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Product Guide

Paint Options for Green Builders

From low- and no-VOC options to low-CO2 manufacturing to recycling, here's what today's paint manufacturers have to offer

My first encounter with paint came from reading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, who famously had to atone for misbehavior by whitewashing his Aunt Polly’s fence. The whitewash used in Tom’s time likely consisted of two ingredients: lime and water. It was used to paint barns because animals could lick it without ill effects. At the same time, it also had mild antiseptic qualities to discourage bacteria. Whitewash is a traditional, eco-friendly coating and has zero volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In other words, it’s green paint.

Some of today’s most sustainable paint options seek to recreate these coatings, used long ago. That’s where we’ll start this look at the paints that are available to green builders today. Since these “organic” paints are lesser-known brands, we’ll then take a look what some of the more well known brands have to offer. We’ll take a deeper dive into VOCs—for those who are interested, a look at some green-washing in the industry, and finally paint safety, and proper disposal.

Organic paints have been around a while

With the term “organic,” paint manufacturers refer to the use of naturally occurring ingredients with little adulteration. One example is milk-based paint, which combines milk and lime. The red barns that dot the Midwest derive their characteristic color from a blend of whey, lime, and red iron oxide, used as a preservative. The iron rusted into the iconic, deep red color of these structures.

Today, Real Milk Paint Company manufactures a line of milk-based paint they claim is organic, non-toxic, and durable for exterior and interior application.

“We use natural ingredients, some even pharmaceutical grade,” Dwayne Siever, owner, and founder of the company told me in an email. Although Siever doesn’t recommend you put it in your cornflakes,…

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  1. HutiAtl | | #1

    Awesome article! Thank you for investigating so diligently and explaining so well!

    I happen to use bioshield‘s clay paint in my recent project - renovating a 1916 home. To me, this paint is the best paint i ever used! No priming needed, covers most (almost all in my case) even strong contrast spots with the first coat. Hardly any smell, and the little it does emit when rolling on doesn’t feel bad (whatever that’s worth).
    I also love the endproduct: a wall that doesn’t look like covered in plastic, but that has nice texture and „feel“ (here’s that word again!) to it.

    I used Ecos‘ universal primer for the trim, which i thought was excellent, too. Very thick liquid, and little goes a long way! Sticks on anything (that happened to be there in my home) including new wood, metal, old paint (lead or non-lead, don’t know), faceplates… you name it!

    On top of that I’m using Ecos‘ air purifying paint. This is also quite different than other trim paint i used before. It needs two or better three coats (for strong, darker colors, at least), and creates a beautiful finish.

    Again, it does not have the typical paint smell, that makes you feel nauseous when you paint much of the day, or while drying. Both primer and paint have hardly any noticeable smell.

    I think i will use these paints again for my next projects! I really like them!

  2. aaronbeckworth | | #2


    Thanks for sharing your experience. May I ask were you purchased the paints and primers you used in your home? Were you able to find them locally or did you order direct from the manufacturer?

    1. HutiAtl | | #4

      Bioshiled's clay paint I ordered directly from them in Santa Fe. Ecos primer and and trim paint I ordered from green building supplies (in Iowa, I believe). There are suppliers of both through out the US, though, I think...

  3. ERIC WHETZEL | | #3

    If you go to the manufacturer's website they typically allow you to order directly from them, or they will provide a list of dealers you can contact:

    We've ordered a variety of stains, sealers, and paints online from out of Iowa. We've been happy with the shipping and the quality of the products.

    You could also look for local 'mom and pop' independent paint stores near you, but there don't seem to be that many left. We managed to find a good one a couple of hours away from us:

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