This article goes over the best non-toxic wood glues, carpenter glues, yellow glues, and white glues. The options range from synthetics that are zero-VOC to totally natural options.
There will probably be some unique non-toxic options you haven’t considered!
I compared the odor level of many of these glues when I was extremely chemically sensitive (many years ago). This data has been helpful over the years to others who are chemically sensitive as it has served as a kind of benchmark. I have also used the general consensus from sensitive folks from my work over the last 10 years on preferred types and brands.
Sensitive folks should usually test products when dry/cured since there can be a dramatic difference between how tolerable something is wet and when cured.
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First a review of the glue types and what they typically contain.
1. PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) Wood Glue
PVAs are the most common type of traditional wood glue. They are one type of “aliphatic resin”. They provide a strong bond with wood but not to other materials like metal or plastics. The wood must be clamped and if there is a lot of pressure on it it can fail over time. It’s generally the weakest of the wood glues. Elmer’s White Glue a basic PVA glue is effective on paper but not strong enough for wood. Yellow wood glues are also PVA-based but are stronger and have better water resistance. PVA glues are not waterproof, though there are modified PVA glues which are more water resistant like Titebond II Premium, and Titebond III that I will go over. PVA glues also don’t take stain.
What’s in it
PVA glues contain a plasticizer, and orthophthalates are still used in some PVA adhesives (Pharos). A typical ingredient list for a PVA wood glue looks like this (according to Pharos): Polyvinyl acetate, 2,2,4-Trimethyl-1,3-pentanediol diisobutyrate, talc, aluminum chloride, polyvinyl alcohol, Dipropylene glycol monomethyl ether, Quaternium-15.
2. Polyurethane Wood Glue
One of the plus sides of polyurethane glue is that it’s waterproof. It is a one-part adhesive that will adhere to wood, metals, stone, ceramics, and many plastics. It accepts wood stains. Often advertised as stronger than PVA-based wood glues, “Dale Zimmerman, a technical specialist with Franklin International, which manufactures Titebond Polyurethane Glue, says that his company’s tests don’t show that polyurethane glue is any stronger than yellow glue” (source). However, end grain joints will be stronger with polyurethane glue (source).
What’s in it
Polyurethane glue offgasses more than the other two types and is not considered non-toxic when wet. Solvents like denatured alcohol are used for cleanup. Gorilla Glue lists almost all ingredients for their Original formula except one small additive. The ingredients are: Polyisocyanate Prepolymer based on MDI, Polymeric Diphenylmethane Diisocyanate (pMDI), 4,4′-Diphenylmethane diisocyanate, Diphenylmethane Diisocyanate (MDI) Mixed Isomers (source).
3. Hide glue
Hide glue offers the same strength and rack resistance as synthetic carpenter yellow, white, and polyurethane glues. Though it’s not waterproof, if it gets wet or too moist it will cause it to come apart. This glue has been used for thousands of years and it’s still used to make cabinets, instruments, and furniture.
What’s in it
You can mix it yourself for a totally pure and non-toxic option or you can buy the ready mix kind which includes an additive like ammonium thiocyanate.
Top Non-Toxic Wood Glue Brands
1. Elmer’s Wood Glue
This is a PVA-based glue, with a mild acetic odor until it’s cured. PVA glues are some of the most benign. Though at my most sensitive I did not do well with this when it was wet.
It bonds stronger than wood they say and is paintable and sandable. It’s water-resistant and intended for furniture repair and general household projects.
Carried at hardware stores and on Amazon.
2. ECOS Wood Glue
ECOS makes extremely low-toxic products, and while I didn’t get a chance to test this one, I would expect their 0-VOC Wood Glue to be good.
The ingredients are acrylic polymer, ethylene oxide urethane, vinyl acetate, lye, and hydrogen peroxide.
Wood Glue is a strong-bonding glue ideal for interior woodwork, joinery, wooden floor tiles, laminates, floorboards, cork sheeting, and tiles. It can also be used for paper, card, carpet, fabric, unsealed chipboard, hardboard, cement-screed, and concrete substrates. Not suitable for teak or other oily woods or asphalt-sealed surfaces.
Buy through ECOS Paints.
3. Roo Glue
Roo Glue makes white glue and wood glue. I tested their glues when I was at my most sensitive and they seemed totally benign when dry. It was one of my top picks at that time (about 10 years ago).
The severely sensitive might want to test out this brand even though it’s special order. Otherwise, stick to ECOS or Titebond wood glue.
Roo Wood is an aliphatic PVA glue that excels in tack and cure time. It is ideal for interior applications where a longer open time and quick de-clamp period are desired. Bond strength is superior to name-brand competition, they say. It has excellent heat resistance and good sandability properties. Roo Wood is available in both yellow and clear drying formulas.
Roo Wood is intended for interior use only.
Available in the US and it ships to Canada from their website.
Titebond is a brand that is often recommended for chemically sensitive folks as a safe adhesive. I had already picked Roo Glue for my chemical-free house before I got a chance to test it. My sofa was later made with this and it worked out well for me. I received it after it had cured.
Titebond III technically has the lowest VOC level of the three Titebond wood glues. It comes in at a minuscule 0.0105 g/L VOC. It does say it has a slight characteristic glue odor.
Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue is a one-part, water-cleanup wood glue that is waterproof (ANSI/HPVA Type I water-resistance specification). It provides strong initial tack, sands easily without softening, and is FDA-approved for indirect food contact (like for cutting boards). This is ideal for both interior and exterior applications. The type of polymer is listed as proprietary, though Cottage Life lists it as a modified PVA.
Titebond II is water-resistant and is ideal for exterior woodworking projects, including outdoor furniture, birdhouses, mailboxes, planters, and picnic tables. It is also FDA-approved for indirect food contact. It’s a PVA glue with VOCs at 3 g/l. Cottage Life lists this as a modified PVA.
Titebond Original Wood Glue develops a bond stronger than the wood itself, says the company. It offers excellent sandability and is unaffected by finishes. It is ideal for wood, hardboard, particleboard, leather, cloth, and most other porous materials. VOCs are 3 g/l and the resin type is listed as “aliphatic resin emulsion”, common aliphatic resins include polyvinyl acetates, acrylics, and vinyl acrylics. Other websites list this as a PVA glue.
It’s inexpensive and easy to order from Amazon and find in stores like Home Depot.
5. Hide Glue
Hide Glue is the most natural glue option for wood. It’s made from animal protein from the collagen that comes from skins, bones, tendons, and other tissues.
It is a strong, sandable glue with no VOCs, but it is not waterproof.
You can mix it yourself from beads or flakes for the most natural option, or you can buy it ready-made, though those do contain some additives.
The Titebond brand of genuine hide glue is a ready-made option that lists ammonium thiocyanate as an additive.
For the most natural non-toxic wood glue possible, this is the top choice. If you don’t need a waterproof adhesive and are not vegan, this is the best option.
You can buy it on Amazon.
6. Pine Pitch Glue
Another all-natural (but not commonly used) option is Pine Pitch Glue which is made of pine sap, plant fibers, and charcoal. While it’s mostly used for traditional crafts I did recently see it as a glue used in children’s toys which led me to add it to this list.
Its applications can include attaching and hafting stone projectiles and blades to shafts/handles, illumination, and fire starting, waterproofing basketry, holding together wood crafts, and sealing seams on birch bark canoes.
7. Gorilla Glue
When I was extremely chemically sensitive I found Original Gorilla Glue to be difficult to tolerate when wet, but not terrible. I was fine with it once it cured.
This is a polyurethane glue that does offgas VOCs. The SDS sheet does say “Harmful if inhaled. May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled. May cause respiratory irritation.” For this reason, they don’t claim that this is non-toxic when wet, but the company does say it finishes offgassing at 24 hours (sensitive people will likely need longer). They also said “we cannot confirm that Gorilla Glue is non-toxic once cured as we do not FDA test it. For that reason, we do not recommend using it in applications that have direct or indirect food contact.”
I’m leaving it on the list for your comparison.
This glue is 100% waterproof and forms a very strong bond with wood, stone, metal, ceramic, foam, glass, concrete and much more. They do not recommend it for use on polypropylene (PP) or polyethylene (PE) plastics or any type of rubber with high oil or plasticizer content.
It’s easy to find at hardware stores and on Amazon.
Non-Toxic White Glues
1. Elmers White Glue
The classic Elmer’s School Glue is a basic PVA glue that is considered non-toxic.
It’s generally used for school projects, crafts, and slime. It bonds to wood, paper, ceramic, and fabric.
There isn’t much information on the specific ingredients, beyond PVA and glycerol. VOCs are not listed for School Glue, but their Glue-All (another white glue) has 11 g/l VOC.
You can buy it on Amazon.
2. Titebond White Glue
Titebond White Glue is another non-toxic PVA-based glue.
They say it sets faster than most other comparable glues. It can be used on wood and with many other porous and semi-porous materials.
The VOCs are listed as 10.7 g/l.
You can buy the jugs on Amazon.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.