These are the favorite paints and primers, vetted by the chemically sensitive, that have been used successfully to block emissions of VOCs, fragrance, smoke smells, urine, and more.
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1. AFM Transitional Primer
AFM Transitional Primer has been used for years by chemically sensitive folks to block various odors and chemical emissions in homes. This falls into the category of stain-blocking primer, it forms an extremely tight polymer network which is how it blocks odors. You can use it in combination with AFM Safecoat Zero VOC Paint, to reduce emissions from the surface.
AFM recommends one coat of Transitional primer (allow at least 24 hours to dry) and then two top coats of AFM Zero VOC paint. They don’t recommend this combination (or any water-based sealant) to block emissions from essential oils, air fresheners, hair spray, smoke, pet urine, or other organic odors (shellac/shellac based-primers are better for those).
It does work well to seal offgassing from primers, paint, sealers, and pressed wood substrates. For engineered woods like fiberboard, particleboard, etc, it’s usually better to use their AFM Safeseal product.
You can use it indoors or outdoors, over previously painted walls, ceilings, wood, and wood trim, fully cured plaster (below 10 pH), stucco, and masonry. Not for new sheetrock or raw wood/wood with high tannins.
It does have some odor and low offgassing itself but most people find it is still worth it to wait for this to offgas to get the sealing effect. Make sure your temperature is between 50-80 F and your humidity is between 30-65% for it to cure.
2. BIN Shellac Primers
This is a more conventional route but it is also non-toxic once cured.
BIN Advanced Shellac-Based Primer (water-based) and BIN Shellac-Based Primer (alcohol-based) can both are odor-blocking paints that can be used on almost any surface (though not SBR rubber, and likely not other rubbers).
The alcohol-based version is high in VOCs but that is because of the ethanol. Alcohol is very volatile and so it offgasses very fast. It only needs 3 days for a full cure, the reps said on the phone.
The BIN Advanced, which is water-based, needs 7-10 days for a full cure. (And it starts at 96 g/l which is fairly high for a water-based paint/primer but it does seem to cure out nicely in my experience).
These block odors and offgassing from below like formaldehyde, fragrance, pet odors (including urine), smoke, musty odors, and almost any other kind of odor.
BIN Shellac is for interior use and sticks to just about anything. You can use any paint on top of it.
BIN Advanced is also for interior use. It can be used under and over any latex or oil-based architectural paint, over bare or painted interior surfaces including wood, drywall, cured plaster, masonry, galvanized metal, and PVC, over dense glossy surfaces such as enamel paints and varnishes, paneling, laminates, glass, and ceramic tile without the need for sanding or de-glossing.
3. Pure Shellac
If you are too sensitive for the BIN primers then you can use pure shellac to block odors. Shellac blocks all kind of odors from smoke, to offgassing to fragrances. Some people have found fragrance can bleed through again with time so be sure to test this out first. I haven’t found that to happen.
Pure shellac is made with a wax resin from a beatle and you can mix it with Everclear alcohol. It is always at least a little bit yellow and is glossy.
It works best on wood, so if you have wood floors, or wooden furniture that has a finish that is offgassing this can work well over that. It also works well on vinyl products, including flooring, though it does leave an obvious finish. I’ve tested shellac on many finishes and odors and the only thing it didn’t work on was SBR rubber.
If you want to paint over it make sure to use de-waxed shellac and follow with a paint/primer that can stick to that (AFM Transitional Primer, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, natural linseed oil paint, etc).
4. ECOS Air Purifying Primer and Paint
ECOS Air Purifying Paint and Air Purifying Primer are 0-VOC acrylic paints that contain zeolite to absorb odors. This is not the same as physically blocking the odors with shellac or AFM Transitional Primer, but if you need a 0-VOC option or if you need a more vapor-open option than those two sealers this is the way to go.
I tested ECOS Air Purifying Primer and was not satisfied with its ability to seal in Febreeze on drywall.
However, one reader commented:
“I would not be able to move house without their air purifying paint as extremely sensitive. We used their ordinary paint for the first coat and air purifying for the second coat to save money, but they also advised us to use it this way. You use the same color for both types of paint. One coat of air-purifying paint usually works to seal all fragrance behind unless on a wall near where there has been something like scented candles, sticks, or plug-ins. In which case for that area you may need a second coat of air purifying.
I’ve found it is the only one that seals fragrance behind it. I once scratched a wall accidentally carrying a chair about 8 months after painting with air-purifying paint and from the scratch I could immediately smell laundry product. Touched up with air-purifying paint and the smell was sealed away again. That was an interesting thing to learn about how effective the paint is.”
5. Regular Paint
Regular 0-VOC acrylic paint in eggshell or a higher gloss has some slight ability to seal in odors. This works quite well to seal in the natural odorants of wood (for those who are sensitive to the natural odor of wood). For that purpose, regular primer and two coats of paint is usually good enough.
There is also some slight sealing of fragrance and other odors/emissions. One chemically sensitive reader said about regular ECOS Paints: “the rooms were previously occupied by fragrance users (scented bath soaps, cleaners, and baby powder mostly), and I’ve found the ECOS Wall Primer and two coatings of their Interior Eggshell paint weren’t enough to fully block out all of the smells stuck to the walls, but it’s been enough of a seal for me to comfortably live in these rooms.”
Note: There are also odor-blocking sealants, these are generally used for wood products to block formaldehyde and other chemicals. AFM Safeseal is for fiberboard, particleboard and OSB (mainly to block formaldehyde). AFM PolyBP -their standard polyurethane is also a good block of many emissions including the natural odor of wood.
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