Using primer should be an easy choice before any paint job. You don’t always have to prime before painting, but in the end it saves you time and money. Priming helps your paint cover in less coats, last longer and look better. It’s a win/win/win (if there is such a thing!)
Choosing the right primer is paramount to making your paint job last. Using the wrong primer (or no primer at all) can actually cause paint failure if you’re not careful.
Did you know?
- Oil-based primer on galvanized metal will fail almost immediately
- Latex primer won’t work on Cedar
- Shellac primers can’t be used outside
There are a lot of specifics you need to know about which primers to use and when. In this post, I’ll give you the low down on the most common primers and when to use them for the greatest results. I’ll also mention a few special primers that most people don’t know about, but can be very helpful.
Download my Free Primer Guide to know which primer to use and when!
1. Latex Primer
Latex primers have come a long way in the last 30 years and they are good for a variety of applications. Most can be used inside or outside, but check the label before you buy to make sure it is compatible for your planned use.
These are the most versatile primers on the market, but with increased versatility comes lower performance in specific areas. Think of latex primer as the jack of all trades and master of few. One big advantage they have is that they are vapor permeable and allow things to breathe.
Some good varieties are Kilz Premium Latex Primer, Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water Based Primer.
- $15-25 per gallon
- Water clean up
2. Oil-Based Primer
These primers are fairly versatile as well and can be used on both interior and exterior applications. They do have some specific abilities that owner’s of old houses will find especially useful.
Oil-based primers are excellent stain blockers. Whether it’s wood tannins from cedar, cigarette stains or water stains, these primers cover better than their latex cousins. Unlike latex primers, oil-based primer is not vapor permeable which can be a mixed blessing. For sealing up exterior wood from the weather, that’s great, for covering plaster or drywall not as good maybe.
Oil-based primers also sand smoother after drying than latex primers, which can tend to gum up sandpaper. Oil-based primer really penetrates bare wood and protects much better than latex for this reason.
Some good varieties are Kilz Complete, Sherwin-Williams Fast Dry Oil Primer,
- $15-25 per gallon
- Mineral spirits/thinner clean up
3. Shellac-Based Primer
Shellac-based primers have been around a looooong time. These primers are pretty powerful stuff and their price reflects that. At nearly twice the cost of latex or oil-based, shellac-based primer is the ultimate stain blocker. If this primer won’t stop a stubborn stain or wood tannin, then nothing will.
The adhesion of shellac-based primers is also second to none. They can be applied almost anywhere indoors and used as a spot treatment only outdoors. These primers are best saved for really stubborn stains or repainting cabinets and other items where a hard, smooth and durable finish is required.
Some good varieties are Zinsser BIN Shellac-Based Primer, Sherwin-Williams White Pigmented Shellac Primer
- $40-55 per gallon
- Denatured alcohol clean up
4. Specialty Primers
Sometimes you need a specialty primer to get the best results. Most of these aren’t in the hardware store aisles. You’ll need to go to the paint store because these are very specific primers that perform head and shoulders above the rest in their recommended application.
- Masonry Sealer/Primer – Masonry is very pourous and you need a primer specifically designed to fill those pores and provide a good base for your paint job. Use these for brick, concrete, block, or stucco.
- Bare Metal Primer – Certain metals don’t accept regular primers very well. I use a xylene-based primer for things like steel windows to make sure the paint will last.
- Bonding Primers – Really thick alligatoring paint and rough surfaces with slightly peeling paint can be improved with a bonding primer which helps to lock everything down tight to the surface. It’s not fool proof, but it does help.
Not sure which primer you need? I created a FREE downloadable PDF chart just for my readers. Download it by clicking below and print or save it so the next time you have a project come up you can figure out exactly which primer I recommend.
Download it now!
Founder & Senior Editor
I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.