Safe, Eco Wallpaper

Redecorating? You might choose a fresh coat of low-VOC paint, but for a truly standout wall, think paper. Now back in fashion, wallpaper has seen tremendous growth in the planet-friendly category. It used to be limited to neutral shades on rice paper and bamboo, but now eco wallpaper comes in a rainbow of patterns, textures, and hues.

Why go green on your walls?

Conventional wallpapers are bad for the environment and for you. They’re typically made with a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coating, which releases dioxins, a toxic industrial by-product, during production. Plus, it’s usually applied to walls with glues that contain chemicals like formaldehyde and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can off-gas into the air we breathe. Fortunately, new eco-friendly formulas mean both your paper and glue can be safer for your family. And even if you’re not in the market for new walls just now, consider using a sealant,like Hard Seal by Safecoat, to protect your family from the gases that your current wallpaper may be emitting, suggests Paul Novack, director of sustainability at Green Depot, a building store in New York City.

Eco-friendly installation

1. Decide whether to hire help. Hanging wallpaper can be tricky, so if you aren’t the handy type, click on the Find a Pro tab on the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Home Guide site,

2. Prep the old wall. Sand away old paint (which may contain lead, so keep the kids away) or remove old wallpaper. If you have paper that’s been up for only a few years, you may be in luck: Many newer papers are strippable, which means you don’t need special removers. If you do need to use a remover, remember that some of them are toxic, so you may want to rent a steamer to remove the old wallpaper instead. It can be a little more time-consuming, but it’s safer. Wear a mask and goggles for any removal you do (of paint or paper), and keep an eye out for mold. If you find it, you’ll need an eco-friendly disinfectant (like Moldex), a retardant to protect against future mold, and advice from a local expert (ask at a hardware or home store) on where your community can dispose of mold—it usually can’t just go in the trash.

3. Apply the new paper. Some papers come pre-pasted, but if you choose one that isn’t, look for safe glue. Most paint or wallpaper stores sell starch- or chalk-based adhesives (two to consider: Ecofi x and Roman); they come ready to use, or as a powder you mix with water. “They’re easy to work with, and don’t off-gas toxic chemicals,” says Novack.