By now most builders know that, dollar for dollar, paint is the most cost-effective way to gin up a home’s interior. But what they may not know is that traditional paint isn’t the only way to go.

One nontraditional wall covering that has been growing steadily since its introduction in 2002 is natural earth plaster from American Clay Enterprises in Albuquerque, N.M. “Our products provide a nontoxic, creative solution for beautiful interiors in homes, offices, inns, hotels, and spas—anywhere beauty and health are important,” the company says on its website.

American Clay offers 100 percent natural and VOC-free plaster products that give walls a rich, Old World look, and the company claims that the materials also absorb odors, resist mold, and control moisture. The product is applied the traditional way (a trowel), but now the company has introduced Up & EZ!, a product that contains a binder that allows installers to do roll-on application. “Yes, you will still need that trowel, but only once the clay is already rolled on with a 1¼ inch nap roller,” the company says in a release announcing the launch.

Fort Collins, Colo.–based Unearthed Paints is a new paint company that was launched in 2011 to offer builders and consumers eco-options such as its new line of natural lime products. Crafted with minimally processed natural ingredients such as clay, chalk, lime, and Italian marble, the products are biodegradable, vegan, and 100 percent VOC-free. “All Unearthed paints are tinted with earth and mineral pigments [such as] ochers, sienna, umbers, ultramarines, and spinels,” the company says. “These pigments give the paint a depth and radiance that cannot be achieved by the chemical colorants used in conventional paints.”

Among the products Unearthed offers are clay paint (12 clay colors that are mixed with white clay paint), clay roll-on plaster (a textured paint that saves time and expense of applying troweled-on clay plasters), and vega paint (made with vegetable casein directly derived from plants).

In many cases, these alternative plaster products come in powder-based form and have to be mixed on site. The beauty of the products, however, is they bring a different look to interior walls that usually cannot be achieved with regular painting. Traditional latex finishes are flat or glossy (unless done by a faux-painting specialist), but plaster products naturally mimic the look of Venetian plaster, plaster with straw, sponged and textured products, and plaster with mica, among other finishes and colors.

“Many variations in color can be easily achieved,” says The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Co. in Groton, Mass., which offers a variety of powder- and earth-based wall coverings. “Milk Paint will produce an antique uneven matte surface when first applied. You can also create a semi-gloss look by simply burnishing the painted surface. When used with our Antique Crackle, Milk Paint will result in a textured surface with a ‘timeworn’ look to accent country interiors.”