Leah's Eco-friendly Oil Painting Guide

Leah's Eco-friendly Oil Painting Guide

Leah's Eco-friendly Oil Painting Guide: How to Eliminate All Toxins from the Oil Painting Process

Solvents such as turpentine, paint thinner, mineral spirits, and varnish emit toxic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as they dry. When poured down the sink, they send harsh toxins into our water supply. They also continue to off-gas from your finished paintings. The use of solvents as a paint thinner and brush cleaner is a relatively recent development in art history. Instead of solvents, traditional oil painters such as Rembrandt typically used walnut or linseed oil to thin their paint and clean their brushes.

Cleaning Brushes

  • Walnut oil cleans well, along with Murphy’s Oil Soap (from the hardware store). The most effective brush cleaner is Natural Earth Paint's Eco-Solve, a natural and non-toxic, soy-based paint thinner and brush cleaner. Eco-Solve is the best for cleaning brushes while painting to quickly rinse off paint and switch colors. It also restores dried brushes. You can "re-use" Eco-Solve by letting the paint sediment settle in the jar and pouring the clean Eco-Solve off the top into another jar.
  • To clean brushes, first wipe off as much paint as you can with a rag. Then, swish your brush in a small amount of Eco-Solve. Finally, wash your brush with soap and water in the palm of your hand.
  • To thin paint, use walnut oil, linseed oil, or poppyseed oil to make paint more fluid. To create washes, under-paintings or more watery, dripping effects (like you would create with solvents), use Eco-Solve.

Decreasing Drying Time

  • Add a tiny touch of raw or burnt umber to your paints.
  • Add limestone powder (impasto medium) to your mixed paints.
  • A low-toxin, fast-drying option is also Walnut Alkyd Medium (by M.Graham) - mix a little with your walnut oil "medium".
  • Use a heat lamp.
  • Painters of the Renaissance added small amounts of egg yolk to their oil paints to make them dry faster.

Cleaning Hands

Pinerite - All Natural Colorado Pine Soap"is amazing!

This heavy-duty, natural and non-toxic soap is the most effective AND sustainably made hand soap for removing oil paint that we have found. It easily cleans oil paint off your hands as well as plant sap and any super sticky substances.

Painting Surfaces

Prime your organic canvas with Eco Gesso. You can visit this page for other eco-painting surface options and learn how to stretch your own canvas.


If you have used toxic paints and materials for years, learn how to detox those nasty chemicals from your body.

Note: When buying other oil paints, be aware that over a dozen colors contain severe toxins such as lead, mercury, cobalt, arsenic, cadmium, and barium. See our Health & Safety page for a list of these toxic, conventional paints. If these paints touch your bare skin, the heavy metals can quickly pass into your bloodstream, especially if used with a solvent. Natural Earth Paint oil paints mix perfectly with conventional tubed oil paints, but be wary of the colors you're choosing.

Interested in more Natural Earth Paint tips, tutorials, and techniques? Visit our Tips page!
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