Projects & Improvements

11 Non-Toxic Paints To Buy That Are as Safe as They Are Chic

updated Nov 2, 2023
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Paint is one of those products many of us don’t think twice about, except when it comes to color. Once we’ve honed in on the perfect shade, our main priority is getting it up on the walls as soon as possible. While a freshly painted room may seem harmless, there are some chemicals in paint that can be toxic, many of which are grouped into a category called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

They’re what causes that “fresh paint” smell that gives some people headaches. You may be familiar with the name of one of the most common VOCs, formaldehyde. This and other chemicals have been flagged as potential health hazards, not just for humans but for the environment, too, which is why selecting a non-toxic paint is a good idea, especially in high-traffic rooms like your kitchen. But what are VOCs anyways? And if they’re so bad, why are they in some paints in the first place?

Rick Watson, director of product information and technical services at Sherwin-Williams, offered us some helpful advice and information on VOCs and what type of paint might be best for you and your home. So before you start painting your furniture, walls, or floor use this information as a primer for making an informed decision. 

What is a VOC (volatile organic compound)?

“Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) include a variety of chemicals emitted as gases by a wide variety of products,” says Watson. “According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they may have short- or long-term health effects. They are emitted as gases by a wide variety of products. Products such as fabrics, cleaning supplies and building materials may contain VOCs that people are exposed to when spending time indoors.” 

So why are VOCs in paint in the first place? These compounds can be useful in preventing the growth of mold and mildew. They also can help paint dry more quickly. As the paint industry has advanced, however, many new non-toxic paints are proving you really don’t need VOCs in a product for these performance reasons or professional looking results. 

What is the Difference Between Low-VOC and No VOC?

Other than the fact that one has low VOCs and the other has zero, there’s not a straightforward answer. According to Watson, “VOC claims vary depending on who you ask, what rules you follow, and what category the product falls under,” he says. “There are federal regulations through the EPA, and there are several air quality districts like South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and Ozone Transport Commission (OTC). Each of these entities set standards on what is the maximum allowable VOC per product category in their respective areas.”

He also mentions that across industries and different locations, VOC requirements don’t always match up. For example, a product with 100 grams of VOC per liter is considered low to some, but 50 grams per liter may be the maximum for low VOC to another district. What about defining what no VOC means? That’s the job for the Federal Trade Commission.

“The FTC has designated what can and can’t be marketed using free-of claims in their published Green Guide under rule 260.9,” he says. “No VOC paints can still contain a trace number of VOCs (which varies per product), as long as they’re not at a level that would cause material harm.” So while some cans flaunt “zero” or “free of” on their labels, know it’s a likely possibility they may still have trace amounts. 

There aren’t too many differences when it comes to deciding between paint types. Non-toxic paints are often looked over because of their accessibility and belief that they’re less effective, but Watson says otherwise. “No and low-VOC interior and exterior paints can work just as well as paint with higher VOCs if proper surface prep is completed (surfaces should be clean, dry, dull, and sound), and you’re using the right paint for the job,” says Watson. 

Ready to get started? Ahead you’ll find paint brands that offer no and low-VOC paints, so you can complete your project (and dispose of your unused paint) with peace of mind.

Nontoxic Paints

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For projects like painting furniture or kitchen cabinets, Country Chic's paint comes in 4, 16, or 32 ounces. There are no harsh chemicals, it has low VOC, and is certified safe for toys or furniture. The paint has a chalky matte finish and dries in just 30 minutes.

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Not only does this Valspar paint resist stains and mildew, but it's also Greenguard gold certified. The 100 percent acrylic paint is also scrubbable, making this a great option for a kids room or high traffic area in your home. The paint and primer combo is available in five different finishes, from a durable satin which is perfect for living spaces to a semi-gloss that works best for humid areas like a bathroom or laundry.

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Sherwin-Williams' SuperPaint boasts a zero VOC formula and anti-microbial benefits that prevent mold and mildew. It also features odor-eliminating properties to combat common household smells. The paint is available in more than 500 colors and flat, semi-gloss, or satin finishes.

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This new face in the industry appeared in 2018 with its chic, pared down palette and millennial-friendly advertising. Luckily, behind its pretty image, Clare also focuses on creating a stunning result that won’t hurt you or the environment. All Clare paint is low odor, has zero VOCs and colorants, and is actually Greenguard Gold certified, which means a third party independently tested and verified this paint to make sure it meets very rigorous standards for low chemical emissions.

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Ace Hardware

Zero VOCs, low odor, and mildew resistant properties make this line from Benjamin Moore a great selection when choosing a non-toxic interior paint. The formula is easy to apply, and its low odor means you’ll have no trouble breathing during and after your paint touch-ups.

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Joanna Gaines may be known for her shiplap and darling farmhouse homes, but her paint line goes beyond just looking pretty. Magnolia Home’s paint is low VOC and completely made of acrylic. These shades are perfect for creating a modern rustic look on everything from bathrooms to kitchen cabinets

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Other than its dedication to creating environmentally-friendly, biodegradable paint, the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company fulfills a niche need for paint that is reminiscent of colonial times. If farmhouse, prairie-style, or Shaker is in your vocabulary, this is a brand worth checking out. It contains zero VOCS, HAPs, and EPA-exempt solvents. Just note that this line is geared for use on porous surfaces such as wood and masonry. So it’s great for updating old pieces of furniture, for example.

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Another fresh brand that’s arrived to shake up the paint industry is BACKDROP. Each can of its paint color choices (and fun names) is low VOCs, odorless, and holds a Green Wise certification, which is another strict third party testing organization. Even better? The brand gives back to The International Rescue Committee with each purchase.

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No VOCs will be found in these 100 percent acrylic paints by Homestead House Paint Company. There are a variety of themed palettes based on popular home and decorating styles, like Early Victorian and Craftsman. And aside from interior paints, Homestead offers primer and ceiling paint, too.

Credit: Green Planet Paints

10. Green Planet Paints

The name says it all: Green Planet Paints features plant- and mineral-based formulas. Striving to remove chemicals from all its products, the company also refuses to use any colorants that have VOCs, which is how many low- and no-VOC paints end up with the chemicals in their ingredients. Instead, they use mineral pigments and plant oils, so it’ll come as no surprise that its motto is, “So safe and natural you can bathe in it.”

Buy: Green Planet Paints, starts at $22.99 for one quart

Credit: Green Building Supply

11. AFM Safecoat

Fast-drying and no-VOC, AFM Safecoat’s paints have a unique background. The brand was initially created with physicians in mind, specifically ones who worked with patients that were sensitive to chemicals. Now, it’s meant for any household that’s conscious of their health and the planet’s. The formula features what the brand refers to as a “superior film formation” that’s so tight, it traps whatever off-gassing takes place beneath it.

Buy: AFM Safecoat, starting at $72 for one gallon