Tired of Paint? Try These Sustainable Wall Covering Options Instead

bedroom with grey wallpaper - tired of paint - try these sustainble wall covering options instead

Paint is fine. You know. Fine. It’s everywhere, because it’s inexpensive and because we’ve accepted that paint is what everyone does to the insides of their homes. But need we limit ourselves to it? Just because it’s common doesn’t make it the best or the most beautiful choice. If you’re bored of paint, check out these sustainable wall covering options instead.

Natural Plaster

Natural plaster finishes are a versatile way to cover your walls without paint. These finishes can be smooth, textured or patterned, and can come in any colour you wish. They add warmth, richness and subtle depth to wall surfaces.

Plaster is a more labour-intensive option than paint, but it’s also extremely fun to do. Any “mistakes” you make applying it can quickly be justified as artistic liberties.

Natural plasters are made of minerals or earth and are therefore biodegradable and non-toxic. They can be sourced locally and carry low embodied energy. They’re also beneficial for your indoor environment, too. They absorb moisture and prevent mold and mildew. If they contain lime, they’ll even absorb carbon dioxide from the air.

Eco-Friendly Wallpaper

Wallpaper has come a long way from the environmental nightmare it was in the 1960s. While there are still any number of unsustainably-made wallpapers out there, you’ll find an increasing number of companies that make gorgeous, eco-friendly creations in a huge variety of colours, patterns and textures.

While wallpaper does take more in the way of installation than paint does, it makes up for the labour by being more durable, more kid-friendly and more interesting than paint. If you’re worried about possible damage to your walls, it’s pretty simple to learn how to repair drywall after removing wallpaper.

The most environmentally friendly wallpapers will be made from recycled paper, sustainably-manufactured fabrics, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper or biodegradable materials such as rice paper. They should have no VOCs and be made with water-based ink.


blue tiles in iranian pattern - tired of paint - try these sustainable wall covering options instead

Tile is a highly adaptable option for a sustainable wall covering. While we often think only of porcelain or ceramic tiles, there are a ton of other materials available. Recycled glass, recycled paper, terracotta, clay and wood are just some of your options.

You can find the colour scheme, the texture, the tile size and the pattern that work for your space. Like the other two options, tile is more labour-intensive to put up. Lots of people opt to have a professional install it, but it’s definitely not an impossible DIY project if you have patience. The pros of tiling—i.e., that it’s long-lasting, durable, easy-to-clean and fire-resistant—outweigh the cons here.

If you’re looking for the most eco-friendly option, choose clay over ceramic or porcelain (it’s fired at lower temperatures and has a lower embodied energy). You can also search for companies committed to reducing the energy and waste associated with tile manufacture.

Recycled or reclaimed tiles have the lowest carbon footprint. All tiles can be recycled or repurposed at the end of their long lifespans.


Washi is traditionally crafted Japanese paper. It’s a true art form; however, like all true art forms, you can find affordable, mass-produced knock-offs everywhere. These come in tape rolls, in about a million colours, patterns and widths.

You apply it to your walls much the same as you would any kind of tape. Mark out a small area to cover or go big and do a whole wall. To remove it, simply take it off the same way you would remove masking tape. It’s very durable, so you can remove and re-use it if you need.

The best thing about washi is that it’s made of biodegradable materials such as ganpi, kozo, rice and hemp. Once you’re done with it, recycle or compost it. Check the labels to make sure it’s free of chemical inks and VOCs.


Yes you can hang a tapestry and not be accused of trying and failing to make your home into a medieval castle. Fabric wall hangings can be demure backdrops or statement pieces, repurposed or purpose-bought.

You can hang heirloom quilts, rugs you have no place for, original pieces of fabric art, curtains you like the colour of—anything. Use Velcro or regular screws to attach the piece right to the wall. Use curtain rods if the piece is heavy or if you want to cultivate the sense that there’s some kind of unspeakable Gothic mystery hidden behind it.

As a bonus, tapestries make great insulation. Hence, why medieval castles made such use of them.


I know. But it doesn’t look the same as it did in your uncle’s 1970s-era basement rec room. And as panelling has evolved aesthetically, it’s also evolved environmentally.

There are many options on the market today that are made from more sustainable materials such as FSC-certified or reclaimed wood, bamboo, wheat straw, recycled plastics and metals and even textiles.

Like tapestries, this is one of the easier wall coverings to install. Also like tapestries, this sustainable wall covering can be used on walls that are imperfect or that have been damaged (by water, pets, college students, whatever). They can also add some insulation to your room.

As with other products, check the product specifications and the green credentials of the company you’re buying from. Look for panelling that’s recycled, reclaimed or biodegradable, and check to make sure it’s VOC and chemical-free. Look up the manufacturer to make sure they’re committed to environmentally-friendly sourcing and production methods.

This list will hopefully at least get you started on your quest to do a little bit better than paint. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and don’t be afraid not to settle for something that just sits on your wall and blends in.

Feature image: Amira Aboalnaga; Image 1: Mansour Kiaei

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