A Fine Finish: Natural Wall Finishes, Nontoxic Paints and Clay Plasters

Want gorgeous walls, naturally? You have options—including DIY!

| May/June 2010

  • Textured walls add warmth.
    Photo By Andy Mattern
  • American Clay offers a wide variety of color pigment options.
    Photo By Bo Parker
  • Well-graded coarse aggregate
    By Katy Bryce and Adam Weismann

A new wall finish can transform your home. Finishes protect walls from the elements and from daily wear, and they play an important role in regulating indoor temperature and humidity. Natural finishes, which undergo minimal processing and are generally nontoxic, can be made from clay, lime, chalk, casein, rock dusts, earth pigments, and natural plant extracts such as oils and waxes. These naturally beautiful materials bathe walls in color and texture while balancing relative humidity, creating a more comfortable indoor environment.

Natural finishes are essential for buildings made of straw bales, cob and non-stabilized adobe because these materials must “breathe” to remain healthy. However, their use is hardly limited to those types of homes. They’re compatible with all wall types, though some walls require a nontoxic primer.

• Don’t use conventional paints, which often are petroleum-based and contain poisonous chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

• Do consider making your own clay plaster using local soils.

DIY or buy?

You can buy pre-manufactured natural finishes such as clay-based paints and plasters at specialty building supply stores. You can also make handmade finishes such as clay plaster and limewash using simple ingredients. Homemade finishes are less predictable than those out of a can or a packet, so it’s essential to assess performance, texture and appearance by testing wall patches before application.

Konstantina Karacosta
11/20/2012 8:38:07 PM

I am doing a project for Gambia and I was wondering,, and what type of paint/ finishes do you use? and how much will cost? Kind regards



September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

click me