When it comes to painting your walls, it's easy to overlook some of paints' undesirable, toxic ingredients in favor of paying the least to cover the most.
While lead-based interior paint has thankfully been banned from U.S. consumer use since 1978, you'll still frequently find low-level toxic emissions, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hiding in most cans. (Ever taken a good whiff of that "new paint" smell? Don't breathe too deeply; it indicates the presence of VOCs.) In addition to causing short- and long-term health effects such as headaches, respiratory tract irritation, and sometimes even cancer, VOCs contribute to dangerous photochemical smog. All decidedly, not good things.
What are Volatile Organic Compounds?
Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, are chemicals with a high vapor pressure at room temperature. That means they are easily released into the air, posing concerns about pollution.
So even if you have to pay just a bit more for nontoxic and zero-VOC paint—about $5 to $10 more per gallon—it's well worth it for the health of your home and the environment.
Good news: You won't have to embark on a wild goose chase to find zero-VOC and nontoxic paint. Take a gander at 10 of the best brands to help you transform your rooms into spaces that won't make you sick. All that's left is choosing your color, taping those corners, and getting to work.
The Real Milk Paint Co.
The Real Milk Paint Co.'s interior paints (in 56 colors) are made from organic materials such as milk—but also food-grade proteins, clay, and natural pigment, making it completely nontoxic and biodegradable. In just 30 minutes, it dries into a matte, velvet, and somewhat chalky finish (versus the 24 hours most conventional paints call for), and there's no need for prepping surfaces beforehand.
Created from raw and sustainable materials, Sherwin-Williams' Harmony interior acrylic latex paint is a zero-VOC formula that actually helps improve indoor air quality by removing common odors from cooking, pets, and cigarette smoke and reducing the levels of formaldehyde that's off-gassed by certain carpets, cabinetry, and insulation. It dries to a washable surface within 24 hours and also contains antimicrobial ingredients that inhibit the growth of mold and mildew once it dries.
Clare came onto the scene in 2018, and it's quickly become a fan favorite not just for its commitment to supporting healthy indoor environments (with its zero-VOC formula), but also for the way the brand has disrupted the traditional painting zeitgeist. It was developed by interior designer Nicole Gibbons, tired of the rigmarole of paint shopping and selection—and the waste produced by typical paint supplies. She created a line of 56 colors (with corresponding peel-and-stick paint swatches) in recycled-resin cans.
Transparency is the main ethos of ECOS Paints; they disclose everything they put into each gallon of their water-based, odorless, nontoxic paint. Spoiler: You won't see any VOCs. ECOS Paints are trusted enough to cover the walls of Google and Facebook's offices, and they promise their paints provide one-and-a-half times the coverage of most other brands. Plus, the brand's commitment to offering almost unlimited shades (1,300-plus) means they'll match any color you present to one of their own.
Green Planet Paints
True to its name, Green Planet Paints promotes a healthy Earth by developing a paint they maintain "is so safe and natural you can bathe in it." Their nontoxic paint is formulated with zero VOCs, preservatives, and biocides. All ingredients, including clay, mineral pigments, and soy-based resins are sustainably sourced, too.
Benjamin Moore Natura
Benjamin Moore has come a long way toward being eco-friendly by reformulating and discontinuing high-VOC product lines and introducing its 100% acrylic Natura paint in 2014. Now available in thousands of colors and three finishes (flat, eggshell, and semi-gloss), Natura is certified-friendly by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and contains zero VOCs.
Clay isn't something we think of when painting a room, but BioShield is an innovator when it comes to interior paint that's derived from this natural, earthy substance. BioShield's Clay Paint is completely organic, nontoxic, and zero-VOC, as is their Solvent-Free Wall Paint. The solvent-free version goes on a bit easier than its clay counterpart: clay requires a brush for application and requires two coats for coverage). But both are ideal consistencies to cover standard gypsum board, sheetrock, plaster, and masonry.
Anna Sova makes natural paint that's good enough to eat. All jokes aside, its food-based wall paint is made with milk casein (found in milkshakes), food-grade bamboo cellulose (found in fiber bars), food emulsifiers, and natural preservatives (found in chocolate), in addition to natural fungicides and mildew-retardants. It contains zero toxins and VOCs...but you might want to hold off on grabbing that spoon.
Mixing up your own custom paint color is made easy with Earth Pigments' all-natural, nontoxic Pigment Powders. Sourced from Italy, Cyprus, Germany, and the last remaining ochre quarry in France's Provence region, the pigments come in a dry powder meant to be mixed into the brand's Zero Gloss Varnish—a flat, water-based acrylic.
Technical Overview of Volatile Organic Compounds. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Updated April 12, 2017