Wallpaper has definitely gone through phases over the years. From the vivid papers in Victorian homes to today's sleek and simple designs, it can be a beautiful way to dress up your house and add personality to your space.
But not all wallpaper is safe. There are nontoxic wallpaper options on the market, but it’s important to be aware that many wallpapers (and pastes) contain chemicals that could be harmful. Here’s what you need to know to choose beautiful nontoxic wallpaper.
Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack
Wall Décor and Home Health
In the Renaissance period, many upper-class European homes were decorated with tapestries. Wallcovering options were limited, and people would select thick fabric because it provided insulation as well as beauty to their living space. People who couldn’t afford tapestries took to covering their walls with paper.
Printmakers created designs and patterns for the wallpaper, and by the 1800s, wallpaper was extremely popular in England and France, where many of the panoramic designs were considered works of art. Wallpaper made its way to the United States in the early 19th century and was ubiquitous throughout American homes by the turn of the 20th century.
Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack
But traditional wallpaper hasn’t always been the safest answer for wallcoverings. In fact, during the Victorian era, brightly colored wallpapers contained arsenic (copper arsenite) to get the vivid greens people desired. Unfortunately, these wallpapers made people, and especially children, very ill. In some cases, people hallucinated and were driven mad by the wallpaper.
Today's wallpaper is much safer in that it doesn't contain arsenic. But there are still some concerns with certain wallpapers containing toxins like PVC (polyvinylchloride) and other chemicals. PVC is a petroleum-based chemical. Like many of these chemicals, PVC off-gasses VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can lead to many issues, from headaches to hormonal disruptions.
Older wallpapers have also been linked to mildew, dust, fungus, and the occurrence of "sick building syndrome," where people fall ill due to toxins in their environment. So, while wallpaper can be beautiful, it's essential to select nontoxic wallpaper to avoid these potential hazards.
Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack
Fortunately, there are many beautiful nontoxic wallpapers on the market. If you're exploring wallpaper for your home, you'll want to look at the paper material (such as organic fibers, wood, or recycled materials). You'll also want to look at the ink used to create the design. Water-based inks are generally safer. You should also look at the wallpaper certifications and any indication that the paper is PVC-free or otherwise safe.
Don't limit yourself to paper-only, either. Many other options, like fabrics, grasscloths, and cork, can make interesting and lovely wallcoverings. Many of these alternative coverings are sold alongside wallpaper, and they are often healthy, sustainable, and beautiful.
Keep in mind that it’s not only about finding healthy wallpaper and wallcoverings. The paste is also a potential source of concern. Many wallpaper pastes contain VOCs and toxic metals that can be dangerous. One popular alternative is cellulose paste, which you can buy premade or make yourself. Cellulose is a fiber derived from plants, making it safe and nontoxic. Many peel-and-stick wallpapers contain PVC, so you want to be mindful of this and potentially seek out non-pasted papers and wallcoverings.
Photographer: Caroline Sharpnack
Finally, it's important to note that many wallpapers contain flame-retardant chemicals, which can also be toxic. These will often be listed in the description. They may also contain fungicides which can be harmful. Ecofriendly wallpapers and nontoxic wallpapers often forgo these chemicals—important if you or your family members are chemically sensitive or concerned about the effects.
As with all nontoxic approaches to home décor, it's a good idea to do your best to find something you like and feel good about. It's virtually impossible to create a completely nontoxic home because we don't live in a toxin-free world. I find it's better not to stress too much about it (obviously stress can detract from your wellness too). Do a little background research and opt for papers and manufacturers that you feel good about—then don't sweat the small stuff.
Nontoxic Wallpaper Options
If you're looking for nontoxic wallpaper choices, there are quite a few on the market today. As people realize the importance of selecting healthier products for their homes, I think manufacturers will continue to respond with more nontoxic options.
Spoonflower seems to be number one on everyone’s list of the best nontoxic wallpaper sources. One look at their site, and you can quickly see why. They have so many beautiful wallpapers to choose from. In addition, they work with independent artists to create charming fabrics and wallpapers with healthy, sustainable materials.
They're one of the few sources of nontoxic (PVC-free) peel-and-stick wallpapers, as well as a wide range of traditional pre-pasted and non-pasted varieties. Spoonflower uses water-based inks and dyes on their papers, and their products are durable and high-quality.
Kelly Ventura Designs
One of my personal favorite wallpaper designers, Kelly Ventura, is a watercolor artist who designs a gorgeous line of sustainable, nontoxic wallpapers. Many of her papers are digitally printed with water-based inks on vellum paper, which really makes them vibrant and beautiful.
I love Kelly’s charming, sweet florals and softly colored abstract designs. These papers are eye-catching, subtle, and sophisticated—perfect for a living space. Best of all, they're unique and will make your home décor feel curated and customized. So chic! Be on the lookout—as we’ve sourced a gorgeous grasscloth wallpaper from Kelly for one of the guest bedrooms in the Modern European.
Design + Image: Kelly Ventura
Wallpaper from the 70s
Now for something a little quirky and different. Wallpaper from the 70s takes vintage papers and reprints them using eco-friendly inks on paste-free papers. The wallpapers aren't coated, sealed, nor do they contain flame retardants—thus containing fewer potential toxins.
The designs aren't limited to the 1970s—many options harken back to 1920s Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern styles. This is a great place to explore if you're looking for a stand-out wallpaper that's unique and fun.
Burke Décor offers an array of affordable and beautiful wallpaper designs, including the York Wallcoverings collection. York is an American-made wallpaper company that’s been in business since the late 1800s. While not all the wallpaper on their site is eco-friendly, you can sort the wallcoverings by material and find some really lovely sustainable, less-toxic, eco-friendly wallpapers.
The wallcoverings are made from many different natural materials, including grass, silk, and cork. In addition, they use water-based inks on their wallpaper designs and offer pre-pasted low-VOC paper options, as well as wall murals and other alternative wall coverings.
Chasing Paper sells high-quality nontoxic wallpapers printed with GREENGUARD Gold Certified ink. The patterns are often whimsical and modern, with some sweet, kid-friendly design options. Chasing Paper is a great place to explore if you're looking for a fun, artistic vibe.
Chasing Paper’s nontoxic wallpapers are available in unpasted as well as peel-and-stick wallpaper options. The wallcoverings are VOC, PVC, and phthalate-free. The inks they use on the paper are latex water-based inks in lovely, vibrant colors.
Graham & Brown
British wallpaper and home design company Graham & Brown has been creating beautiful, luxury wallpaper for over 75 years. They have an array of wallpapers to select from in absolutely stunning designs. The company is dedicated to sustainability and operates carbon-neutrally.
Graham & Brown wallpapers come in many different materials, including vinyl, so be sure to read carefully or reach out to ensure that the wallpaper you have your eye on is VOC-free. They print with water-based inks on sustainably sourced and recycled materials. If you're looking for wallpaper that is good for your home and the planet, Graham & Brown's designer offerings are a must-explore!
Lulu and Georgia
Another of my personal favorite spots for stylish designs is Lulu and Georgia. The company carries an array of carefully curated designer home décor products, including wallcoverings. The simple, sweet, and beautiful designs are timeless and perfect for livening up and personalizing your space. Much of their furniture is GREENGUARD Certified as nontoxic and low or zero VOC.
Design + Image: Sarah Sherman Samuel x Lulu and Georgia
They carry woven papers as well as vinyl wallcovering options, so be sure to explore the materials before purchasing. Some of their papers also have fire retardant coatings, which can be a potential issue with off-gassing—again, be sure to research carefully.
Farrow & Ball
Known best for their vibrant paint collection, Farrow & Ball also offers high-quality wallpaper printed with their very own water-based paints. Each design has the richness and depth the company is known for, and every roll is handcrafted in small batches at their Dorset factory using traditional printing methods. Their Paper is sourced from sustainably managed forests and contains no vinyl—making any offcuts recyclable. If you’re looking for beautifully printed wallpaper that looks like a true work of art, Farrow & Ball’s wallpaper collection is one to browse.
If you're seeking a new look for your walls, there are so many gorgeous nontoxic wallpapers to choose from. Many of the wallcoverings are high-quality, durable, and truly beautiful. It’s also important to note that many of these companies offer free or inexpensive samples, so you can look at the paper and quality before you commit.
If you’re looking for some great wallcovering options, don’t limit yourself to paint-only. Try a wall of wallpaper or an entire room. Using wallpaper is a great way to add personality and dimension to your space. With all of these options, I'm sure you'll find something you love.