We want to start with non-toxic paints and sealers and then look for full disclosure on how long the paint or sealer takes to cure and finish offgassing so we know when our chickens can re-enter the hutch.
Anne Lichtenwalner, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, PhD, recommends using a non-toxic paint and to watch out for repurposed lumber that can contain old lead-based paints. We don’t want to use those. Dr. Samuel G. Mwaura, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine also reviewed and contributed to the recommendations to make sure the products on this list are safe for chickens.
The following are the least toxic paints, clear sealers, and colorful stains that will work on outdoor chicken coops or hen houses. (These are also non-toxic for the person applying them.)
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Expert Review: Dr. Samuel G. Mwaura, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, reviewed and contributed to this article.
1. ECOS Pet Dwelling Paint
ECOS Paints Pet Dwelling Primer and Pet Dwelling Paint are a 0-VOC acrylic paint and primer that are formulated to be safe for all animal enclosures including chicken coops. It’s a water-proof exterior-grade paint that comes in eggshell, semi-gloss, and gloss.
You want an exterior grade paint for both the inside and outside of the hutch because this is the most durable and cleanable paint. Semi-gloss and gloss are also easier to clean than eggshell.
Because this paint is fast to cure, your chickens can get back to their home quite quickly.
The benefits of painting your coop include:
- To protect the wood and makes it last longer
- To make it easier to clean the inside and outside
- There are fewer places for mites and other parasites to hide (plus it’s easier to see them on white paint). Because of this, white is the best color for inside your coop.
Step 1 Check the weather. You need to be between 50°F (10°C) and 70s to lower 80s F and lower than 70% relative humidity. Also, make sure you’re either undercover or that it’s not going to rain for 72 hours.
Step 2 Prime over bare wood, dark colors, a higher gloss paint, an oil-based paint, or heavily sanded or scraped surfaces. Use one coat of Pet Dwellings Primer and allow 24 hours before painting. (The Universal Primer can be used for over oil-based paint if you follow the instructions on their website).
Step 3 Paint two coats of Pet Dwelling Paint on primed or previously painted (with water-based paint) metal and wood. It can be recoated in 2 hours if the first coat is fully dry.
If you want to paint the floor of the hutch, use the semi-gloss or gloss sheens which are more durable.
Step 4 Bring chickens home. Your chickens can re-enter at 24 hours, says a rep for the company. Hardening of the paint continues for up to thirty days and you should avoid washing it during that time. Dr. Samuel G. Mwaura recommends following the company’s recommendations on re-entry time to make sure the paint will be non-toxic at that time.
ECOS Paints comes in a large selection of colors, plus they can color match to any other brand. This color is the best barn red color by ECOS Paints (but remember you can color match to anything). Though barn red is a popular color for a henhouse, keep in mind chickens tend to peck at red, so it’s not a good idea to use it on anything but waterers and feeders says the University of Maine. And while chickens do swallow a little paint when they peck at it, ECOS Paints ingredients are harmless to chickens says Dr. Samuel G. Mwaura.
PS. In the UK? This paint is called Lakeland Paints in the UK. Just be sure to select their exterior paint and primer which is the same formula as Pet Dwelling Paint/Primer.
PPS. In Australia? Australians should go with Ecolour Eco Weather Proof Exterior Zero VOC.
Other Acrylic Paint Lines…
You can certainly use other acrylic paints that are exterior grade. The challenge is that most exterior paints are not 0-VOC (and neither are most primers). I don’t know of a paint that beats ECOS Paints, but if you do find a 0-VOC acrylic exterior paint and primer that will be just fine as well. Be sure to follow the company’s instructions on when chickens can re-enter.
2. Milk Paint + Tung Oil
Milk Paint is an all-natural paint, perfect for over raw wood, that does not give off any VOCs. You can leave it unsealed if you add Outdoor Additive (a borate product) though the paint will flake off with time and not be as easy to clean compared to if you added a topcoat. With a natural protective coat of Tung Oil, the wood can be very durable to outdoor conditions.
The Real Milk Paint is made from casein (a protein found in milk), lime, a plant-based filler, and earth pigments. Old Fashioned Milk Paint brand also contains clay.
It’s very easy to apply this to raw wood, and that is the best application for this paint. (I wouldn’t bother using this if you’re painting over an existing paint). According to The Real Milk Paint Co, the lime in Milk Paint helps repel parasites that are frequently found amongst chickens.
The iron, chromium and titanium dioxide levels in Milk Paint and the Tung Oil are safe for chickens but the Toy Safe En-17 colors increase the safety margin, hence can be a better choice, says Dr. Samuel G. Mwaura.
Topcoat of Oil
Milk Paint does much better with a topcoat of oil to be very durable to water. Tung Oil over Milk Paint will make the paint durable enough for outdoor conditions and durable enough to be wiped down and cleaned. It is also durable enough for the floor of the coop.
The main downside is the Tung Oil darkens and dulls the color a bit. You can see the bright blue with Tung Oil over it above (and then shellac, but shellac is not for use on outdoor wood). If you want to get a barn red color, I would start with Flag Red before coating it with Tung Oil.
Note: the Tung Oil will also reveal any unevenness so be sure to use 2-3 coats of Milk Paint even if the first coat looks like enough.
Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent are food-safe and pet-safe once cured.
Step 1 Check the weather. Above freezing temperatures on the day of application and for 15 days after. Make sure the coop is protected from rain and the sun while working. Exposure to the sun while it’s drying can make Tung Oil turn frosty .
Step 2 Apply oil to the Milk-Painted wood. Let the oil absorb into the Milk Painted coop. You likely need to mix Tung Oil with Citrus Solvent in most cases (and use the half and half mix), unless the wood is very old and dry.
Step 3 Repeat until saturation. You repeat the oil application as many times as necessary until the surface doesn’t absorb any more oil. Once you reach the point of over-saturation, wipe away the excess oil and let the oil begin the curing process. It takes 7 to 15 days to be dry to the touch and 30 days for complete curing before you can wash it down.
Step 4 Bringing chickens home. Wait the full 30 days for a full cure so that it’s not offgassing any natural VOCs. (Both Tung Oil and Citrus Solvent give off natural VOCs).
3. A Clear Wood Sealant & Wood Stain for Your Coop
If you want to finish your chicken coop with a clear sealant or colourful stain I would go with a natural drying oil/penetrating oil here. The following brands are safe for chickens according to Dr. Samuel G. Mwaura, though he notes you should observe the manufacturer-recommended curing periods.
Tung Oil is very safe and very durable once cured. You can follow the same instructions as above but this time it’s going straight onto the raw wood. Tung Oil does naturally darken the wood, though it does not have pigments.
If you don’t want to go with Tung Oil you can use Linseed Oil. The best brand of exterior-grade Linseed Oil is Rubio Monocoat. This is not as pure as Tung Oil since it’s got modified oils and waxes but it’s still non-toxic.
Rubio Monocoat Hybrid Exterior Wood Protector comes in clear. This is a one-part system and requires no catalyst or accelerator. (I would recommend using it without the optional accelerator). Curing times without the Oil Accelerator (Part B) is 7 days. So, a much faster cure time than Tung Oil, plus you only need one coat (where Tung Oil requires many coats).
The company says it’s safe for chickens at 7 days.
Rubio Monocoat Hybrid Exterior Wood Protector also comes in stain colors like darker browns, lightening colors, and bright colors.
The graphic to the left shows the stain colors on two different types of wood.
You only need to apply one coat and the cure time without the Part B is 7 days. The company says it’s safe for chickens at 7 days.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
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