Best Wood Primers 2020 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

Best Wood Primers 2020 – Reviews and Buyer’s Guide

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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If you don’t know much about painting, you might not know anything at all about primers. To be honest, you don’t necessarily have to use a primer for any painting job. However, priming should be a part of any serious painting job. It’s one of those things that doesn’t have to be done, but which will greatly improve the results.

I think KILZ Premium is the top overall primer for you, but you may continue reading to find a primer that meets your needs.

For those who are unfamiliar with these products, let’s begin your education by looking at ten the best wood primers. After that, we will continue with some general information on the subject.

Best Wood Primers in April, 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
7INSL-X Stix75 - 100 sq ft60matte 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.
Pros
  • Great for areas exposed to constant moisture
  • No VOCs
  • Made in the USA
  • Protects from mildew and mold
  • Interior and exterior
Cons
  • 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.
Pros
  • 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
Cons
  • Has a lot of VOCs

3. KILZ Restoration Interior Latex Primer/Sealer – The Anti-Stink Heavy Duty Primer

This is an excellent primer that has a lot of good reviews. While no product is perfect, this one does offer plenty of advantages. It is not available in small cans, but this isn’t a big problem. When you need some primer, you usually need a lot, and so we won’t deduct any points for that.

Fights Stain And Odor

The most distinctive feature of this product is its ability to lock out stains and odors (or to lock them in, if you prefer). This can be a definite advantage for some projects, such as those that involve pets or small children.

In some cases, people use this product as a sub-coat underneath their flooring. This does a great job of keeping odors and stains from getting through the paint. For rooms that have a lot of traffic, that’s a nice little option to add.

Hybrid Qualities

This is a water-based product, but it performs more like an oil-based product in some ways. This gives it some of the advantages of both products. It is tough like an oil finish but offers the easy cleanup of a water finish. Of course, this stuff won’t be as hard as an actual oil-based primer, but it does offer a little more durability.

Needs Many Coats

There are a few little problems with this product, even though it is very good overall. Most of the negative reviews focus on two problems: A short shelf life and a tendency to be too thin. Many people say that they have to use more coats than normal to get the same results.

To be honest, the short shelf life is the only serious problem. Because this product is meant for high-durability use, you should probably be using multiple coats anyway. It’s more work, but the result will be much tougher.

Pros
  • Made to block stain and odor
  • Water base for easy cleanup
  • Works on many different surfaces
  • Easy to sand
  • Performs like an oil-based primer
Cons
  • Relatively short shelf life
  • Usually requires multiple coats

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.

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

5. Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer – Maximum Shine Primer

This is an oil-based primer, and it’s a good example with which to begin.

Shines Like The Sun

As you might guess from the heading, this is probably the shiniest product on my list. Oil-based primers have a high shine anyway, so the addition of a polyurethane sealer will only add to that quality.

Even though you are going to paint over this stuff, that extra shine will affect the look of the paint. If you really want your wooden surfaces to glisten in the sun, this is the product to get.

Tough But Flexible

Between the oil and the poly, it provides an exceptionally tough finish that should hold up for a long time. Flexibility is very important for a wood primer because wooden objects will always flex and swell with time.

We are talking about a very small amount of movement here, but it can be enough to make your paint flake away. If your primer begins to flake away, you can bet that the topcoat will soon follow. The only way to prevent this problem is to use a flexible finish like this one.

Quart Only

It would be nice if this product were available in larger sizes, as it is currently available in quart-size only. Large jobs will require quite a few cans, and that’s usually more expensive in the end. It would also be nice if this product were a little less toxic and flammable.

Pros
  • Delivers deep protection against moisture
  • Produces a very tough and shiny finish
  • Requires no sanding for adhesion
  • Dries fairly quick
  • Provides a flexible finish
Cons
  • A little bit toxic and flammable
  • Only available in quarts

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

This is a primer that has been around for a long time, and which has established a good reputation. It’s one of the more cost-effective options, and it’s even cheaper when buying the five-gallon size. It offers a lot of versatility, as it is not specialized for any one kind of job.

Very Versatile Product

This product provides a durable finish, dries within an hour (often less), and works with just about any kind of topcoat. The label says that it works with alkyd, oil, and water-based primers, which covers just about everything.

Most people have remarked on the good coverage provided by this product, giving 75-100 square feet per quart. That is a handy thing, no matter what task you’re doing.

Trusted And Affordable

This one has earned its reputation, and that is not something to ignore. It may not be anything fancy, but you can be pretty sure that this product will do its job. The cost per gallon is reasonable, as well.

Smell

This stuff does smell a little strong, so make sure you open a window before you open that can. Some people have claimed that it’s a little too thick, leaving brush marks and streaks. However, they might have simply bought a can that was past its expiration date. It should be noted that this is an interior-only primer. It will not work for outdoor jobs, so don’t try to use it that way.

Pros
  • Tried and true option
  • Relatively low cost
  • Works with any sort of topcoat
  • Not difficult to sand
  • Very good coverage
Cons
  • Some have complained of strong fumes
  • Might be a little too thick
  • Interior primer only

7. INSL-X Stix Waterborne – The Hard-Boiled Primer

This is an acrylic primer that is meant for the most difficult situations. Rather than being a general-use product, this one is specialized for hard jobs. It adheres to smooth and glossy surfaces like tile with incredible strength and provides a great seal against moisture.

Meant For Hard Use

This one is meant to be a sealer as well as a primer, but it should be noted that there are limits to its ability. The label clearly says that it’s not meant for constant wetness or underwater use. Since only marine paint is suitable for these things, we shouldn’t be too surprised.

That being said, this product is the next step down from marine paint. It should be suitable for indoor or outdoor use and will lock out the humidity that can normally cause wood to rot.

Good For The Cold

A lot of primers don’t work well in cold temperatures. This can be a problem because work still needs to be done in the winter. This primer is a good choice for those who live in cold climates because it will work in temperatures as low as 35 degrees.

Expensive

I do see a few problems with this product. For one thing, it’s one of the most expensive items on today’s list. Thus, I wouldn’t recommend this one for very large projects. It’s only available in quart cans anyway, so this product is obviously intended for smaller projects.

This stuff also takes longer to dry than most of our other options, needing 3-4 hours where most products require only 1-2. Also, there are some discouraging precautions when we look at the products’ advertising. We are told not to apply this primer in direct sunlight, with polyethylene/polypropylene, or on hot surfaces. It also has to be kept away from all moisture for 24 hours after drying.

Pros
  • Works on even the glossiest surfaces
  • Does a great job of locking out moisture
  • Odor isn’t very strong, easy to clean up
  • Cures in fairly low temperatures
  • Extremely hard and tough
Cons
  • Several limits and precautions
  • Takes 3-4 hours to dry fully
  • Quite 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.
Pros
  • Extremely low odor
  • Excellent at blocking odors
  • Fast drying
  • Made in the USA
Cons
  • Not good for kitchens or bathrooms
  • Not good for floors

9. Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer – Color Enhancing Option

This is a bright white primer with a water-based formula. It gets its name from ease of use, as there is nothing complex about this product at all. It works for just about any surface, its bright color brings out the paint nicely, and it hides stains like a champ.

Very Easy To Use

This one does a great job of adhering to most surfaces without sanding. This saves time, and also saves money on sandpaper. Its consistency is neither too thick nor too thin, making it quick and easy to apply without leaving marks. You also don’t have to worry about the top-coat, as this primer will work with just about anything.

High Cost

The main problem with this product is its high cost. This is the most expensive item on the list, although option number four is a close second. I don’t really see any special features or advantages to justify this cost, even though this is a good all-around product.

This one also doesn’t provide a great deal of moisture resistance. The advertising says that it should not be used on certain types of particle board without first applying a sealer. From this, we can see that it will require many coats for this one to achieve good moisture resistance.

Pros
  • Excellent stain-blocker/color enhancer
  • Good for high-pH surfaces
  • Works with any kind of paint and most surfaces
  • Requires no sanding for adhesion
  • Tends to go on nice and smooth
Cons
  • Most expensive on our list
  • Not great for particle board

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

This one may be small, but it does its job very effectively. Like its larger cousin (option number nine) this is a bright white primer. That brightness helps to bring out the color of the topcoat, though it may not be helpful for darker colors. More importantly, it helps to mask any stains that might be on the surface.

Quick And Easy

If you want a convenient way to do a small job, this product is probably the one to get. It can be applied to smooth and rough surfaces, so you won’t need to waste any time sanding. You should clean the surface to remove dust and debris, but that’s all you need to do before spraying the primer in place.

Not for Large Jobs

This is a great small-scale product, but it’s still a small-scale product. Each can will only cover about ten square feet. Thus, this product is not a cost-effective option for medium-sized or large jobs.

Pros
  • Great for small jobs
  • Dries in only 5 minutes
  • Sticks regardless of texture
  • Usually does the job in one coat
Cons
  • Not cost-effective for large or medium-sized jobs
  • Only covers ten square feet

Buyer’s Guide

When you are choosing a product of this type, there are several factors that should drive your choice. Let’s look at them one by one.

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based

priming the woodOil-based paints are usually more expensive, but they offer a tougher finish that is still flexible enough to resist flaking. They also offer a higher degree of shine, which many people find appealing. Of course, there are some problems.

Oil-based shines will usually take much longer to dry, and they are just not necessary for some projects. In the case of a primer, the sheen won’t make that much difference, so you would mainly choose an oil-based primer for strength.

Water-based primers are a lot quicker to dry, and they usually don’t have the same kinds of toxic fumes that you get from oil-based products. This makes them safer to use and much easier to clean up in the event of an accident. Water-based primers are very hard, but they suffer from a relative lack of flexibility.

How Much To Get?

Primers, like many other paints, have a short shelf life once opened. Thus, you don’t want to go crazy and buy a huge can unless you need one. As a general rule, we would advise you to buy a little bit more than you think you need…but only a little bit more!

Interior Vs. Exterior

Some primers are not suited for exterior use, whereas all primers can be used indoors. Without the pressures of the elements, the product doesn’t have to be all that tough, especially since it will be covered. Thankfully, this is not a complex choice, either.

Special Features

Many primer products will offer special advantages that are meant to be used as selling points. While many of these advantages are legitimate, we would advise you to read carefully and make sure they aren’t trying to pass off a standard feature as a bonus.

For instance, the first product on our list is made to lock out odors. Since this was one of the slightly more expensive choices, you have to ask yourself if that feature is worth the money for your particular task.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does wood primer take to dry?

exterior wood primerThis will vary by product, but you are generally looking at 1-4 hours before you can re-coat or cover the primer. Water-based products usually tend to dry a little faster, so you should go with one of those if time is an issue. Some products may dry in as little as 30 minutes, but that should be considered a bare minimum.

Can I use any type of primer with any type of paint?

No, although most types of primers will work with most types of paint. To be sure, consult the labels of both your paint can and your primer can. If your paint is oil-based, make sure your primer is compatible with oil paints, etc.

What kind of brushes should I use for primer?

You can usually use normal brushes to apply primer, but most people report better results when using brushes made of synthetic materials. Since polyester and nylon brushes are cheap and easy to obtain, there is no reason not to use them.

How do I apply primer?

You begin by thoroughly cleaning the surface to be primed. Make sure you remove any dust, dirt, or grime that may be present, as these may affect the adhesion of the primer. After that, you simply brush it onto the surface as evenly as possible. After that, just allow your work to dry. Before you apply the topcoat, you should inspect the primer coat for any marks or streaks that need to be sanded.

How many coats of primer do I need?

best wood primers buyers guideThe answer to this question will vary by product, and also by your needs. Obviously, some projects require much more protection than others, so tailor your work to the needs at hand. For instance, outdoor painting jobs will definitely need more coats than indoor ones. You should also look at how thick or thin your primer may be. Obviously, a thicker product will require fewer coats.

Conclusion

You probably didn’t think that primers would be this complicated. That sentiment is common, but you should remember that it isn’t true. There is a lot of variety here, so you need to consider the task at hand and choose carefully. I hope that I have given you a good start on that process and that you will return to read more of my work.

12 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

  3. Thanks for this very informative article. I have two new unfinished nightstands I want to paint a light blue. I’m guessing the wood is pine, certainly not cedar. I bought a sprayer and want to use a water based primer. I’m leaning towards the Kilz Max (now Kilz Restoration) or Kilz Premium. I’m hoping the store will tint either of these gray for me. Any thoughts or guidance? Thanks again.

  4. Hi I am trying to paint some pine wood doors, these have at some point in the past been dipped and stripped and then been oiled, I am not sure with what but linseed or teak oil maybe, the problem I’m having is getting a primer which will adhere to the surface, it has been sanded and wiped down with methylated spirit and had primer applied.
    We have based on advice from paint retailers tried Dulux 1 step prep, White Knight Grip-lock primer, Zinsser Cover Stain, none of these have proved successful.
    Any Ideas ?
    Best Regards Paul

    • Hi Paul.

      The oil is a problem here. Try to use paint thinner to remove it, then sand thoroughly again. Also you can try KILZ Adhesion primer which is designed especially for tough-to-paint surfaces.

  5. I am building a bookshelf for kids to be used in the basement. I have used furniture grade plywood and some pine wood. We plan to paint these off white. What primer would you recommend ?

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