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Healthy Paints

House Home Photo Paint

Your guide to choosing planet-friendly paint.

VOCs — or volatile organic compounds — refer to the chemicals released from some interior paints which contribute to the buildup of ozone and may cause health problems if inhaled. Low- or zero-VOC paints help you avoid these toxins.

Luckily, earth-friendly paint collections are easier to find than ever. The following guide will help you weigh the available options and select the best eco-conscious paint for your next project.

Synthetic paints

Low-VOC and zero-VOC

Many major paint companies now offer low- or zero-VOC paint collections (note: zero VOC is a misnomer, as tinting the paint will add some VOCs). The most earth-friendly paint contains no extra chemicals or solvents — look for 5 g/L or less of VOCs.


  • Low odour
  • Dries quickly
  • Provides good coverage
  • Durable
  • Can be used on most surfaces
  • Wide range of colours available


  • May contain additives and solvents
  • Can’t be washed down the drain



Behr, Benjamin Moore, Farrow & Ball, ICI, Para, Sherwin-Williams, Sico, C2 


AFM Safecoat, Yolo Colorhouse


Recycled paint is made from water-based latex paints collected from hazardous materials dropoff depots.


  • Generally Low-VOC, as the solvent will have evaporated over the paint’s lifetime
  • Makes use of paints that would otherwise be discarded
  • Inexpensive


  • May contain additives and solvents
  • Can’t be washed down the drain


Boomerang, Recycle Paint

Natural paints 

Milk paint

A centuries-old non-toxic coating, milk paint is made from casein (a milk protein), water, limestone, clay and powdered pigments. Available in fine powder form, it can be mixed at home in a kitchen blender.


  • VOC-free
  • Low odour
  • Won’t chip or peel
  • Beautiful soft finish
  • Won't fade
  • Breathable and inhibits growth of mildew
  • Dries quickly
  • Safe to wash down the drain


  • Can only be applied to unfinished, porous materials like wood or plaster but not drywall
  • Finish is flat and chalky unless sealed with hemp oil or beeswax
  • Can only be washed if sealed
  • Few colour options


Canadian Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co., Homestead House

Plant and Mineral Paints

Paints made of plant- and mineral- based materials, including essential oils, clays and pigments. Though more widely available in Europe, several North American companies are now making pre-mixed paints with a soy-based resin or silicate as the binder.


  • Washable
  • Opaque
  • Breathable and contains anti-fungal properties
  • Safe to wash down the drain
  • Won’t fade
  • Can be applied to most surfaces
  • Most are low-VOC and low odour


  • Some contain volatile citrus-based solvents
  • Not as scuff-resistant or scrubbable as conventional paint
  • Limited colours available


Eco-House, Green Planet


Vanessa Smith


Angus McRitchie

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