Joint Compound / Drywall Mud
While there are many 0 VOC or extremely low VOC drywall muds available at regular outlets, the highly chemically sensitive will need to be selective here.
When you are only mudding the seams you just need a simple dry mix joint compound. Dry mixes are almost always lower odor, lower VOC, and healthier choices than premixed.
Powdered Mix (aka Setting Type or Hot Mud)
Powdered drywall muds (spackle) are zero-VOC but they can still contain additives that could be bothersome for some.
Proform drywall mud is extremely low VOC (considered “zero”).
I used Murco as a joint compound and found it totally tolerable. This one is marketed towards the chemically sensitive. They claim no preservative/biocide and only inert fillers.
However regular (dry) joint compound does not usually contain biocides or fillers that offgas.
I’m not convinced this product is different than what USG and other big brands sell at the hardware store. But if you are chemically sensitive I would compare samples from different brands.
What are the Additives in Drywall Mud:
- The main mineral components of drywall mud are known as the fillers. These are limestone, mica, attapulgite, quartz and talc.
- Dry mix drywall mud traditionally contained casein or soy protein as the binder. But new muds can contain polyvinyl acetate (PVA) and soluble polyvinyl alcohol.
- Potassium sulfate is added to accelerate the setting time of the plaster.
- Polyoxyethylenearyl is a plasticizer for the polyvinyl acetate.
- Thickening agents include hydroxyethyl cellulose/starch, methylcellulose, natural gums such as gum arabic.
- Asbestos is no longer added to drywall mud.
Pre-Mixed (aka Ready-Mix or Drying Type)
The powder form is always preferred to the pre-mixed for those avoiding toxins.
But even pre-mixed can be found in extremely low-VOC formulations. I have found it does offgas VOCs, and certainly more than the dry mix alternative.
This type typically contains polyvinyl acetate, ethylene-vinyl acetate, or acrylic vinyl acetate polymer (or a combination).
Lightweight compounds can contain glass microspheres or expanded perlite.
Reduced dust or low dust drywall much can include a wax or oil and a surfactant.
Biocides should be expected in all pre-mixed formulations. Triazinetriethanol is common.
If the mix contains calcium sulfate hemihydrate (gypsum) or plaster then they also contain additional chemicals.
The most sensitive should use the powdered form. Contractors prefer pre-mixed, so be sure to specify dry mix.
Paper backed drywall can be taped with paper or fiberglass tape. Paperless drywall can also usually be taped with either type.
Though the paper tape is fairly benign, you might want to check out a few brands if you are highly sensitive. It can contain a polymer and n-ODSA.
Regular paper tape does not contain ad adhesive.
Fiberglass tape is self-adhering and is used with setting compound (the dry mix).
The extremely chemically sensitive should check out a few brands and choose the most tolerable one.
Wall and Ceiling Texture
Just like with joint compound, when adding texture you want use dry mix where possible as this contains fewer additives.
USG Sheetrock Spray Texture is a good one. This is a spray on texture that can create spatter, spatter/knockdown and orange peel designs.
I would expect this to contain acrylic polymers though they are not listed explicitly. Most people do fine with a small amount of acrylic or PVA additive.
Though PVA and EVA are both generally well tolerated, they are not tolerated by all.
The fungicide is zinc dimethyldithiocarbamate. The VOCs are listed as 0 g/l.
If your contractor wants to do a roll on (not spray on) texture with a premixed mud that is watered down, I would suggest going with an option that uses a dry mix as a base.
Murco, a company that makes drywall mud aimed at the chemically sensitive, makes two main “hypoallergenic” products, M100 (all-purpose compound) and HA100 (a setting compound).
The basic M100 can be used for most spray-on textures. But if the texture is thick of heavy, they recommend the HA100.
If you can’t get the desired look with these two products, Murco has a line of dry mix texture products.
Always encourage your contractor to talk to the company if it’s a product they have not used before. And when adding any kind of texture avoid the premixed formulations if you can.
I would look for a contractor who is already familiar and skilled with working with dry mixed products to get the look you are after.
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