Best Wood Primers 2020 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Best Wood Primers 2020 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Primer is a must for any surface that will be painted, especially wood. It can be thought of as a preparatory layer that will protect the wood and enhance the paint. Using some good primer like KILZ Premium will give your great results.

Many people may feel like applying primer is unnecessary and annoying, but you are most likely going to be unhappy with the way your paint job looks without it. You may even work harder because you’ll have to apply extra layers of paint.

Just as using primer is important, so is choosing a good one. So let’s take a look at the best wood primers so that you could choose an option that fits your needs.

Top pick

KILZ is a well known and trusted brand. Its Premium Primer creates smooth surface hiding unwanted stains. In addition, KILZ Premium got great adhesion and mildew protection.

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Best Wood Primers in January, 2020

#Wood primerCoverage (quart)Dry time (minutes)Sheen 
1KILZ Premium
Editor's Choice
75 - 100 sq ft30matte Check Price
2Zinsser B-I-N up to 100 sq ft20semi-gloss Check Price
3KILZ MAX75 - 100 sq ft30matte Check Price
4Rust-Oleum Painter's Touchup to 120 sq ft30gloss Check Price
5Zinsser Cover Stain up to 100 sq ft30matte Check Price
6KILZ Original75 - 100 sq ft30matte Check Price
7KILZ Adhesion 75 sq ft30matte Check Price
8KILZ Odorless 75 sq ft30matte Check Price
9Rust-Oleum Zinsser 1-2-3 100 sq ft60satin Check Price
10Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Sprayup to 10 sq ft (1 can)30matte Check Price

1. KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Latex Primer – Great Interior and Exterior Anti Mold and Mildew Option

This is a great water-based option from KILZ’ premium line of primers. It will give you a super-smooth surface to paint and, like most water-based primers, it’s great at filling imperfections in porous surfaces. This makes it a really good choice for softwood surfaces. It is also less likely to raise the grain of the wood.

It’s slightly better than most water-based options at hiding stains. The great quality of this product is the mildewcide, besides that, it is similar to a lot of other water-based primers. You can also consider this option for color-changes since it has excellent adhesion properties and will adhere well to old paint.

This product has a special mildewcide additive that can prevent mold and mildew from forming. It can also kill active mold and mildew spores. This makes it great for use in high-humidity or moisture-prone areas. This can include kitchens, bathrooms, saunas, laundry rooms or other similar rooms.
  • Great for areas exposed to constant moisture
  • No VOCs
  • Made in the USA
  • Protects from mildew and mold
  • Interior and exterior
  • A bit more expensive than other products

2. Zinsser B-I-N Primer Sealer – Great Interior Primer Both for Bare and Painted Wood

Zinsser is a brand that is a part of the Rust-Oleum family of paints and primers. This particular product is one of the oldest and most trusted shellac-based primers and sealers on the market. Shellac-based primer can be thought of as heavy-duty stuff. If your main concern is covering up stains and sealing odors on new or painted wood surfaces, then shellac is the way to go.

Keep in mind that shellac-based primers have a high odor and the most amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Your room has to be well ventilated if you are going to be in an enclosed space.

Compared to other shellac options, it is very fast drying. Shellac primers generally dry faster than oil-based but not faster than water-based, but this one is different. It dries faster than even water-based ones. You can apply a second coat or a top coat in 20 minutes.
  • Excellent for sealing odors
  • Can write on it with dry erase markers
  • Gives you great results over other kinds of options
  • Interior and spot exterior
  • Has a lot of VOCs

3. KILZ MAX Maximum Stain and Odor Blocking Interior Latex Primer – Heavy Duty Interior Option

Sometimes having an all-in-one option is the best, especially if you don’t know exactly what your wood project is going to require. This KILZ Max has been developed with a patented technology that lets this water-based primer behave like an oil-based primer and a shellac-based primer. It’s the only product with a quality like this on the market.

This product still boasts the great qualities of a water-based primer. Despite the superior bonding properties, it still cleans up easily with soap and water. It’s fast-drying, being dry to the touch in 30 minutes. You could also use this as a lone color without painting over it. Getting this option means that you’ll pretty much have all bases covered.

Covers everything

KILZ Max is one of the most versatile primers on the market. It’s developed to meet demanding needs of restoration professionals. Max delivers the performance and quality without the strong odors. You can easily clean up it with soap and water. Kills max can deal with tough stains like severe water damage, rust, smoke, grease, tannin, markers and more. It also seals odors from fire, pets, cigarettes, and food.

You can top coat with any latex or oil-based paint in just one hour. Max is a completely different technology than anything else on the shelf. It performs the tough jobs without requiring any special respirators or cartridges. Max can be used in confined spaces or inside during the winter without fear. Choose this option if your wood has hard-to-cover stains or damage.

If you need the stain-blocking and odor-concealing abilities of a shellac-based or oil-based primer, but the versatility of a water-based one, then this is a good option to consider. It does everything! It’s even great for covering heavy stains, including wood knots that may seep tannins. It adheres easily to glossy surfaces and hard-to-paint surfaces.
  • Patented technology makes it have the best qualities
  • Low odor after the first few minutes
  • Non-flammable and non-toxic
  • Expensive
  • Indoor use only

4. Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Latex Primer – Best Primer for Wood Furniture

The primer comes in two color choices: flat white or flat grey. This product has a good consistency and excellent quality, so you could use it as a standalone color for your wooden projects. It is also really good to use on trim and furniture since it has rich color and dries quickly. For trim, you may have to add an additional coat.

It also has a very low odor, a common quality of latex paint, so you won’t be exposed to harmful fumes. It’s a pretty thick, so it provides good coverage in one coat. This means you can get your project done even faster with less effort. The disadvantage of it being thick is that it may not be the best choice if you want to spray it.

If you are pressed for time and need a quick-drying option, this is a good one to choose. This option dries to the touch in about 30 minutes, and you can safely add a top coat on your wood within 2 hours or possibly even less time. Speed is definitely one of the best quality of this primer.

It is worth mentioning that Rust-Oleum brand is known for its high-quality paints that are the part of great paints for wood on the market. So this brand is a good choice for both priming and painting your wooden project.

  • Provides excellent coverage
  • Great for porous surfaces
  • Fast-drying
  • Indoor/outdoor
  • Too much brushing can leave streaks
  • Doesn’t work well with glossy surfaces

5. Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer – All Purpose Solution

This is a great all-purpose oil-based primer because it is formulated to go on just about any surface including wood whether it’s indoor or outdoors. It has an extra bond coat so it sticks to surfaces easily.

That means this is one of the greatest solutions you can use for hard-to-paint surfaces like laminate, particle board, or melamine. You may only have trouble with getting it to bond to glossy surfaces, so you may want to sand these first.

It’s also great for hiding stains and sealing odors (mild to moderate, not severe stains or odors). This is a high-performance primer that can even add some shine to the surface after its dried. Because of this, it could be a great stand-alone color for your surfaces, especially trim.

While this is a good option for wood products, it may not be suitable for all woods. Many people reported that after using this product and painting over knots on outdoor wood surfaces, the paint sort of “faded” off of the knots.
  • Boosts performance of enamel paint
  • Has a slight shine after drying
  • Great for laminate surfaces
  • Doesn’t cover knots well

6. KILZ Original Stain Blocking Oil-Based Primer – Great For Interior Wood Doors and Cabinets

This is a great, oil-based product that can cover stains, seal in odors, and do it at half the price of a shellac primer. It’s quick-drying for an oil-based primer and can be used on most surfaces, although it isn’t recommended for floors. For wood, it’s great because it will easily cover knots or finishes.

Oil-based primers are usually pretty high in VOCs, but this one gives you two options: the original or a low VOC choice that has about 25 percent less VOCs. There aren’t too many oil-based products that have this low VOC option. This is a very attractive quality, especially if you are constantly around paints.

Your health is a priority over other concerns, so low VOC product will initially seem to be a good choice.

There are a few downsides to the low VOC formula. The low VOC option may not provide great coverage, so you will probably need an extra coat of this. The low VOC formula is also more expensive.

When you pair this with the fact that you need extra coats to get the job done, you’ll be spending significantly more money.

  • Seals odors very well
  • Regular formula has great coverage
  • Has a low VOC option
  • Made in the USA
  • Regular formula is extremely thick

7. KILZ Adhesion High-Bonding Interior Latex Primer/Sealer – Great Product for Varnished Wood

If you plan to paint a lot of glossy surfaces then having a primer with extra bonding ability is probably the best way to go. It’s a water-based product, which is a really good choice for wood and the extra bond means that you should easily be able to cover knots.

You probably won’t need to do too much of sanding. It’s suitable for interior or exterior use. It can even be used on surfaces like PVC, kynar, fiberglass, laminate, and more since the extra bond is great for hard-to-paint surfaces.

While this is a water-base primer and probably isn’t your first choice for sealing odors or covering heavy stains on wood projects, if these aren’t on your list of priorities then this primer will give you a good amount of versatility in surface vs. paint choices.
  • Has great bonding properties
  • Makes your paint scratch-resistant, scrape-resistant, peel-resistant
  • Washes off skin easily despite superior bonding properties
  • Ideal for lacquered wood
  • Not suitable for floors
  • Not good for treated lumber
  • Expensive

8. KILZ Odorless Interior Oil-Base Primer – Great Odorless Option

This primer is an indoor oil-based. While it isn’t a maximum performance option, if you don’t need special or maximum performance then this is a product that will do what you need at a fair price range. In other words, it is an average option.

Despite the fact that it has a mid-range performance, it is still a really good primer. It’s great for covering up stains and good at covering up odors on many types of surfaces including wood. It’s also fast drying, unlike many other oil-based options. It dries to the touch in about half an hour. The downside is that it isn’t great for mildew and mold-prone areas, so you shouldn’t use it in kitchens, bathrooms, or other areas that are constantly exposed to moisture.

What makes this product special is that it is an extremely low-odor. When you first apply it, there may be a slight odor but the odor dissipates extremely quickly and doesn’t linger like the odor from most oil-based primers. This means that it can safely be used in small and/or enclosed spaces. This also makes it a good choice for environments that involve children like schools and daycares.
  • Extremely low odor
  • Excellent at blocking odors
  • Fast drying
  • Made in the USA
  • Not good for kitchens or bathrooms
  • Not good for floors

9. Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer – Nice Product Requiring No Sanding

This product is intended for both indoor and outdoor use and a variety of surface types. You can use this on wood surfaces although it is geared more towards metal surfaces due to its rust inhibitor. It is mold and mildew resistant so once you use it, you won’t have to worry so much about future stains. The product is high-quality and has a nice finish. It could even be used by itself (without a topcoat of paint) if you like the color.

The special rust inhibitor is what makes it especially good for metal surfaces. A rust inhibitor prevents oxidation of the metal that you apply the primer to. This is done through the use of sacrificial zinc, often referred to as just zinc.

There are few things to keep in mind about this option.

It’s water-based, so you will have an easy cleanup, but keep in mind that it isn’t really good if you’re covering a bunch of pre-existing stains. Depending on the surface, you may also have to use more than one coat. While it can be used on wood, if your wood has a lot of knots, this might not be a good choice.
  • Can be a standalone color
  • Nice, satiny-smooth finish
  • Has rust inhibitor for metal surfaces
  • Great for high pH surfaces
  • Suitable for exterior and interior
  • You’ll need to use more than one coat
  • Doesn’t work well on glossy surfaces
  • Not recommended for hard woods

10. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Spray Primer – Top Spray Primer for Wood

This is the spray-on version of the brush-on primer. While it still has many of the same qualities as the brush-on version, there are a few slight differences. These differences need to be considered for quality as well as safety purposes. For one, it is not as thick so that it will spray easily. This lets you prime your wooden surfaces super fast, and move to your next step fast.

Another difference is that it dries very fast. Drying fast is good because, again, you can move to the next step of your project. The manufacturer boasts a five minute drying time and a 30 minute re-coat time. On the other hand, fast drying means there is no room for mistakes.

One concern that you really need to be aware of with spray on primer is ventilation. When using spray on primer outdoors, ventilation isn’t an issue. However, using spray on primer indoors sends fumes all over the place, so it can be more concentrated than if you use it outside. This means that you need a lot more ventilation than you would with brush-on primer. If you are priming in an enclosed space, it may be safer to skip spray-on primer.

Although it is advertised as a whole-house primer, you may want to only consider the spray for smaller projects such as wooden chairs because you would need a lot of cans to do a big project. In the long run, this could cost you more money than the brush-on version. However, in cases where a spray-on is more practical or you value time over money, this is a great choice.

  • Performs as well as brush-on primer.
  • Adds shine upon drying.
  • Dries super fast
  • Exterior and interior
  • Very runny.
  • Not great for vertical surfaces.
  • Lots of VOCs.

Buyer’s Guide

This section contains the most important information that you need to know about wood primers. You’ll learn about the different types of them and how to choose the best solution for your project.

What is a Primer?

best wood primers buyers guidePrimer is a substance that you apply to surfaces before you paint. Yes, paint before paint in essence, but primer is more of a preparatory step. Primer makes your paint jobs look smoother, more, even, and better. More importantly, it makes your paint adhere to the surface you are painting so you don’t have to worry about the paint flaking or chipping. It can also prevent stains from showing through, seal in odors, and help protect surfaces from rust, mold, and more.

There are some paints that are called a “paint and primer in one” or “self-priming paint”. While the idea behind these is the same as painting with primer first and paint next, there is a bit of difference. Self-priming paints don’t actually have primer in them, they are simply thick paints. While there are certain instances that a self-priming paint would be sufficient, in general, it’s better to choose an actual primer.

Types of primers

There are three types of primers, each one with specific properties and uses. Although each one has general properties, advancements in technology have made it possible to interchange some of these properties among all types. This means that you are no longer stuck with one choice for a specific project. The information provided below is the general information for each primer but some products may vary from these descriptions. It’s always important to read the label before choosing a product.

Oil-Based Primer

exterior wood primerThis type of primers is one of the most widely used. Oil-based primers are great for almost any type of surface (except masonry and galvanized metal), but it is especially good on just about all wood surfaces. They can easily seal the porous surface of wood so your paint will go on smoother and much more evenly. This type of primer stops stains and tannins from seeping through wood and can prevent peeling and/or blistering of paint.

An Important Note About VOCs. Oil-based primers emit a lot of VOCs. Studies have shown that when products with VOCs are used indoors, this can cause the concentration of VOCs to be up to ten times higher. Although the subject of the effects of VOCs is still being researched, some of the effects can range from eye and throat irritation up to cancer. Because of this, when you use primers with a lot of VOCs, make sure you use a face mask and have good ventilation.

Oil-based primers take the longest to dry. Cleaning brushes after using them can be a pain because you have to use harsh thinners to get the brushes completely clean.

Water-Based Primer

priming woodIf you are looking for a primer that is easy to clean from brushes, then you may want to consider water-based primers such as latex. Not only are water-based options easier to clean, but they are safer because they have little to no VOCs. These are great for drywall, unfinished wood surfaces, softwoods, brick, and galvanized metal. The exception to wood is cedar because a water-based primer isn’t good on this type of wood.

One downside to water-based primers is that they aren’t as effective at covering stains as other the other two types. In fact, it isn’t as effective at covering anything as good as the other two. If you need to cover anything such as stains, knots, water damage, smoke damage, or more, you should use water-based primer only if the spot is small or light. If you’re painting over old paint, hardwood, finished wood, or a large, dark, smelly stain, you may want to choose a different type.

Shellac-Based Primer

Shellac-based primer is the third type. It’s one of the oldest types of primers and has been around for centuries. Shellac primer is the ultimate stain-covering option. It covers anything from rust to water damage to tannins. Shellac can even seal in smells, such as the smell of smoke damage. It can be used with oil-based or water-based paints. If you’ve got no paint yet you may take a glance at the article where I’ve put together good paints for wood on the market.

The downside to shellac primer is that it is difficult to use and clean up. It gives off the most fumes and VOCs of the three types of primer. You also have to use denatured alcohol to thin shellac from paint brushes and other tools in order to clean them. Shellac is also not as versatile as the other two types. It’s better to use it indoors on wood, metal, plaster, and plastic. Shellac primers are also expensive, sometimes being twice as much as other types.


  1. Which type of primer is good for wood surfaces?
    All of the types work on wood surfaces. The exception is cedar wood since water-based paints don’t work well on cedar.
  2. How do I apply it?
    Apply primer the same way that you apply paint. Make sure the surfaces are clean and repaired before you begin the project. You’ll need many of the same tools that you use for painting as well.
  3. What kind of brushes should I use?
    In general, synthetic brushes work better with water-based paint. If you are using an oil-based primer, natural bristle brushes work great with this type. Taklon brushes work well with shellac primer.
  4. Can I use any type of primer with any type of paint? If you are going to use an oil-based topcoat of paint, you should use an oil-based primer for best results. If your paint is water-based, then you can use any type.

Final Tips

The most important thing you can pull from this guide is that some type of primer is better than no primer at all. They have come a long way, most of them will work on most surfaces with a few exceptions. Because of this so you would need to be more concerned with where you will use it rather than what you will use it on.

6 thoughts on “Best Wood Primers 2020 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide”

  1. I am trying to find primers for pressure treated wood. I see one is not good for PTW, but none that specifically say that it is good for PTW. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Hi, Jerry.

      Actually, there is no ‘standalone’ primer on the list which is perfectly suitable for ptw/floors. That means that you must paint over your primer using paint designed for decks/floors. So I recommend that you use KILZ Premium but only if you’re going to apply paint over it.

  2. I want to paint over a glossy cherry coloured desk with out sanding what type of primer should I use?
    I think its compressed wood or what ever it’s called it’s not like oak or anything
    Thank you

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