My oldest child is quite the artist. She just adores coloring, drawing, and especially painting. She’s been like this since she was a baby.
As she got older and I started this journey to creating a non-toxic home, I got really interested in whether the “non-toxic” paints we were letting her use were really non-toxic.
What I found was a little disturbing.
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Toxic Ingredients in Paint
Unfortunately, there aren’t any U.S. regulations on the term “non-toxic” (at least not at the time of this post). In fact, many art supplies have a poison control label on them. That’s because there can be a ton of harmful chemicals in paint, even in supposed “non-toxic” paint for kids.
Heavy Metals. Lead is better regulated than it used to be, but cadmium is still widely used in art supplies and paints (specifically in acrylic paint), especially in super bright colors like yellow, red, and orange. Exposure to cadmium over a long period of time (especially if your child tends to get paint in their mouths) can cause kidney damage and weaken bones.
Turpentine. Typically found in oil-based paints, turpentine can cause an array of health issues including “hematuria, renal failure, loss of vision, chest pain, vomiting, severe coughing, gastroesophageal hemorrhage, hypotension, swelling of the throat and even death” when it’s ingested.
VOCs. Volatile Organic Compounds (aka VOCs) include a huge variety of chemicals, and they can cause a variety of health issues too, from eye, nose, and throat irritation to nervous system damage to cancer (and plenty of things in between). Specifically, certain types of paint may contain acetone, xylene, ethyl acetate, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasers, benzene, among other VOCs.
Ammonia. Ammonia is a pretty dangerous chemical. It can even cause death in high amounts. Breathing in or otherwise ingesting low concentrations of ammonia, however, (like the amount that would be in your kids paint), is more likely to just irritate the nose and throat and cause coughing. Though these small amounts of ammonia aren’t as dangerous, you should still keep your children away from it when possible.
Phthalates. I know we talk about this one all the time (because it’s everywhere!), but it’s worth reiterating here that phthalates can cause quite a bit of harm to our health, and kids are especially susceptible to their effects. Phthalates can cause developmental issues and hormone disruption, and they’re in a ton of paint products, even some that are labeled “non-toxic.”
The Best Non-Toxic Paint for Kids
These fun non-toxic finger paints are made from fruit and vegetable powders and are fully edible! The company doesn’t use any harmful chemicals or preservatives in their formula either. Since it comes in a powder form (as do most of the paints on our list), you just have to mix it with water at a 1:2 ratio — 1 part paint, 2 parts water.
In addition to their finger paint, the brand also makes tempera paint, sculpting dough, and various art packs.
Made with food-safe and naturally-derived ingredients like potatoes, rice, and beans, Eco-Kids paint is safe and easy for kids to use.
All you have to do is mix the powder with water, but be careful not too mix too much at a time because it will only last 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
We love this brand of art supplies when you’re thinking about birthday presents and sustainable stocking stuffers too!
Natural Earth was created by a professional artist and mom who was tired of all of the nasty chemicals in paint products. The paints are made with corn starch and mineral pigments, and the brand is focused on sustainability too. They use a 100% solar-powered facility and use recycled packaging.
These paints are also in powder form, so you can mix with water to create a tempera-like paint or add even more water to create water colors.
Natural Earth also makes non-toxic face paints.
Honey Sticks makes a variety of truly non-toxic kids art supplies, and this set of water colors is one of our favorites. The colors are vibrant, and they’re made with natural food-grade ingredients. You use them like regular water colors, so no mixing is involved, and the set includes a paint brush.
If you’re painting your kid’s room (or any room of your house, for that matter), we highly recommend using paint from The Real Milk Paint Co.
Their paints are made with milk protein (milk casein), lime, and natural plant and mineral pigments. The paints do not emit any VOCs, they’re environmentally-friendly, and they’re even compostable.
The paints are also safe for indoor or outdoor use, so if you need to paint a playscape or a wagon, you can use them there too.
How to Choose Non-Toxic Kids Paint
If you’re out at the store on your own, and you’re looking for non-toxic kids paint, here are some tips to finding the best one available to you.
Stick to water-based paints. As mentioned above, oil-based paints can contain much more harmful chemicals, like turpentine, which is used to thin the oil. Water-based paints also emit fewer VOCs, so they’re better for your children (and the environment too).
Look for mineral or plant-based pigments. Plant-based pigments are more sustainable, and they’re also much safer to use. Since they’re natural, they don’t emit VOCs, formaldehyde, or other toxic substances. Just make sure the rest of the paint is non-toxic as well.
Check for Prop 65 warnings. I’m sure you’ve seen these warning labels before. “WARNING: This product may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.” If a “non-toxic” kids paint has this label, it’s probably not non-toxic.
Request MSDS. If all else fails, you can request a company’s Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS). These sheets are required by OSHA, and they provide detailed information about each chemical that’s in a product. Here are some tips on how to read them.
What Kind of Project are You Working On?
It also depends, of course, on what kind of project you’ll be working on.
If you’re painting a room (like your kids’ bedrooms), you’ll want to use latex paint. If you’d prefer to stay away from latex, milk paint is an even better option, but it’s a little more difficult to use. You can look for paints that have the Green Seal 11 certification, which means they have fewer VOCs and are verified safe for human health (and the environment too). The EWG has a great resource on house paints if you’d like more information.
For art projects, tempera paints are specifically made for kids, and they’re generally safe. However, we recommend finding tempera paint that’s made with natural materials (like plants), especially for younger children who might end up with paint in and around their mouths.
When kids are just painting for fun, water colors are a good option.
Is Crayola Kids Paint Non-Toxic?
Not entirely. There is a poison control warning label on Crayola kids paint because some of the colors may contain toxic substances, potentially lead and cadmium in certain colors. I have not tested Crayola kids paint, but Crayola crayons have been found to have trace amounts of lead.
That being said, it’s very important to note that kids art supplies, including paint and crayons, are considered toys, and the trace amounts of lead in them are perfectly within the limits for children’s toys, both in the U.S. and the EU. Crayola products are safe for kids as long as they’re not eating them.
When you’re working on a project with your kids, you should try to use non-toxic kids paint when possible. That being said, children (especially very young children, toddlers, and babies) should always be monitored when using any kind of art supplies.
Hopefully this list helps you find the best one! Let us know in the comments if you have other suggestions.