You’re spending a long time and a not inconsiderable amount of effort bringing a healthy baby to life. And it’s going to take a lot of effort to keep them alive and healthy.
This might feel especially true as you watch your baby explore and find constant new ways to put themselves in danger. But it might also feel true when you start thinking about all the surfaces their tiny hands and, inevitably, mouths come into contact with on a daily basis.
Even if you’re cleaning with all natural household products and using natural clothes and diapers, the list of places where your baby will encounter chemicals is a long one and an early one, unfortunately, is the crib.
Is Paint on Cribs Toxic When You Buy the Crib New?
Unless the manufacturer specifically states that a crib is made with non-toxic paint, it probably contains some toxic ingredients. Paint companies don’t have to disclose the ingredients in their products, so unless they volunteer that information, you won’t know what’s in it. And if they won’t disclose it, there’s probably a reason.
That said, gone are the days of lead paint, so we have less to worry about now than we did in our grandparents’ generation. If you’ve inherited an older crib, testing the paint for lead is a good idea before you start using it.
What Toxins Are Present in Crib Paint?
The things we do have to worry about are volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and APEs. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably already aware of the health risks of VOCs, but we’ll run through them quickly.
VOCs cause headaches, dizziness, nose, eye and skin irritations and nausea in the short term. Prolonged exposure can cause asthma and other lung conditions, cancer, damage to the nervous system and cardiovascular disease. There’s research that suggests VOCs may increase the risk of low birth weights, which is obviously a concern in this context.
APEs (alkylphenol ethoxylates, including nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE) and octylphenol ethoxylates (OPE)) are less well-known. These are used in acrylic paint as surfactants that help stabilize pigment. They’re also endocrine disruptors with links to breast cancer.
This isn’t to be alarmist. If your baby licks the paint of their crib, that doesn’t mean they will experience breast cancer when they grow up. But VOCs off-gas at low levels for years and the human health impacts of long-term exposure to low levels of chemicals aren’t particularly well understood yet.
Research like this 2010 study points to the notion that ordinary exposure to common chemicals can “exacerbate and/or induce” allergies, “asthma, rhinitis and eczema” in children, however, so you’re not wrong to want to limit your baby’s exposure.
What Kind of Paint is Safe to Use on a Baby Crib?
There are basically two kinds. The safest paints to use on a baby’s crib are those that have no VOCs or natural paints. Here are some pros and cons of each.
Pros and Cons of Natural Paint
Aside from the pros for your baby’s health and the environment, natural paint has a range of bonuses. It lasts a long time. In powdered form it’s much easier to store and it won’t go off like latex paint. It also won’t peel like latex or oil.
Natural paint doesn’t look or apply like latex paint, and can take some getting used to. It can be more work to mix. You might find the range of colours more limited. Cost is also a downside—you can expect to pay more for it because it’s considered kind of a bougie product.
And finally, milk paints need to be sealed in order to be water-resistant (i.e. safe to drool on). Fortunately, there are any number of natural sealants on the market today.
Pros and Cons of Low VOC/No-VOC Paints
Low VOC, or no-VOC, paints will have fewer paint fumes than conventional paints and will be better for indoor air quality. They’ll go on like conventional paints, so they’ll probably feel more familiar to you. You can expect to find a larger colour range than with natural paints and they often dry faster.
These paints might still contain chemical compounds you don’t want near your baby, however. Some manufacturers will disclose their ingredients, but others won’t, meaning you might need some additional research if you want to know what’s in them. They’ll also cost more, as you might expect.
What to Look for When Buying Safe Paint for a Crib
Ask the company for a material safety data sheet (MSDS), technical data sheet or safety data sheet for their product. It should identify hazardous ingredients that are in the product, the amounts present and the toxicological information associated with those ingredients.
The data will help you make a more informed decision about whether you feel a given paint is your safest option.
Look for the actual VOC levels of the paints you’re considering. Low-VOC paint could have fewer than 50 g/L, but some standards, like Green Seal, accept up to 250 g/L for recycled latex paint. Zero-VOC paints should have fewer than 5 g/L.
Third-party certifications offer some measure of assurance that a product has met standards for toxicity, so look for symbols from organizations like Green Seal or the Master Paint Institute.
7 Best Safe Non-Toxic Paints for a Baby Crib
Here are our picks for the best paint for cribs. We’ve included a range of paints, from low-VOC to natural paints, to give you a sense of what kinds of options are out there in the world of baby-safe paints.
1. Country Chic Paint
Country Chic paints are ultra-low VOC. Their “All-in-One” paint has <1 VOCs per litre, and also complies with European Toy Safety Standards (BS EN 71-3), so it’s safe on children’s toys.
We appreciate that they make these test results available and that their website offers lots of detailed information on VOC testing. We’d love to see Country Chic make the ingredient list for their paint readily available, too.
The paints themselves come in 55 different colors ranging from light neutrals to dark, rich hues. It’s a clay-based paint that includes both a primer and a top coat—a huge bonus for those who don’t love fussing with their painting projects. Coverage is 120 square feet per quart, 60 sq. ft. per pint and 15 sq. ft. per sample jar.
What Others Are Saying
Reviewers love the colour palette Country Chic offers, as well as the performance of the paint. Generally, reviewers say that a little goes a long way and that the paint is thick, easy to apply and covers even better than they hoped. Clean-up was a snap.
Many reviewers self-identified as people who don’t love painting, and they still loved this paint. They praised how well the paint adhered, despite their (sometimes almost total) refusal to prep their furniture in any way.
Reviewers advise using a furniture wax with this paint, as it marks easily. Marking and flaking were the biggest complaints people had about the paint. More than a few people complained about the durability of the paint, as well as a lack of coverage. Some users experienced streaking, as well. The cost of the paint was an issue for others.
2. Fusion Paint
Fusion makes a milk paint that comes in 25 neutral, pastel and bold shades. It comes in a traditional powder, which makes it versatile and long-lasting.
You can control the finish it gives you, adding more water if you want a translucent, stained look or use less water if you want an opaque finish. Use only the amount you need and store the rest for later projects. It dries in about 30 minutes.
Fusion also offers a mineral paint, which is a water-based paint made from mineral pigments and acrylic resin. There are 53 matte colours in the mineral collection, which is a great range. Coverage is 75 ft. sq. per 500 ml.
We don’t love that ingredient lists are not to be found on their site. Fusion does say their paints are non-toxic (but only in liquid form—not as a spray) and VOC-free, and they contain no ammonia or formaldehyde. As a heads up, the company says their products “are not intended for use on items that may come into contact with a child’s mouth.”
What Others Are Saying
People who use these paints really praise the colours. They generally thought the paints offered great coverage and a lovely, smooth finish. Many people remarked that a small amount goes a long way. Both the milk paints and the mineral paints get high marks from users for their low odor and their strong adhesion to various surfaces.
There aren’t a lot of negative reviews, but some users experienced chipping, while others felt the product simply cost too much. A few people mentioned that they found it difficult to contact Fusion when things went wrong with their products.
3. Lullaby Paints
Lullaby Paints, by Ecos Paints, is a range of products specifically made for nurseries and kids’ spaces. They’re water-based, non-toxic and have zero VOCs. ECOS is transparent about their formula, which is a mix of water, acrylic, lime, clay, mineral oil, ammonium polyacrylate, titanium dioxide, ammonium and sodium salt. They also share their data sheets, which is a big plus.
There are 32 colours in the Lullaby baby furniture paint collection, which comes in semi-gloss and gloss. You can also choose colours from outside that collection, however, or custom-match your own for more options.
Coverage is good, at 400 ft. sq. per gallon. It’s applied like conventional paints, with a brush, roller or sprayer. This might be a huge bonus for those who aren’t up for the adventure of mixing their own natural paints.
What Others Are Saying
This is a well-reviewed paint. Users rave that the paint dries quickly and goes on odour-free. People felt like this was a high-quality product that went on easily, spread well and covered more than they thought it might. Lots of reviews mention how smooth the paint is to apply.
Cost was a downside for reviewers. Many people felt like the paint was pricey, but some weren’t convinced that it was a good value.
4. Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint
The company takes a lot of pride in offering a paint made from four natural ingredients: casein, lime, natural pigments and plant-based fillers. There are 29 colours to choose from, and although the colours tend towards the lighter side, there are a few richer, deeper options.
It’s a powdered paint, so you can vary the look of it by increasing or decreasing the amount of water you add. For thinner, stain-like coverage, add more water and for a solid coat of paint, add less.
Any milk paint can crack and chip when not applied correctly, but Miss Mustard Seed’s paints can be applied with a bonding agent that acts like a primer to help reduce the chances of accidental cracking. The company offers a range of excellent instructional videos to help those who are new to this kind of paint.
What Others Are Saying
People who use this paint like it a lot. Since milk paint lends itself well to cracking and distressing, many people use it specifically to give their furniture a rustic chic look. Those who did were delighted with the effect of this paint, as well as the easy application.
Users felt the paint went a long way and provided superior coverage for walls and furniture. They loved that it dries fast and cleans up well. People often commented that this is a very low-odor paint.
Those who didn’t like this paint took issue with the cost, with many people reporting that they felt like it was too expensive for what they got. The most common complaint was from people who had trouble applying the paint or experienced flaking and excessive chipping. Others found the paint clumped up or just didn’t cover as much as they wanted.
5. Old Fashioned Milk Paint
The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company has been around for a while, manufacturing this natural paint made from casein, lime, chalk and clay. It comes in a powder, which you mix with water and let sit for 30 minutes before straining. It’s available in 20 colours.
You will want to make sure there are no lumps in the paint, which can mean lots of stirring. If you’re not used to natural paints, this might all seem like a lot of extra effort, but that effort will probably pay off in terms of how long the paint lasts and how much less concerned you’ll be when your baby chews the wood of their crib.
This is a thick, creamy paint that lasts a long time and can really handle abuse. You can adjust the coverage by adjusting the amount of water you add, which makes it more versatile. Clean-up is very easy and you just store the powder you don’t use, so there’s less chance of waste.
What Others Are Saying
Reviews of this paint are fantastic. People love the company and the product. Many people buy it specifically for the vintage, crackled or distressed look, but they emphasize that it can be applied to look smooth, as well.
Users report that it’s easy to apply, going on evenly and well. Often they note that the smell isn’t great, but with a window open, is reasonable to deal with. People are, of course, drawn to the environmentally friendly qualities of the paint, but they end up loving the durability.
Reviewers caution that it’s important to read the instructions and do a little research on this type of paint because it’s so different from latex formula paint. Some users had trouble getting the paint to stick and some never did get the lumps out.
6. Retique It Chalk Furniture Paint
Retique It offers a chalk paint that they call ultra-low VOC. It’s an acrylic paint that the company bills as low-odour and hypoallergenic. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find either test results or an ingredient list, so you would need to take the company’s word for it or ask them for more information to find out what’s in their product.
There are 56 colours to choose from, some neutral, others bright and vibrant. Soap and water clean-up, plus a 30-minute drying time, could make this paint a great choice for you if you need the project done fast.
As a note, the company does recommend a top coat to seal the paint. Coverage is good, at 50 sq. ft. per pint, 100 sq. ft. per quart and 400 sq. ft. per gallon.
What Others Are Saying
Reviewers were generally really positive about this paint. They say the paint covers well, even over surfaces that had been painted a contrasting colour, and that they ended up using a lot less paint than they thought they would.
Users remarked that the paint spreads well and doesn’t leave brush marks. They loved the quality of the paint, the wide range of colors and the simple clean-up. What they generally did not love was the price, but those who liked it felt like they got what they paid for.
There aren’t a ton of bad reviews, but some people found the paint too thick and others experienced flaking with the first coat of paint, which marred the second coat.
7. Rust-oleum Paint
Rust-oleum probably isn’t a brand you’d associate with eco-friendly products, but the company makes low-VOC line called “Milk Paint Finish.” VOC levels are around 96g/L, depending on the colour.
The paint comes in 6 matte colours, mostly in the blue-grey range, although there’s an attractive bright yellow option, too. The water-based formula makes for a quick clean-up, and the paint dries quickly (about half an hour per coat). It does need a top coat or sealant of some kind because it’s prone to scratching.
If you want the vintage look of a milk paint but still want to use a product that applies more like conventional paint, without all the extra mixing, this is a great option.
What Others Are Saying
People who bought this paint were happy with how their projects turned out. They found the paint easy to use and very easy to clean. Most people felt it adhered nicely to their furniture and covered well.
Many users explicitly stated that they had done very little to prep their furniture and they still felt the paint went on smoothly and easily. Reviewers reported that the paint smell was minimal.
Even people who loved the paint warned that it’s not durable and really needs a top coat. Lots of reviewers had issues with flaking and chipping. For folks who were planning on distressing their furniture, the flaking wasn’t a problem. Others, however, were disappointed with the paint’s performance. As is typical with specialized paints, complaints about cost came up often.
Tips to Reduce Exposure to Harmful Chemicals When Renovating the Baby’s Room
Plan ahead. The sooner you paint the nursery furniture or room, the more time any harmful substances in the paint will have to disperse.
If you decide on a conventional paint, go for lighter colours—darker colours often have higher VOC levels.
Consider an air purifier for the baby’s nursery.
Don’t renovate when you’re pregnant. This includes:
- Painting, staining and finishing work
Partners, family members and friends can step up and support you by doing jobs that could expose you to harmful or toxic chemicals. After all, you’re definitely already doing your share of the hard work.
Check the VOC levels of any pigments you use if you mix your own paint.
Finally, and this one’s obvious, air out the nursery. Open the windows before renovating and keep them open for at least a few days after the work is complete.
Paint in an open space if possible.
The Environmental Protection Agency offers this brochure with more indoor painting guidelines.