Choose Good Glues

Dear Annie,
What is your recommendation for a safe glue? My husband is a fix-it person, and I do a lot of crafts that use glues. Thanks very much. –Ronnie, GA

Dear Ronnie,

I’m glad you asked because there are a wide range of glues available, with a wide safety spectrum for health. Basically there are three categories of glues: Simple white glues, instant-bond glues, and glues used for jobs such as carpet installation that can contain volatile organic solvents (VOCs) including some that are highly toxic, such as toluene.

Simple non-toxic white glues are very basic and include Elmer’s Glue, which is considered to have no harmful effects unless under prolonged content. Both Elmer’s Glue All and Glue stick are certified by the Arts & Creative Materials Institute Inc. to be non-toxic.

Instant-bond glues contain cyanoacrylate, which rapidly polymerizes upon contact with water and air. Cyanoacrylate is a fume used famously used to get high, however instant-bond glues are considered of medium concern because the vapors are highly irritating to the eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory system. The National Toxicology Program and the United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive have concluded that ethyl cyanoacrylate is safe.

If you or your husband use instant-bond glues I’d make sure to use adequate ventilation and avoid this type of glue if either of you have asthma. Reportedly Titebond makes a line of environmentally preferable construction related glues (for tiles, drywall, etc.) that are solvent-free and lower in VOCs than some of their counterparts on the market.

Glues of the highest concern contain toluene, benzene, and/or formaldehyde. All of these chemicals should be avoided. Toluene is very toxic to the nervous system and has caused liver damage and more. Benzene can be found in some carpet glues, epoxies, and unleaded gasoline, and is known to cause leukemia and lymphoma. Formaldehyde is a probable carcinogen that is a known sensitizer with between 10 and 30 percent of the population sensitive to it and according to the EPA, 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population is susceptible the chemicals effects.

The glues of the highest level of concern are usually used for installing carpet and other heavy-duty uses, and can cause widespread illness. If you can’t find an alternative to using glues for these types of projects (such as tacking down carpets, for example), be assured that if you look for them, low VOC and safer heavy-duty glues are available and I urge you to search for them. One example is a carpet laying glue called Safecoat 3 in 1 Adhesive from AFM.

Enjoy your creativity in a healthy way using safer glues!


Danuta Watola
Danuta W4 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Chris Ray
Chris R6 years ago


Chris Ray
Chris R6 years ago


K s Goh
KS Goh7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Bon L.
Bon L7 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Robert O.
Robert O7 years ago

Thank you.

Sarah Holmsen
Sarah Holmsen9 years ago

You shouldn't promote Elmer's glue since it test on animals. Weldbond glue is cruelty-free and works great for everything from arts and crafts to making tile mosaics! And it's inexpensive and can be found in nearly every hardware store.

Annie Bond
Past Member 9 years ago

Thanks, Lynna. When I divided the glues into three types I wasn't dividing them into three types of glues per se, but three types of safey levels. Yes, a detailed story on all the types of glues and their purposes would be great to do sometime. Thanks for commenting, Annie

Lynna Landstreet
Lynna L9 years ago

The information in this article seems really incomplete - there are a lot more than just those three types of glues, even among those used for crafts. And solvent-based glues are used for a lot more than just industrial purposes - contact cement, for example, is a solvent-based (and probably pretty toxic) glue that's used for all kinds of crafts and household repairs. Likewise the type of glue used for putting together model airplanes etc.

I can think of several common types of glue that don't really seem to fit into those three categories at all: epoxy, for one - it doesn't have the nasty odour that solvent-based glues do, but I have no idea what its environmental or health qualities might be. Then there are heat-based glues like the kind used in glue guns - crafters use those extensively. Again, I don't know what they're made of or how safe they are. There are silicon-based glues that are kind of like caulk but used as adhesives, like that Shoe Goo stuff used for fixing shoes. And there are various glues used in bookbinding and paper crafts that look and act more or less like white glue but unlike normal white glues are waterproof once dry - PVA is probably the most common of those. And there are acrylic media that can be used to think acrylic paint and also as adhesives.

It would be nice to see a more in-depth article addressing some of these types as well.