US, UK, France, and Germany to most countries around the world. A sample pot is $8.
It’s pricey at $110 a gallon.
Honorable mention: as of 2022 almost all big brands have a zero or close to zero-VOC paint. Delux brand, available all around the world has a close to zero-VOC formula and Behr has one now as well. Clare is a new online brand of no-VOC paint that sells peel and stick color swatches. Some of their paints contain mineral oil. Dunn Edwards is a small American chain that makes Spartazero and other zero-VOC lines that come with health product declarations (HPD).
Eco-Friendly Paint Price Comparison 2022
|BRAND||COST PER GALLON (USD)||IS SHIPPING INCLUDED|
|ECOS||$78||Over $100, yes|
|AFM Safecoat||$69||No, unless you buy in store|
|Much Smarter Paints||$50||No|
|Farrow & Ball||$110||No, but you can find it in store too|
|Ben Moore EcoSpec||$48||Buy in store|
|Ben Moore ben||$47||Buy in Store|
|Sherwin Williams Promar||$70||Buy in Store|
|Sherwin Williams Harmony||$60||Buy in Store|
|Dunn Edwards||$45||Buy in Store|
|Valspar Pristine||$29||Buy in Store|
Natural Mineral Paints for Interior Walls
- I tested all of these natural paints, and my post on natural mineral paints compares these brands in more detail.
Romabio and Kiem are the only ones on this list technically called a “mineral paint”, which means it’s a silicate-based breathable paint.
Although lime is the filler, this paint is still a mostly synthetic paint, Romabio was to my nose a little higher in initial odor than ECOS, Kiem was much lower in odor.
Buy on Amazon.
BioShield is one of my top picks in this more natural category. The binder in this paint is PVA. It has a high percentage of natural ingredients and the least amount of concerning additives, and the lowest odor.
The extremely sensitive usually do well with this brand. All ingredients are disclosed. However, Farrow and Ball appears to me to be an extremely similar formula. It’s just as tolerable, easier to access, easier to apply, and in my experience, more durable.
Buy BioShield through their website, and Farrow and Ball in store or through their website.
3. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
Chalk Paint was also surprisingly low odor. I really liked this paint and it seemed very non-toxic to me. It has great coverage and does not need a primer on most surfaces (including radiators).
Buy Annie Sloan through their website or stockists.
4. Milk Paint
Milk paint is another paint that should be in this category. True milk paint is 100% natural, with no synthetic ingredients at all and no preservatives. It’s fully biodegradable.
Pure Milk Paint comes in a powder and is made of casein, lime, clay, and pigments. Over new drywall, it does not require a primer. For durability, it needs a topcoat, which would be a natural oil, wax, or varnish.
If you want to see my testing of milk paint on drywall, I have a post just on that.
Ana Sova is also a milk paint but in liquid form. They say it’s made with casein (milk protein) as the binder, titanium dioxide, cellulose, emulsifiers, fungicide, bactericide, mildew retardant, and preservatives. They claim that is it 96% “food ingredients”, though they do not declare the full list of ingredients.
I ordered a sample of Ana Sova in 2022 but it did not show up. When I emailed them about it, they said they are reformulating the paint. Generally, that is because a product was not performing as desired or expected. They said they would then send out a free sample but I have not received one.
I would stick to powdered milk paint, for the true pure product. The Real Milk Paint Company is a top brand.
Buy Milk Paint through The Real Milk Paint company. You can use the code mychemicalfreehouse for a discount at checkout.
Avoiding acrylic paint due to its contribution to microplastic waste? If so, focus on these options:
- Milk Paint (Old Fashioned Milk Paint or The Real Milk Paint brands)
- Chalk Style Paint that discloses all ingredients (like DIY Paint co)
- Farrow and Ball Paint (contains no acrylic plastic – source)
- Clay paint made with PVA binders (like BioShield)
- Clay, lime, or gypsum plaster
- True silicate-based mineral paint with no acrylic or undisclosed polymers (like Silacoat)
- (source on acrylic paint becoming a microplastic)
Natural Oil-Based Paint
1. AFM Naturals
AFM Naturals Paint is an oil-based interior paint made with bio-based ingredients. The oils are soybean oil, flaxseed oil (linseed), and thistle oil.
Like most paint, they add organic mineral fillers like titanium dioxide, calcium carbonate, nepheline syenite, and kaolin clay.
They do add metallic driers, but it is free of lead and cobalt.
The main synthetic component is a polysiloxane polymer.
All sheens dry to a hard, durable finish.
Buy AFM Naturals through the Green Design Center.
2. Allbäck Linseed Paint
Allbäck linseed oil paint is made without solvents. The main ingredients are boiled linseed and pigments made from titanium oxide, iron oxides, chromium oxide green, and ultramarine blue. The drying agent is manganese.
Linseed paint is a penetrating paint on porous surfaces, so it doesn’t crack or peel. It’s also a breathable paint, that won’t trap moisture.
It bonds to virtually any surface that is clean and dry other than silicone. You can use it on wood, concrete, sheet metal, iron, plastic, wallpaper, and more.
This is an interior and exterior paint. No primer is needed except on very dry wood a prime cost of pure linseed helps.
For maintenance, you can apply pure linseed oil or linseed oil with wax.
You can use this on drywall (with the right application), or you can use their Linus Wall Paint formula which is made from linseed oil, water, cellulose, shellac, beeswax, and natural pigments.
It’s not impossible to paint over this in the future, you can go over it with a transitional primer or oil-based paint.
Buy Allback paint via their website.
- Non-toxic wall primer
- Non-toxic exterior paint
- Non-toxic paints for wood (toys, furniture)
- Natural mineral paint testing
- Non-toxic Chalk Paint testing
- Non-toxic clay paint testing
- Non-toxic milk paint testing
- Non-toxic concrete paint
- Non-toxic breathable high perm rating paints
- Non-toxic radiator paint
- Non-toxic metal paint and primer
- Non-Toxic spray paint
- Non-toxic cabinet paint
- Non-toxic floor paint
- Food Grade/Food Safe Paint
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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