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Non-Toxic Wall Paint for Project One-Eleven

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By John, Certified Holistic Health Coach

Project One-Eleven is our non-toxic home renovation project. We’re taking an old row house that’s been serving as an office and converting it back into a residence (where you’ll be able to come test mattresses and other Good Stuff!). Because we’re all about the Good Stuff, we are using non-toxic and sustainable products, materials, and processes as much as possible. We’re blogging about the process to share the joys and challenges of taking a non-toxic approach to home renovation.

Project One-Eleven is happening in a fairly old building (about 200 years old). In fact, by American standards, Lancaster, PA, itself is pretty old– one of the oldest inland cities in the United States. I hope you’ll all come visit once this space is complete!

Why Do Old Homes Have High Ceilings?

Like most of the East Coast, Lancaster can get very hot and humid in the summer months. Early builders designed homes with high ceilings, which allows hotter air to stay up, while slightly cooler air falls to the floor. This design was the air-conditioning technology of the day!

The ceilings in our property are 11-feet high (which is about three feet higher than those in most modern homes). We love the look of this, but one drawback is the labor involved in painting—to say nothing of how much extra paint we needed!

We were fortunate to receive donated paint for this project, and still the first estimate from a local painting company was between $20,000 and $30,000! That was beyond our budget, so we quickly decided to tackle the walls and ceilings ourselves, and to hire a pro for the trim (of which there is a ton in this place).

Before: All the trim in this property was painted this unfortunate country blue.
Before: All the trim in this property was painted this unfortunate country blue.
After(ish): Even though the kitchen is still unfinished, the white trim makes a big difference, we think.
After(ish): Even though the kitchen is still unfinished, the white trim makes a big difference, we think.

What’s Toxic About Most Paint

You’ve probably seen a lot of paints marketed as “low-VOC,” and while these are far better than regular paint, there still is a considerable difference between low-VOC and truly non-toxic. At the very least, you should always go with a zero-VOC paint. (Read Maia’s blog post on brands she recommends).

Conventional paint contains a range of toxins (including solvents, vinyl, phthalates, and formaldehyde) that are implicated in health problems ranging from headaches to asthma to cancer. The risks are greatest when the paint is drying, but off-gassing can occur for many months to some degree.

(If you already have a home painted with conventional paint, you might consider some more general ways to clean up the air in your home.)

Milk Paint Is Non-Toxic…But Does It Work?

We were thrilled when The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company offered to donate all the paint for our project, since we’ve long wanted to try milk paint and this family business seems to be the best of the best. Milk Paint

The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company makes their paint with milk protein (casein), crushed limestone, clay, earth pigments, and chalk, meaning it lacks all of the bad stuff found in most other paints, including solvents, phthalates, and formaldehyde. (Check out their Material Safety Data Sheet.)

The painter we hired was happy to use zero-VOC paint, but when we told him we were going with milk paint, he was nervous, since he’d never used it before and had apparently heard some horror stories. We agreed to get him something else to use for the trim, and decided we’d use the milk paint for the walls we were tackling ourselves.

Here’s what the milk paint looks like when mixed.
Here’s what the milk paint looks like when mixed.

I have quite a bit of experience painting, but Daylon and I were both nervous about mixing up paint from a powder, which is always the deal with milk paints. It did take us a few times to get the hang of the mixing, but once Daylon got this inexpensive tool, the mixing part was a breeze.

As for applying the paint to the walls? I’m thrilled to say that milk paint really works! Daylon has handled most of the painting, and thanks to those tall ceilings, we had to invest in a taller ladder and a pro-level extension painting pole that made the rolling go faster and easier.

Bottom line: The paint from The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company was easy to work with and looks great. I will definitely use milk paint for future painting projects.

One nice thing about using non-toxic paint is that the kids can “help” paint the walls!
One nice thing about using non-toxic paint is that the kids can “help” paint the walls!
Inexplicably, Daylon likes to paint in button-down shirts and cordouroys. By midnight, which is when he does much of the painting, he’s usually stripped down to his skivvies. Sorry, no pictures of that!
Inexplicably, Daylon likes to paint in button-down shirts and corduroys. By midnight, which is when he does much of the painting, he’s usually stripped down to his skivvies. Sorry, no pictures of that!

Ecos Paint Is Good Stuff

Ecos PaintsAs for the trim, Ecos Paint generously donated their 100% zero-VOC paint for our painter to use. (By the way, if you live in the Lancaster area and are in search of a good house painter, contact me for the name of the guy we used.)

Like The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s paints, Ecos is completely odorless, which is a huge bonus when you’ve got kids hanging around while the paint dries. This paint is free of solvents, turpentine, glycols, vinyl, formaldehyde, heavy metals, phthalates, and a bunch of other bad stuff.

Our painter says Ecos performs as well as the conventional paint he’s used to, and he in fact likes is better because it dries more quickly. We, of course, are happy that he’s not breathing in toxins while working for us.

I’d love to hear from your guys—what non-toxic wall paints have you used and how did you like them?

In the next blog we’ll discuss kitchen cabinets. You might be surprised to learn what we went with for this project.

Stay tuned and sane!

John Goss from Gimme the Good Stuff

 

 

 

P.S. This space is now open! Reserve your stay here and email Suzanne to make an appointment to come test mattresses or purchase select items from our store.


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9 responses to “Non-Toxic Wall Paint for Project One-Eleven”

  1. Can you talk about mildew and mold risks for milk based paints? I’m considering milk paint, but that is my main concern. I live in the Boston area, for weather reference. Thanks!

  2. How about for painting toys? We received a bunch of unfinished wooden trains for our son and I would love to paint them. I saw Milk Paints pop up in a search for nontoxic paints and was curious if you thought they made sense for our little trains. Thanks!

  3. I have the same question Mariotty does above. What do we do about the toxic paint already on the walls? I just ordered from Eco Paint but before I put it on I’m wondering what I do about the paint on the wall? Thanks,

  4. Hello John and Maia,
    Do you know if by painting over an old toxic paint with new non toxic paint weather is milk paint or eco the toxins from the old paint are contain? Or prepping the wall is recommended? Sanding or stripping down somehow the old paint?

    Or maybe a non toxic primer?

    Thanks for the good stuff!!!

  5. Sorry! It’s called Safe Coat not Safe Paint… and claims it is zero VOC but the odor was very strong. I wonder how safe it is! When you add the tint to a zero VOC paint it’s not zero VOC anymore? Thank you!

  6. We used a Benjamin Moore zero OVC paint I was pregnant. I was not impressed at all. It needed several coats, is somewhat noticeably darker where we cut in by hand, seemed runny, and worst of all is impossible to clean in that if you so much as touch the wall, it leaves scuff marks. I will not be using their’s again. Hopeful to try Ecos!

    • Currently doing our house in ECOS!!! Painter LOVES IT. Said the ceiling and trim paint is FABULOUS! We are happy happy happy….no smell, dries quickly. Expensive, but worth your health… ? From an MCS friend.

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