Over the years, I’ve learned from working on DIY projects that you can’t just apply paint directly to a wooden panel. Instead, you should start with a base coat of wood primer to make the paint better adhere to the surface, create a smoother, more durable finish, and prevent any problems with staining.
Not all wood primers are made equally, though. Some products are better suited to raw, unstained wood whereas other products work best on older, more weathered surfaces. Therefore, if you’re about to embark on a new DIY project, I know firsthand that it can be difficult figuring out which is the best primer.
To help you out, I’ve gone ahead and put together this quick buyer’s guide. I’ve reviewed some of the best wood primers on the market and hopefully, you can use my suggestions to get to work on your next home project. Let’s get straight to the point and check out a few of my favorite products.
There’s a lot to love about KILZ premium high-hide stain-blocking latex primer. Its water-based composition creates an incredibly smooth surface that doesn’t rise up against the wood’s grain. It’s pore-sealing, hides stains, and even prevents mildew.
Whether you’re applying it to a fresh, unfinished panel or want to change the color of an older project, KILZ premium high-hide stain-blocking latex primer will get the job done. Unlike some latex primers, you can even use it outdoors.
For these reasons, it’s my go-to choice as the best overall wood primer on the market!
Top 10 Wood Primers – An Overview
|Wood Primer||Composition||Dry Time||Coverage||Sheen|
|KILZ Premium||Water base||30 min||75-100||Matte|
|KILZ Restoration||Water base||30 min||75-100||Matte|
|KILZ Original||Oil base||30 min||75-100||Matte|
|KILZ Odorless||Oil base||30 min||75||Matte|
|Zinsser Cover Stain||Oil base||30 min||Up to 100||Matte|
|Zinsser B-I-N||Shellac based||20 min||Up to 100||Semi-gloss|
|INSL-X Stix||Acrylic base||60+ min||75-100||Matte|
|Rust-Oleum Painter's Touch||Water base||30 min||Up to 120||Gloss|
|Rust-Oleum Zinsser 1-2-3||Water base||60 min||100||Satin|
|Zinsser Bulls-Eye 1-2-3 Spray||Water base||30 min||Up to 10 per can||Matte|
1. KILZ Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Latex Primer – Best Overall
My top favorite all-purpose wood primer works on all varieties of woods—from bare and unfinished projects to old, finished, and painted wood. It helps seal up every pore and crevice in a wooden panel to create a surface that’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom.
It’s crafted using a premium water-based stain-blocking formula that’s mixed with mildewcide to kill wood rot before it has a chance to destroy your wood. Along with blocking out wood rot, KILZ Premium also prides itself on blocking out old colors, medium to light stains, and other imperfections in your wood.
Additionally, it’s suitable for both indoor and outdoor wood paneling, which isn’t standard for all water-based latex wood primers. You can even apply it to humid areas such as your laundry room, kitchen, or even in a bathroom.
Since it doesn’t give off toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and only a slight odor, it’s safe to use in cramped areas with poor ventilation. Also, if you make a mess with with KILZ premium, you can simply wipe it down with soap and water.
2. KILZ Restoration Interior Latex Primer/Sealer – Tough on Stains
Here we have another great product from KILZ. Their restoration interior latex primer/sealer is a top product for sealing wood to prevent stains and odors from seeping in. Alternatively, I’ve even used it on wood that’s already stained from smoke to lock the odors into the wood and keep them from escaping.
If you own pets, young kids, or are a smoker, this makes it an ideal primer for your home interior. I’ve even used it on kitchen cabinets with great success and like that it performs similarly to an oil-based primer instead of like a standard water-based latex primer.
It goes on smooth, has good coverage, and dries quickly with a durable oil-like finish, yet it still offers the same easy soap-and-water cleanup you’d expect from a latex primer. If you want something durable to seal your DIY project before painting, this is the product for you.
3. KILZ Original Stain Blocking Oil-Based Primer – Best for Interior Furnishings
You’re looking at the original KILZ wood primer formulation that’s managed to survive through the years thanks to its highly trusted quality and straightforward use. Over time, it’s developed a reputation as a cost-effective yet versatile primer that works well on nearly all interior wood paneling.
KILZ Original’s oil-based formula creates a tough, durable finish that works with almost any type of topcoat paint and dries in an hour or less. It has the power to block heavy stains from water, smoke, or natural wood tannins, making it ideal for humid interior spaces such as a kitchen or bathroom.
I recommend using a brush for this one or completely covering your floor with a tarp. Rolling out KILZ Original will send primer flying around the room, making clean-up a nightmare. As an oil-based primer, you can’t just clean it up with soap and water. Take your time and apply it carefully.
4. KILZ Odorless Interior Oil-Base Primer – For Tight Spaces
The final KILZ product I want to mention is their Odorless Interior Oil-Base Primer. Compared to a lot of other oil-based primers, such as the KILZ Original, they’ve managed to nearly eliminate the harsh chemical smell that I tend to associate with primers. When you first apply it, you might catch a slight whiff of odor but it quickly disappears without lingering in the air.
This makes it one of my go-to products for use in tight spaces with limited ventilation. It’s not the strongest product on this list for blocking out stains but it’s still a quality performer capable of covering odors and light to medium stains. If you don’t need anything too powerful, this is a fine option.
Additionally, KILZ Odorless dries in about half an hour, which is way faster than a lot of other oil-based primers. The only downside is that it doesn’t work well against mold or mildew. For this reason, don’t apply it to a bathroom or laundry room.
5. Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer – For High-Shine Priming
I generally prefer oil-based primers for outdoor projects and the Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer is a good base point from which to start. Oil primers are known for their durable finish with a bright sheen and Zinsser went all out to ensure that their oil primer shines as bright as the stars.
By adding an extra polyurethane sealant to their formulation, Zinsser created an oil-based primer that manages to shine through even a topcoat of paint. If you want your outdoor patio or wooden siding gleam in the light, this is the primer for you!
As well as their shine, oil-based primers also have a reputation for chipping. Fortunately, though, this is a tough yet flexible product that can stand up to the natural flex of a wooden surface. It’ll help paint adhere better and stay on even as the wood begins to swell and shrink throughout the heat and cold of the year.
6. Zinsser B-I-N Primer Sealer – Best for Any Open Area
Zinsser’s B-I-N Primer Sealer is an industry-standard when it comes to shellac-based primers. It works on both new and painted surfaces and uses a heavy-duty formulation designed to cover up even the worst stains and odors. This makes it the ideal product for older homes where smokers, pets, and small children have lived.
Zinsser B-I-N primer-sealer is also a faster-drying shellac primer, meaning that I can apply it to wood paneling and come back within 20 minutes to apply the first topcoat of paint. This is shockingly fast considering that even water-based products on this list take longer to dry.
As it’s a shellac-based product, I should point out that it produces a harsh smell and a lot of VOCs. Don’t use this product in a cramped or poorly ventilated area. Instead, it’s best used in an open room such as a living area or bedroom. Additionally, if you have other wooden surfaces that need priming, this product is suitable.
7. INSL-X Stix Waterborne – Best for Worst Case Scenarios
When I need to repair old paneling stained by years of built-up tannin and humidity, I turn to INSL-X Stix Waterborne sealant and primer. It’s suitable for both interior and exterior paneling and is specifically formulated for tough jobs that require a powerful touch.
INSL-X Stix waterborne primer works on all types of surfaces—from aged wood to even glossy surfaces such as tile — and creates a tight seal against humidity and top moisture. That being said, I don’t recommend using it on surfaces that are constantly exposed to moisture. It’s fine to use outdoors but keep it out of the bathroom or a wet room.
8. Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Latex Primer – Best Multipurpose Primer
After I finish priming wood panels, I’m often left wondering what I can use leftover primer for. With Rust-Oleum’s Painter’s Touch primer, I know I can apply it to just about anything. It comes in both flat white and flat grey, allowing me to use it as a standalone color for outdoor patio furniture or as a primer for other projects as it’s intended.
It dries quickly, so I can use it to add a touch of trim or add new colors to old projects. It’s pretty thick, too, so I can usually make do with just a single coat. Within 30 minutes, it’s dry and I can start applying a topcoat after 2 hours.
Best of all, since it’s a water-based latex primer, it doesn’t have the harsh chemical odor or VOCs you’d suffer from with an oil- or shellac-based product. I can use it both indoors or outdoors and even in cramped spaces such as a pantry or interior guest bedrooms.
9. Rust-Oleum Zinsser 1-2-3 – Best for Boosting Colors
If you’re planning to paint your paneling in a bright color, I recommend using Rust-Oleum Zinsser’s 1-2-3 primer. It’s a water-based formulation with a bright white pigment that creates the perfect base for a bright color. This way, you don’t have to apply multiple coats to create a blank canvas with which to work.
You can apply it to most wood panels without having to sand them down first, so I save time by applying it directly to the wood. It’s a good consistency that doesn’t require watering down, so I can apply a single coat without causing streak marks. However, if you plan to use it outdoors, I recommend applying a few coats to achieve a moisture seal.
10. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Spray Primer – Best Spray Option
The final product I want to introduce you to is Zinsser’s Bulls Eye 1-2-3 spray primer. Its formulation is practically the same as the Rust-Oleum Zinsser 1-2-3 I just discussed but in a smaller, sprayable application.
It features the same bright white pigmentation that makes it suitable as a standalone color or for enhancing the bright pop of a colorful topcoat. It easily adheres to both raw and finished wood panels, although it’s not suitable for particleboard.
Thanks to its spray-can design, you can quickly prime small pieces of wood or use it to touch up areas that need a second coat. Additionally, it dries almost immediately. However, if you’re looking for something to prime large wood panels, I don’t recommend using this as your go-to primer. Instead, save it for small corrections after you apply the first coat of primer.
My Method for Reviewing Wood Primers
Whenever I’m looking for a new wood primer, I always go at it with a list of expectations. It should first match up with what I need for my latest project as well as produce top results. This means checking for a few quality indicators:
I always start by figuring out what type of primer I’m working with. There are three main compositions and each one has its own strengths and weakness:
- Oil-based primers – The workhorse and industry standard of wood primers. These versatile primers work with both oil-based and latex paints and can be used both indoors and outdoors. They also help seal the wood to prevent staining over time. Oil-based primers are, however, incredibly slow driers and give off one heck of a stench. Use a thinner if you opt for oil-based primer.
- Latex-based primers – These primers are water-based and work best on unfinished interior surfaces, such as walls and furniture. They dry quickly and aren’t prone to cracking like oil-based paints, however, their main downside is that they aren’t great at sealing wood against stains. For this reason, we don’t recommend using latex-based primers outdoors.
- Shellac primer – Shellac primers are the oldest and most durable form of wood primer but I don’t recommend using them outdoors. They’re excellent for sealing interior wood and can even block out smoke from staining your home. The main downside to shellac primers, though, is that they crack easily and give off a ton of volatile odors. Make sure you have good ventilation if you plan to use a shellac primer.
When it comes to deciding which base composition I use, I mostly consider where I’ll be applying the primer and what sort of result I want.
If I’m applying it outdoors, I prefer to use a primer made using an oil base but, for interior surfaces, I’ll use a latex-based primer. I rarely use shellac primers but they do serve a purpose for woods that I know will be exposed to a lot of environmental stress.
Additional Primer Varieties
Going beyond a primer’s base composition, I also look for what sort of result it’ll make. Some primers do more than others so, it’s crucial that I look for a few of these label markers:
- Adhesion sealants – These primers easily adhere to wooden surfaces, making it easier to apply paint once the primer has dried.
- Porosity-sealing primers – These primers fill in the microscopic pores in the wood, helping to create a smooth seal that keeps paint from seeping into the wood and creating an uneven finish.
- Moisture-diffusion barrier primers – These primers are made using clear penetrating epoxy sealants that allow water to evaporate from wooden surfaces without it penetrating the wood.
- Combination primers – Multipurpose primers suitable for sealing the wood, preventing staining, and creating a workable surface you can paint.
Whenever I’m planning to paint an outdoor surface, I always try to find a primer that creates a moisture-diffusion barrier to keep the wood from rotting after prolonged exposure to the elements. However, a combination primer is often good enough for any interior DIY project.
The final thing I look for before selecting a primer is its usability. I might be stuck with a can of primer for a while, depending on how big my project is. Therefore, I want to know that it’s a product I can come back to time and time again and love it just as much as I did on the first use.
Some of the things I look for include:
- Coverage – How much area can I prime with a single tin of primer?
- Drying time – How long do I have to wait before I can paint?
- Sheen – What sort of finish will it leave on my wood?
- Odor – Will it give off noxious fumes that cause me to leave the room?
- Application – Can I use a roller or does it require a hand brush?
- Tin to surface – Can I apply the primer directly to wood or does it need to be thinned out first?
Once I’m satisfied that a primer meets all of my requirements, I’ll add it to my collection and give it a test. The following primers on this list all lived up to my expectations and that’s why I’m comfortable recommending them to you! Hopefully this list has helped you decide which primer is best for your needs.