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Avoid VOC: homemade natural paint (clay and milk)

Paints are one of the biggest sources of VOCs- Volatile Organic Compounds- inside the home and their synthetic ingredients have been linked to many carcinogens.

It’s fairly easy to make your own paint for any wall surface. This can be an inexpensive way to create your own non-toxic alternative to a conventional paint.

Two common natural paint recipes are clay-based and milk-based. For visuals of clay paint, we have a video with natural building expert Michael Smith where he shows us a sample wall of natural paints.

The basic elements in natural paints

To make a paint- synthetic or natural- you need: 

  • Binder- the main ingredient of the paint. Natural options include: lime, clay, chalk, casein (non-fat milk curds), oil and flour paste.
  • Pigment- the color. Natural options include: clay, nuts, berries, herbs, charcoal, bark and soot.
  • Filler/stabilizer (*optional)- for texture. Natural options include: chalk, clay and talcum.

Recipe for a clay paint

Starch Paste:

  1. Add 1 part white flour to 2 parts cold water & set aside.
  2. Add above mix to 1 1/2 parts boiling water.
  3. Cook mixture on low heat until thickened.

Paint mix:

  1. Dilute 1 part starch paste with 2 parts water.
  2. Add clay (bought as a clay powder or it can be found naturally near a riverbed– though needs to be cleaned and strained before use). Mix enough clay into the paste so that it becomes like a thick cream.
  3. Add pigment (optional: if you like the color of the paint this is not necessary). You can find natural pigments, in powder form, at art supply stores.  

Use a brush to apply to wall. When paint is nearly dry (but still moist), it can be polished with a damp tile sponge.

Recipe for milk paint


  • 8 parts skim milk
  • 1 part hydrated lime (AKA builders lime). Avoid quick lime.
  • 2 parts linseed oil ( boiled type )
  • 1/4 part salt
  • Pigment

Mix ingredients. Strain with cheesecloth or fine mesh. Can be kept in refrigerator for a few days.