Many paints intended for metal are higher VOC enamel paints or oil-based spray paints (which are very smelly and are not non-toxic).
The following is a comprehensive list of low and zero-VOC primers that can be used on raw and previously painted metals.
Some are for interior use only and some are for both interior and exterior use.
All of them are considered non-toxic and are safe for humans and pets.
This post contains affiliate links. Upon purchase, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
1. AFM MetalCoat Primer
This is the top pick for a durable metal primer for bare metal. Interior and exterior.
AFM MetalCoat Primer is a low-VOC formula that can be used on interior and exterior metal including galvanized steel, aluminum, and non-ferrous metal.
It can also go over: lead, nickel, tin, titanium, iron, zinc, brass, gold, silver, platinum, cobalt, tungsten, bismuth, cadmium, and zirconium.
It’s not recommended for copper or cast iron or any metal that has rust. All rust must be completely removed so that you are down to the bare metal.
This primer cannot take high heat like that of a radiator or range hood. If you’re looking for a non-toxic paint that can handle high temperatures for a radiator this post has options.
This primer is for bare metal and can be followed by any of their paints. If the metal is already painted use AFM Transitional Primer, followed by their paint.
It is safe to use on pet cages, like bird cages, parrot aviaries, dog crates, etc.
Buy MetalCoat Primer from Green Design Center.
2. ECOS Universal Primer
This is the best (and only) zero-VOC primer on the list, it’s a good pick for primed metal and some bare metals.
ECOS Paints makes a Universal Primer that can be used on metals like bare iron and steel (not cast iron) and metal that is primed from a factory. Metal doors usually come pre-primed and so do some metal furniture items like some cribs. This would be ideal for those surfaces.
It is for both interior and exterior use.
I like ECOS because it’s zero-VOC and their products are high quality as well.
Buy ECOS Paints Universal Primer through their website.
3. Tung Oil
This is the best simple all-natural option to rust-proof some metal like garden tools.
Tung oil is an all-natural oil that can be used to rust-proof some types of steel. It is often used to rust-proof garden tools.
More on tung oil in a dedicated post.
If you prefer an all-natural solution, this might work for you. You can’t paint over this though!
Buy tung oi from The Real Milk Company. You can use code mychemicalfreehouse for 10% off.
4. Chalk Paint
Chalk paint is the lowest odor option when wet. It’s not durable enough for exterior use and needs a top coat inside. It’s a great option for crafts and decor inside the house.
Annie Sloan Chalk Paint can be used over some metals as a primer in interior applications. It’s a very low odor option.
Painting over Chalk Paint is not that easy though. If you want a clear sealer for Chalk Paint this post covers those options. Otherwise, Farrow and Ball Primer followed by their paint is the best way to paint over Chalk Paint in my experience.
Rustoleum Chalked also works over metal and you can find it on Amazon and Home Depot. It’s slightly higher in odor than Annie Sloan (but cheaper!).
I discuss Chalk Paint in more detail in the mineral paint post.
- Buy Chalked on Amazon
- Buy Annie Sloan through their website
5. Linseed Oil Paint
If you need to paint over rusted metal, all-natural linseed oil paint is a good pick.
Allback linseed oil paint can be applied to most metals that are clean and dry with very little preparation. Galvanized metal needs to be cleaned with soap and water (or other cleaning products) prior to painting.
You can even paint over rusted metal as long as you do some minimal cleaning and brush off any loose bits.
If painting metal hardware, treat all sides with linseed oil paint and dip the mounting screws in linseed oil before installing.
Buy via the Allback website.
Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist Practitioner with 8 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.
Have you researched any options for repainting a cast iron tub?
Reglazing is high VOC and can take many weeks to offgas. I haven’t tried it myself though.
Jennifer Vitagliano says
Have you ever heard of lime
Yes there are a few paints that have extra lime in them. Not for metal though, as far as I know.