Buying Guide to Nontoxic Paint + DIY Milk Paint Recipe

Annie B. Bond by Annie B. Bond | June 29th, 2009 | 24 Comments
topic: Eco Decorating, Green Living

Colorful Paint Color SwatchesPainting is surely one of the easiest and most budget-friendly decorating tricks to brighten up your home. And if you use paint that’s safe for both for you and the environment, you can’t go wrong (except, of course, when the color looked so different on your wall than it did in the store … ).

Traditional paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fungicides to prevent mold and mildew growth, and synthetic chemicals called biocides as preservatives to extend the product’s shelf life. VOCs, like ethylene glycol and the carriers in many pigments, can trigger skin rashes, asthma, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. VOCs also contribute to ground level ozone. Biocides are lesser known than VOCs, but they can be detected in the air five years after painting. And fungicides can be toxic.

It definitely worth the extra legwork and expense to find paints that don’t contain these chemicals, for the environment’s sake as well as for your health.

5 tips on what to look for in nontoxic paint

Look for paints that are made with zinc oxide as a safer is easier to find no-VOD or low-VOC paints these days.

  1. Avoid vinyl. Vinyl paints are known to be less expensive, but vinyl it is a powerful endocrine disrupter and suspected carcinogen.
  2. The term “latex” for paint does not mean the latex from the rubber tree. For paint it means water-based and a number of different synthetic polymers including acrylic, vinyl acrylic, and vinyl styrene.
  3. Look for 100 percent acrylic binders. The higher the acrylic content, the less acrylic vinyl and vinyl styrene (and usually the higher the cost).
  4. The safest synthetic paint is zero-VOC with no vinyl, fungicides or biocides.
  5. Milk paint and whitewash are free of VOCs,  biocides and fungicides, and both allow the material being painted to breathe, reducing the growth of mold and mildew. Milk paint is made with milk protein casein and lime; whitewash is made with lime and water (and sometimes casein). Natural earth pigments are used for coloring, as they are in natural plaster.

How to make basic milk paint — an indoor-outdoor formula

You can buy milk paint pre-made (see Where to Buy Nontoxic Paint below) — or you can make your own. Here is my best formula for milk paint. It’s an indoor/outdoor formula, and an adaptation of one found in a Lime Institute brochure called “Whitewash and Cold Water Paints.”

2 ½ pounds casein
7 gallons warm distilled water
25 pounds mason’s hydrated lime
1 ½ pounds borax
Natural earth pigment (optional)

Soak the casein overnight in a large tub filled with 2 gallons of the water.
In a separate tub, combine the lime and 3 gallons of the water; stir to blend.
In a third tub, thoroughly combine the borax in 1 gallon of the water; add this to the lime mixture, then stir into the casein mixture.
Add pigment if desired. Add more water if needed.

Makes 8 gallons.

Shelf Life: A few days, once the dry ingredients have been mixed with liquid.

Where to buy nontoxic paint

The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company’s Safepaint combines milk protein and lime with pigments. It arrives as a powder and you add water. $45.95 per gallon.

Mythic Paint has no VOCs and is also, the company claims, free of carcinogenic chemicals. About $38.95 per gallon.

AFM Safecoat’s new zero-VOC Ayurveda Essence line is intended to help you find balance through colors that suit your personality. (The colors are wonderful and unexpected.) From $38.90 per gallon.

Yolo Colorhouse divides its no-VOC palettes into categories like air, grain, and petal. There’s also a “little Yolo” line, and tinted or white primer. Yolo, $39.95 per gallon, little Yolo, $10.95 per gallon.


  1. [...] Buying Guide to Nontoxic Paint + DIY Milk Paint Recipe [...]

  2. Interesting recipe for the milk paint. I wonder if there is any danger like e-coli or salmonella is making or using the milk paint. For now, I think I’ll just stick with my zero VOC paint from my local paint manufacturer, but it is an interesting possibility.

    Tim Raubuch | June 30th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. I am the owner of an Environmentally friendly painting company out of Evanston, IL and I use Yolo paints almost all of the time for my clients. They are awesome and the colors are terrific! Benjamin Moore “Natura” line is also pretty nice. Great article, people are really starting to pay attention to building materials and the cost for a paint that’s good for you is no more expensive than the others so it’s an easy decision. :)

    Nichole Lovett | June 30th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. In Australia, we use Dulux — nontoxic, minimal emissions, and great colours to boot.

    Michael Peters | July 1st, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. i like the milk paint idea, i’m going to have to give that a try.
    however aside from paint there are dozens of indoor air pollutants.
    After reading an article on it (We do not allow links in comments) i decided to invest in an air cleaner.

    simply the best thing i could have done green/air quality wise.

    Looking fwd to more article here =)

    Erin Waters | July 31st, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  6. We tried Mythic paint for the first time last winter in two rooms of our house and we loved it! It covered just as well as other premium paints and barely smelled at all! The colors are lovely as well, which is not always the case with the less toxic paints. All in all, I’d highly recommend it and will be using it to paint other rooms in my house this coming winter.

    Julie | October 4th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  7. I was googling nontoxic paints for an activity I am doing with my girl scout troop in a couple days. I think I am going to try this paint recipe with them instead of buying paint. Awesome!

    Jessica | October 10th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  8. I have used Milk Paint many times and it is a breeze to work with- there’s nothing else like it- completely natural and no chemicals and no smells.

    I buy mine from a company in Toronto- they have over 50 different colours, more than any company I’ve seen so far,

    (We do not allow links in comments)

    Jen | November 11th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  9. Tim, Casein is an emusifier added to milk for increasing its shelf life and for keeping the fat from separating from the skim milk. (After milk is heated (pasteurized), the vitamins are destroyed: Vitamins are added back later.) Milk itself doesn’t seem to be part of the paint mixture.

    (Casein has been linked to autism and related disorders: Most milk isn’t actually the pure and natural food tacitly assumed by most Americans.)

    I’m glad that someone found a nobler use for that chemical. It would be nice if shelf life were longer for touch-ups.

    Geoffrey | April 14th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  10. Hi… I am interested in the milk paints, however I am wondering if people with casein sensitivities would react to the paint? Are there other paint brands you can recommend, which are considered green choices? Thanks! I try to avoid bringing chemical fumes and products into my home.

    Mallory | May 23rd, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  11. Thank you for such a great milk paint recipe. I personally buy mine from a company in Quakertown, PA, The Real Milk Paint Co. They have a number of products in a variety of colors. I would definitely recommend them- plus they are environmentally friendly paints.

    Colleen | June 21st, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  12. What would you recommend as a non-toxic substitute for Kilz Original? I need something to seal in fire damage to a wooden wall! Kilz smells like it will poison us, so I hate to use more of it (already did a partial coverage). Thanks tons for any info! Using your milk based paint recipe shortly.

    Kim | July 20th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  13. Kim,
    Remove fire damage instead of sealing it in. Look for a mobile soda blaster in your area. They use bicarbonate of soda to blast all that black gunk away and it can be used on wood. (The soda is larger particles than the soda you buy for baking.)

    If you already own an air compressor, you might consider buying a small soda blasting machine because you’ll may find other uses for it. They are available at Harbor Freight and at Eastwood, both on the internet. Just search these names in conjunction with “soda blasting.”

    Susan | August 25th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  14. Any thoughts on drywall compound (aka texturizing mud)? Sheetrock brand, which is what is at Lowe’s and Home Depot has all kinds of awful stuff, VOC, bio and fungicides. I don’t know at what levels compared to regular old Glidden paint. Thanks!

    clara | October 17th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  15. Mythic Paint

    MSDS shows a Vinyl Acrylic latex coating. I thought you said to avoid these types of bases.

    ann | December 9th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  16. Wow! no milk in the recipe… who would have thought? :P

    Painter | December 21st, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  17. Great, not only is it better for the client & the environment, painting with eco friendly paint also brings in more green-aware clients aka more business from people who appreciate the extra step:)

    Slikopleskarstvo | February 14th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  18. Milk paint. This is weird. I was in the painting industry for many years and never heard of it. I have always thought of the word milk as of something you dringk in the morning. Not something you apply on the walls.

    Dallas Painter | April 17th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  19. That’s very good and informative tips, I like your sharing ideas, these are all very informative tips. Thank you for sharing tips. Good work.

    alexamorison | October 10th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  20. Great product. It seems to be a eco-friendly which will surely be good for the environment.

    Zero voc paint | December 7th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  21. Hello,

    Just wanted to let you know there is now a new Australian maker of Natural Milk Paint called Young & May.

    They have a beautiful website at

    They have 26 base colours and over 100 customize colours options.

    Just bought some, can’t wait to use it!


    Gina Davies | August 5th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  22. I’ve been slowly converting everything in my house to organic based products. First I started off with my food, and then clothes. Now, I want to remodel my house to not only be organic, but to incorporate as much green technology as possible. After researching tons of organic clay paint, or milk paints, I’ve decided on my brand and now I just need to pick out colors. What color’s would you suggest for a room with a medium grey carpet?

    J Reynolds | August 5th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  23. I have just had a raised gardening bed built to plant my veggies next spring. The wood used was reused. I would like to paint or seal the wood before I plant but unsure of what will be best for an area that will not leach into the soil and can hold up to being moist most of the time.

    Also I purchased their best some low VOC paint from ACE hardware that they recommended for the fence area around to garden (to keep cridders out)and the outside of the raised beds. Please advise me.

    Sandi | November 7th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  24. Where can casein for making paint be purchased? GNC stores have casein for protein drinks which not suitable for paint.

    Kevin | January 13th, 2014 | Comment Permalink

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