This post covers low and zero-VOC primers for interior walls. Most of these paints are acrylic primers but some are PVA primers.
In some cases, it makes sense to go with a zero-VOC primer but some PVA primers are lower in odor than the acrylics even though the legal VOC levels might be around 3 g/l and not 0 (which is negligible).
Some brands like ECOS use zeolite to reduce the odor, which does help a little bit.
With many brands, the primers are more potent than their paint lines, so it’s important to carefully select a primer.
My post on paint covers the best non-toxic paint brands but you may need a primer as well in the following circumstances:
- For new wallboard
- To cover a glossy paint
- To block stains or odors
- To transition from a dark color to a light color
- To transition from an oil-based paint to a water-based paint
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AFM is a well-liked brand amongst those sensitive to chemicals. Their Transitional primer is higher in odor than their paint (and then the other primers on this list) but it is low-VOC and is known for being particularly good at sealing in toxins or odors. It can also transition your walls from oil-based to water-based paint.
This does create a partial vapor barrier which is something to consider in hot humid climates where AC is used inside (a possible condensation point).
AFM New Wallboard Primer is for new drywall, it’s also low-VOC.
ECOS makes great zero-VOC primers. ECOS is the favorite brand for those sensitive to chemicals.
Their general wall primer is used on new drywall.
I like their Air Purifying Primer (APP) which is low odor. The APP primer has a similar level of odor to their low luster paint, which is awesome because primers are usually higher in odor than paint. This primer contains zeolite which absorbs VOCs, and I believe this is bringing down the odor of the primer itself.
Their Stain Blocking Primer did seem higher odor than APP. This would be the primer to use to block stains like tannins.
Their Universal Primer is the one with the strongest bonding power. You can use this on more difficult to prime surfaces like vinyl, and metal (even bare iron and steel), and to transition from oil-based paint to water-based wall paint (though you need to prep it first). It works to block stains like rust stains, tannin staining from woods, and water stains on walls and ceilings.
ECOS is my top brand here if you don’t mind ordering online.
3. Sherwin Williams
Sherwin Williams Promar 200 is a zero-VOC primer.
4. Benjamin Moore
Benjamin Moore Natura Primer is zero-VOC. That one is being phased out. The Ultra Spec 500 is a good zero-VOC primer that works on new drywall.
5. Farrow and Ball
This is a brand of paint that I really like because it’s far lower odor than acrylic paints. I have not tried their primers but I expect that they would be excellent as well.
Non-Toxic Paint Brands
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 7 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.