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Safe Paints for Raised Garden Beds

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Planning to have your garden bed painted? We’ve got you covered in this article. In order to determine the best paint for your garden, you ought to find out the good and bad effects of these paints. Some of the benefits include:

  • Prolonged wood life.
  • Protects the timber from fungi and insects that bore into wood.
  • Reduces costs as compared to other materials.
  • On the negative side, some paints contain high levels of volatile organic compounds that CAN BE harmful to plants.
  • Others have unpleasant smells hence need good ventilation if used indoors.
  • Some paints take a long time to dry.
red building with plants in a raised bed

What Is the Concern With Painting Garden Beds?

Any paint that is soluble in water is prone to leaching into the soil. If leaching happens, the toxic chemical components found in the paints can cause damage to plants.

Leaching occurs close to the wood surface. To lower the risk of leaching, most gardeners will always line the inner side of the raised garden bed using plastic. If the wood is only painted on the outside, the rate of leaching decreases.

Oil Based Versus Water Based Paints

There are a wide variety of paints suitable to paint on wood, which type you choose for your garden bed paint will depend on your preferences. However, a number of factors are considered when choosing the best garden bed paints. These include:


Raised bed gardens are outdoors, this means that the wood used to frame the bed will expand and contract in relation to the atmospheric temperatures, more so when exposed to direct sunlight. This will cause the break down of any painted surfaces over time. As the paint breaks down, moisture is able to penetrate the wood.

Brush and Paint cans color palette

Oil paints will take longer to dry but are durable and long lasting unlike water based paints that dry out faster but do not last longer.


Water based paints contain no odour and volatile organic compounds whereas oil based components contain volatile organic compounds and strong unpleasant odours. It is therefore advisable to provide good ventilation when using oil based paints.

Advantages of Oil and Water Based Paints

Oil basedWater-based
They dry faster and are resilient to scrapes and knocks.Dries quickly and easy to wash the brushes.
They can be sanded-down to produce a good smooth finish.There is limited odor and low volatile organic components.
They remain workable for longer timesThey remain flexible for long and do better in external environments.

Disadvantages of Oil and Water Based Paints

Oil based paintsWater based paints
High levels of volatile organic compounds and bad odor.It is not easy to get a smooth finish.
Difficult to clean brushes after use.Dry faintly even and usually not glossy.
Untidy and unfriendly to work with.Takes longer to dry thus they are vulnerable to knocks and chipping.

Nontoxic Versus different color of paint

There is no distinct difference between nontoxic and chemical free paints. From their names, they are environmental friendly with no harmful effects to the soil or garden beds.

They paints are grouped into three major categories named natural paints and finishes, zero volatile organic compounds and low volatile organic compounds. These categories are grouped according to the degree of volatility.

Paint cans on different colors

Nontoxic Paints

Nontoxic paints are grouped depending on the degree of volatile organic compounds. These are:

Natural Paints

They are made from raw ingredients that are natural. These are water, plant oils and resins, natural latex and milk casein.

They include Livos, Auro, Weather-Bos, Silacote, Anna Sova, Green Planet Paints, and Master’s Blend.

Zero Volatile Organic Compounds

These are paints with less than 5 grams/litre of volatile organic compounds. When a colour tint is added to them, it may raise the concentration to 10 grams/litre which is still quite low.

They include Earth paint, Enso, American Pride, Olympic Paint and Stain, Vista Paints, Devoe Wonder Pure and ECOS Paints among others.

Low Volatile Organic Compounds

They use water as a carrier and not oil based solvents. They have little levels of heavy metals and formaldehyde.

They must not exceed 200 grams/litre of volatile organic compounds. They will produce unpleasant odours until they are completely dry.

They include: Benjamin Moore Aura, Benjamin Moore Saman, Cloverdale Horizon, Miller Paint and Timber OX Green.

Natural (Chemical Free) Paints

These paints are made from natural elements such as plant oils and resins, water, plant dyes, essential oils, minerals such as clay and chalk, casein from milk, natural latex and beeswax.

  • Water based natural paints have no unpleasant odours.
  • Oil based natural paints have a pleasing scent of citrus and essential oils.

These paints include: Livos, Auro, Silacote, Anna Sova, Weather-Bos among others.

Natural Wood Protectants

Renovation theme background of floor boards

Linseed oil

Linseed oil is an ecosystem friendly wood preservative used in the place of modern synthetic sealers. It is found in organic forms and it is natural.

It easily applied using a brush though it takes weeks to dry completely.

It is inexpensive and if you opt for it, do not go for the boiled one as it contains harmful additives. It is advisable to purchase the raw one.

Soapstone sealer and wood wax

It is a harmless wood sealer that comes together with food. It is comprised of carnauba wax and walnut oil.

It contains no volatile organic compounds and no solvents.

The paint is easy to apply. You can use a soft piece of cloth. It dries faster, in twenty four hours thus considered safe for people with allergic reactions to nuts.

The only disadvantage with this paint is that it is expensive but if you can afford it, then it is the best.

Homemade milk paint

From the name, it is formulated using curd cheese, milk, lime and colour pigments. It is the simplest and easy to use.

This paint can be mixed with organic constituents.

However, the greatest disadvantage of using milk paint is that there could be chances of water-spotting.

After painting your garden using milk paint, it is recommended that you rub the dry surface with vegetable or linseed oil. 

Homemade beeswax and jojoba oil wood

This mixture is cheap and easy to use. This wax provides protection to the wood by repelling dust and water.

childrens paintings on a raised bed garden

The product is skin-friendly hence there is no need to put on protective where during application because it is safe and harmless.

The resulting finish will make your garden beds shiny and beautiful. Additionally, when painted on your little one’s furniture, it causes no harm when chewed.

Soyseal wood sealer and waterproofer

Soyseal is a harmless wood sealer and contains no volatile organic compounds.

It contains oil and water and provides a one-year seal.


The choice of paint for your garden bed is a very key element in gardening. Choose paints with low to zero volatile organic compounds, fast drying and odourless paints. This will help curb leaching and chemical release to the soil.

Use nontoxic and chemical free paints that are durable and resistant to scrapes and knocks.


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