close-up of child's hands finger painting

As a mother of two, I know first-hand that finger painting can be both a ridiculously messy and a super fun activity for toddlers and babies as young as six months old. Painting helps develop healthy sensory skills by giving young children a tactile experience.

Unfortunately, many children will want to experience finger paint by putting it in their mouths and smearing it everywhere within reach. If you are at your wit’s end trying to find paint that poses no risk to your child or the environment, this article is for you. Here are a few simple tips and nontoxic finger paint recipes to help make finger painting a safe and green activity for your child.

Read Labels Even on Nontoxic Finger Paint

Although the label may state that the product is nontoxic, it is not necessarily edible and may contain harmful ingredients. Some children will have a reaction to ingesting paints, even if they don’t cause long-term consequences. If the label states that it is harmful if swallowed, don’t buy it. Find a safer alternative.

Reduce Waste with Reusable Canvases and Bottles

Finger paints are among the easiest arts and crafts for young children. All you need is the paint and a canvas — be it a plate, cookie sheet, egg carton, yogurt tub, newspaper or even a tabletop. Look in your kitchen cabinets or recycling bin for ideas on zero-waste art materials. Preschoolers or elementary-age children may even enjoy making and painting 3D sculptures with reusable materials.

Make Your Own Edible Paints

If you are going to be covering your kid’s hands with paint, you want it to be safe enough to ingest. How can you encourage artistic self-expression and protect your children from chemical exposures? Create your own finger paints from ingredients in your pantry, of course.

Homemade finger paints can be created with a variety of food ingredients. Happily, inexpensive kitchen staples such as flour, salt, and cornstarch can provide hours of creative fun. It depends on what you have on hand at the moment. Keep food allergies and sensitivities in mind, as anything your child cannot eat should not be used to create finger paints.

Put the paints in reusable condiment squeeze bottles for easy dispensing. If the paint comes out too thick, gradually add a bit of water until it is the right consistency. Avoid making paints that are so watery that they run. Add a teaspoon of sand if you want to add texture to your paints, and store extra paint in the refrigerator to extend its useful life.

While the recipes are edible, they won’t necessarily be tasty. But you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your kids aren’t ingesting harmful chemicals or toxins if they put their fingers in their mouth when you use these nontoxic fingerpaints:

Now roll up your sleeves and get busy with some green finger painting fun!

Originally published in October 2014, this article was updated in July 2021.

By Kimberly Button

Kimberly Button is the author of The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home and the Editor-in-Chief of GetGreenBeWell , featuring modern, sane ideas for living a non-toxic life. A professional journalist for nearly two decades, Button has written for magazines such as Martha Stewart's Whole Living, American Airlines, AAA, Sierra, National Geographic Traveler, and Vegetarian Times. Visit for more information.