So there you are, standing in the paint aisle, trying to figure out which brand to buy. Their labels all spew the same stuff… low-VOC, no-VOC, long-lasting, durable, antibacterial, antimicrobial, quick drying, eco-friendly, buy me!!

But before you make any quick decisions on which one you’ll bring home, turn the can around and check the label. What you’ll likely find is that even some of the “eco-friendly” paints still have chemicals. But why? With so many high-performing natural paints on the market these days, are chemical paints even necessary?

The Issue With Oil & Latex Paints

Oil-based stains are popular for refinishing furniture, but they are highly toxic. If the health issue isn’t bad enough, you can’t just toss leftover oil stains and paints in the trash. You have to dispose of them as hazardous household waste, which is a hassle.

Water-based (latex) paint is safer than oil and much easier to clean up, but even VOC-free versions contain toxic chemicals. And those attractive quick-drying, antibacterial, antimicrobial and mildew resistant characteristics? While these features look appealing on the label, you can basically translate them as “chemicals, chemicals, chemicals and more toxic chemicals.”

To top it off, did you know that if your home is painted too quickly, these chemicals can offgas for years? That’s right. If you paint a second coat of oil stain or latex paint when the first coat hasn’t fully dried, you’ve got a slow chemical leak inside your home.

Natural Paints Are a Safe & Beautiful Alternative

Natural paints are a beautiful, long-lasting and completely non-toxic alternative to conventional paints. In fact, truly natural paints are so safe that a pregnant woman could paint the nursery with the windows closed without worry. Even zero-VOC paints can’t claim that.

Truly natural paints do cost more, but not prohibitively so. And while they are more difficult to find in stores, they’re pretty easy to find online.

Natural paints can be made from plants, minerals, milk-protein and clay. They are offered in a limited range of colors, but the natural depth and complexity of the colors are not something that cannot be achieved with synthetic pigments.

Natural paints are also fast and easy to clean up. Unlike oil and latex, you can safely throw them in the garbage or rinse them down the sink with a bit of soap and water.

Plant & mineral paints

Painting while pregnant

Plant & mineral paints are as easy to use as latex. Like latex, plant & mineral paints require 1 to 3 coats and may need a primer, which is also available as plant- or mineral-based.

These paints dry in just 1 to 3 hours and most brands can re-coat in 4 to 6 hours. Of all the natural options, plant & mineral paints offer the largest selection of colors and are the easiest to use.

Milk paints

Milk paint is usually a mix of cow or goat’s milk, lime, clay and earth-based pigments. It works best on raw wood and offers a naturally rustic look with slight variations in shading that add to its beauty. Milk paint ages well, does not chip and becomes more lustrous over time. These paints are packaged as a dried powder and need to be mixed with water before use.

Milk paint requires 1 to 3 coats with a top-coat of linseed oil or wax. These paints take just an hour to dry and you can re-coat in as little as 2 hours.

Clay paints

Clay paints offer a thicker, plaster-like finish with rich hues. They are naturally mold-resistant, highly durable and easily cover interior surfaces without need for a primer. They also take just 1 to 2 coats, though each can take 2 days to dry. Clay paints also help to regulate the temperature and humidity inside your home, staying warm to the touch in winter and cooler in summer.

Good To Know

  • While natural paints are completely non-toxic, there are a few natural colorants for these paints that are unsafe. For example, avoid mineral pigments from cadmium (yellow, orange, red), chromium (dark green), and titanium dioxide (bright white).
  • Chalk and lime are natural white colorants and are a more eco-friendly alternative to titanium dioxide.

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