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Eco-Friendly Wall Decor

Updated on October 11, 2010

A beautifully decorated house is something everybody wants. But in recent years, we have all become much more aware of the toxic chemicals that can be found in almost everything in our homes. It is no secret that indoor air is almost twice as polluted as outdoor air, and since most of us spend the majority of our lives indoors, that’s bad news.

Luckily, as we are better informed (and as a result, pickier shoppers), companies are doing their best to supply us with non-toxic alternatives. These days, it's easier than ever to find natural and eco-friendly everything for the home - furniture, rugs, wall decorations, bedding, paint, food, you name it. You may not be able to change out everything in your home at once, but every little bit helps.

Photo courtesy of Allbck
Photo courtesy of Allbck

Paint

In you decide to paint your walls, you want to use non-toxic or low to zero VOC paints. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds - a variety of chemicals which offgass from solid and liquid products and   cause both short and long-term adverse health effects. Thankfully, many companies such as Mythic (latex paint, love the retro labels), The Real Milk Paint Company (paint made from milk, lime and earth pigment, comes in powder form to be mixed with water), Benjamin Moore's Natura line (latex, available in over 3,000 shades), Allbäck Linseed Paint (from Sweden, made from 100% organic cold pressed flax seeds) and Yolo (latex-based) are offering zero VOC paints.

When we re-did part of our basement a few years ago, we used one of Yolo’s paints and primers and liked them very much. They went on smoothly and evenly, one layer was enough, and they have held up beautifully in the sometimes damp environment.

I think the next time we paint the outside of our house, we'll go with the Allbäck Linseed Paint - they claim it lasts for 50 years and never peels.

Tiny toxin-absorbent particles
Tiny toxin-absorbent particles | Source

Wallpaper

Wallpapers are making a huge comeback, and these days, there are more choices than ever. New designs and materials have made them easy to apply (and take down), and there are lots of eco-friendly options. Look for those that are vinyl/PVC free, made from non-toxic materials such as bamboo, hemp, cotton or paper, with vegetable or water-based inks and produced without chemicals, bleaches and chlorine.

And if you want to take things a step further, check out Saratech Permasorb Wallpaper from Blucher Technologies. Not only is it all natural and eco-friendly, it contains tons of tiny absorbents that capture airborne toxins in your home. So if you have things like radon, pesticides and PCP floating around the air (chances are…), this wallpaper will actually remove them for you. Pretty amazing stuff.

Wallpaper Paste

When using wallpapers, you’ll need adhesive. Although many come pre-pasted, you’re better off asking for them without the paste and using your own. Traditional pastes contain chemicals, solvents and acrylic. Look for “water soluble”, “water-based” or “solvent-free” paste, or make your own. To make a wallpaper paste that is 100% safe and devoid of chemicals you need: flour (corn, wheat, or rice), water, alum, and oil of cloves as a preservative. (As an interesting side note, clove oil is also excellent for tooth aches).

Photo courtesy of Woolly Pocket Garden Company, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Woolly Pocket Garden Company, Inc.

Air-Purifying Plants

"Living walls" is a term you hear more and more, and it's a great idea. Having plants in your home is another efficient way to remove pollutants in the air. Not only do they look good, they are fabulous at removing toxins in the air, such as formaldehyde (which can be found in things like adhesives, fabrics, paper towels, etc.) and other volatile chemicals.  NASA has done extensive research which shows that having an abundance of plants in your home can help remove a huge amount of VOCs. And in Japan, hospitals have added plants to their environment. Research has found that their presence shortens recovery times and have a positive psychological effect on both patients and staff.

Some plants are better at removing toxins than others. In his fabulous book "How To Grow Fresh Air", Dr. B.C. Wolverton lists a whole bunch of plants and their ratings when it comes to their ability to remove toxins, how easy or difficult they are to take care of, how resistant they are to insects, and their transpiration rate (how quickly they are able to remove the chemicals from the air). The top three performers are the Boston fern, followed by the Florist's mum and the Gerbera daisy. I highly recommend taking a look at this book, it really is an eye-opener and full of fantastic information.

What are living walls then? The term refers to plants growing out of something on a wall. It can be a homemade wooden box, or a bought pre-fabricated system of planters. Another easy  way of adding plants to your walls is to put up a couple of shelves and displaying flowers or little plants in flower pots.

Homemade Art

Your kids can also help decorate the house in an eco-friendly way. Let them draw and paint on recycled papers and papers made from natural fibers such as mulberry, bamboo, banana,  or hemp, using non-toxic beeswax or soy crayons, colored pencils, coloring blocks, finger paints, and vegetable paints.


Or you could just frame a beautiful natural handmade paper, such as Lokta. Another interesting type of paper I recently came across is "Veggiepaper", made of fruits and vegetables. They are papyrus made of strawberries, beets, carrots, star fruit, orange, cucumber, etc. They are really pretty and look great framed or sandwiched in between two sheets of glass. I think they make perfect, and very unusual, kitchen wall decor.

Being kind to your health and creating a chemical-free home environment is importanat. While it is close to impossible to completely remove all air-borne toxins in existing homes, you can do a lot to help reduce your exposure to them. Again, it doesn't have to be done overnight. Take it one step at a time; re-paint a room here and there, invest in some plants, and start reading labels on everything. Before you know it, you'll have greatly improved your homes air quality, and the health of yourself and your family.

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