Which Paints are Truly Safe?
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 legally disclosed on a safety data sheet (SDS).
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 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 two main categories of safe healthy paint:
1. Acrylic Paint (often called latex paint)
This is the most common type of paint used in homes. The main binder is of course acrylic. This is widely used due to the ease of application and durability against water and stains.
I list my top picks in the acrylic-latex category with a price comparison.
2. Mineral Paint
This category includes paints that have a more natural base. This category is very diverse. Mineral paints include silicate paints, clay-based paints, lime paint or lime wash, chalk paint, and milk paint.
I have a separate post dedicated to those mineral paints!
Top Picks for Interior Acrylic Paint
What is “latex paint”? This is a general term that means acrylic paint. Paint used to contain styrene-butadiene rubber (synthetic latex). Standard use acrylic paints do not contain this ingredient today. Though only some paints are made with a 100% acrylic binder and some contain polyvinyl acetate (PVA).
1. ECOS Paints
ECOS primers and paints are zero-VOC and are certainly the most popular 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.
Free of mildewcide: They removed mildewcides from the formula in 2017, however, they do use 1-hydroxy-2-pyridinethione as a preservative.
Free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs).
Note: Both Lullaby Paints and Quiet Home Paints are both ECOS brand paint. Though Quiet Home is $12 more per gallon because they have “curated colors”. This is the exact same product as ECOS paint (and ECOS claims they can match any color).
Cost and Where to Buy:
You can buy it online from their website. It’s $65 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.
Tintable to thousands of colors. Safecoat is 0-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.
This brand makes fantastic products, but the paint is not usually my top pick, especially for the severely sensitive. 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).
This is an acrylic paint. The Pearl sheen also contains PVA.
Cost and Where to Buy:
You can buy this online. It’s $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 paint is still 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 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.
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).
These two are smaller brands and I’m not convinced they have ECOS beat, but everyone is different, so you may still prefer them. You can buy ECOS paint online.
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 a similar type of paint, also made with a bio-acrylic binder.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can purchase Durasoy online through their website. It’s $45 a gallon plus shipping.
Green Planet Paints also sells their paint online through their website. It’s $50 a gallon.
The most common preservatives in paint include isothiazolinones and/or pyrithione zinc.
Benjamin Moore makes a number of zero-VOC paints, one of the original non-toxic paint lines is their Natura.
It is high-quality, and comes in great colors.
It does contain a mildewcide (isothiazolinone). It is free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs).
Natura is being phased out in March 2021 so grab some quick if this is your favorite paint.
They have many more zero-VOC lines added now, like Regal Select and ben. The company reps claim that their Eco Spec is the closest paint to Natura.
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:
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: Natura $80, Regal Select $70, ben $60.
Sherwin Williams Harmony is another easy to source zero-VOC paint with zero-VOC pigments.
This paint claims to reduce formaldehyde. Based on patents by this company, it’s likely this paint contains sodium bicarbonate, zeolite, and possibly cyclodextrin.
It does have a mildewcide/preservative which is not disclosed.
Sherwin Willians ProMar 200 and their EcoSelect are other affordable lines that are zero-VOC.
Most Sherwin Williams lines are confirmed free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs).
In terms of a 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, but Harmony does not come in quart size.
Harmony $60 per gallon (sometimes on sale online for $42), ProMar $70.
7. Dunn Edwards
Spartazero is zero-VOC with zero-VOC pigments. Their Everest is also no-VOC and has a HPD that reveals all ingredients.
They are free of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) and the mildewcide/preservative is a isothiazolinone.
Let me know if you have any feedback on it.
If you like to buy local, support smaller companies, and you have this near you, you may want to test it.
Costs and Where to Buy:
You can find this at smaller chain hardware and paint stores. The cost is $50 per gallon.
Valspar Simplicity line is the most affordable of the zero-VOC non-toxic paints, and it 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:
It’s available at Lowes in the US and Canada. It starts at $26 USD/gallon in the US and is only $18 CAD/gallon in Canada.
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 category. And it also cured quicky.
The binder in this paint is a vinyl acetate/ethylene copolymer (PVA). It does contain isothiazolinones.
It’s extremely similar to BioShield paint, in my opinion, but it 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 pricy at $110 a gallon. No delivery charge.
Honorable mention: as of 2021 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.
Eco-Friendly Paint Price Comparison
|BRAND||COST PER GALLON (USD)||IS SHIPPING INCLUDED|
|ECOS||$65||Over $100, yes|
|AFM Safecoat||$64||No, unless you buy in store|
|Much Smarter Paints||$50||No|
|Farrow & Ball||$110||Yes|
|Ben Moore Natura||$80||Buy in store|
|Ben Moore REGAL select||$59-70||Buy in store|
|Ben Moore ben||$60||Buy in Store|
|Sherwin Williams Promar||$70||Buy in Store|
|Sherwin Williams Harmony||$60||Buy in Store|
|Dunn Edwards||$50||Buy in Store|
|Valspar Simplicity||$26||Buy in Store|
Natural Mineral Paints for Interior Walls
- My post on natural mineral paints compares the most popular brands – Romabio, BioShield, Annie Sloan, and Milk Paint.
- 1. RomaBio is the only one that is 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, which to my nose was even higher in offgassing than ECOS.
- 2. 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, 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 is just as tolerable, easier to access, easier to apply, and in my experience, more durable.
- 3. Annie Sloan 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. Though in contrast to BioShield, we don’t know much about what is in this paint.
- 4. Milk Paint is another one that should be in this category. True milk paint is 100% natural (the only paint that is 100% natural and biodegradable). It 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 what these four actually look like see my post on natural paints.
Non-Toxic Interior Primers
- 1. AFM SafecoatTransitional Primer – is low-VOC, and is known for being particularly good at sealing in toxins (for a paint).
- 2. AFM New Wallboard Primer is for new drywall (also low-VOC) can be used on new wallboard.
- 3. ECOS makes great zero-VOC primers (no mildewcide). Their general wall primer is used on new drywall, 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 primer contains zeolite which absorbs VOCs, and I believe this is bringing down the odor of the primer itself (I doubt it can do anymore to absorb odors in the room). Their Stain Blocking Primer sample arrived solid when I ordered it, though it did seem higher odor than APP. This would be used on woods with high tannins, for example.
- Their Universal Primer is the one with the strongest bonding power. You can use this on more difficult to prime surfaces like vinyl, stained wood and metal. ECOS is my top brand here if you don’t mind ordering online.
- 4. Sherwin Williams Promar 200 is a zero-VOC primer (no mildewcide).
- 5. Benjamin Moore – Natura Primer is zero-VOC. That one is being phased out. The Ultra Spec 500 is a good zero-VOC primer that works on new drywall.
Non-Toxic Metal Primers
- 1. AFM MetalCoat Primer is a low-VOC formula that can be used on interior and exterior metal including galvanized steel, aluminum, and non-ferrous metal.
- 3. Tung oil can be used to rustproof some types of steel. More on tung oil in a dedicated post. If you prefer an all-natural solution, this might work for you.
- 4. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint can be used over some metals as a primer. I really liked this paint, despite a lack of transparency on what is in it. I discuss that paint in the mineral paint post. Rustoleum Chalked also works over metal and you can find it on Amazon and Home Depot. It’s slightly higher odor than Annie Sloan (but cheaper!).
Non-Toxic Kitchen Cabinet Paint
- 1. AFM Safecoat Ecolacq is an acrylic lacquer that works particularly well on cabinets. Ecolacq line has a primer and needs to be sprayed on to cabinets to get a professional look.
- 2. Annie Sloan Paint works particularly well on cabinets – and it usually doesn’t need prep or primer (though you really should sand first). You do have to finish it with a topcoat. I look more deeply into Annie Sloan in my mineral paint post.
- 3. Farrow & Ball’s Full Gloss paint works well on cabinets. This is my favorite zero- VOC paint brand. It is easy to wipe down and wash with a 95-percent gloss.
Non-Toxic Floor Paint
- 1. Farrow and Ball makes a floor primer. Their Modern Eggshell line is then used on top of that. This works on wood and concrete floors. More info on substrate prep on their site.
- 2. ECOS Paints Floor Paint is formulated for wood and concrete floors. Their Porch & Floor Paint which is more durable is made for exterior and interior concrete floors (not wood!).
- 3. AFM Safecoat Concrete Floor Paint – This is acrylic paint with PVA. It’s mostly used on concrete floors, but there are some conditions in which you can use it on wood.
PS. This less-toxic paint stripper comes highly recommended from sensitive folks.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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