Types of Primer – When and Why to use these different primers

Paint can of primerThere are so many primers on the market today. Its hard to know when to use the best one. Or when to use a primer at all. Now there is even Paint and Primer in One.

Why Use a Primer? - Simple. The primer allows for the top coat to dry like it was intended to. When the topcoat dries by the liquids soaking in to the surface, the film forms basically upside down.

We split this topic into two sections. Different Types of Primers -and- Different Situations That Require a Primer.

If you are in the Indianapolis area and need a professional painters please contact Grants Painting 

Grants Painting, 4719 Angelica Dr, Indianapoolis, IN 46237, United States - Phone: (317) 800-4540 Fax: (888) 572-3323 Email: grantspaintingservice@yahoo.com

Different Types of Primers

  • Bonding Primer - Bonding primer is great for problem areas such as chalky paint that did not totally power wash off. The only place you should NOT use a bonding primer is when the paint is peeling. Good boding primers dry in a way that they grab onto and tightly grip the surface. If the surface is already peeling the boding primer will tear the peeling paint off more. 
  • Tintable Primer - Tint is certainly not the best thing for any primer. It makes it dry too slow to perform what it actually needs to do. We always follow the recommendations of the manufacturer and cut that in half. Remember that any good primer will seal the surface so the tinted topcoat will sit on top instead of soaking in. Thus it will cover better.
  • Acrylic Primer - Acrylic prime is very high quality in many ways. It will seal, fill in cracks, and bond very well. Acrylic primer can be also kind of pricey. Previously mentioned bonding primer is also acrylic.
  • PVA Primer – Poly Vinyl Acetate – This is the primer that you can use on fresh drywall and fresh mud. It is generally cheap and ONLY works for sealing a surface. It does however take small amounts of tint very well. It is also the best and only primer for new drywall.
  • Alkyd Primer – Alkyd primer is best for water stains. It is also an oil based primer that dries the fastest for oil based primers.
  • BIN Primer – BIN Primer is a shellac based primer. It is best for drying so quick that NOTHING can soak through. However the substrate MUST be totally dry of water moisture. Best for smoke damage. **Remember to have the guy at the counter shake this product twice!
  • High Build Primer – (Undercoat) These are primers that are simply designed to fill in small cracks and holes. They are generally cheap per gallon but don’t go as far as a normal primer. One great example of a high build pime is Valspars high build primer. We apply it very thick and then pole sand the entire suface fo a beautiful finish.
  • Paint and Primer in One – This is not truly a primer and should not be used as one. Most of these paints are simply thickened with a very cheap thickening agent. Please Read Here for more information on the topic. 

Different Situations That Require a Primer –  

  • Water Stains – Water damage is best covered up by an Alkyd Primer. Try using this out of a spray can for best results. Apply with two or three very light coats so they dry quickly
  • Patches – If there is a ton of patch work the best thing is to use a PVA Primer on the entire wall. Or if you just have a few spots try a few light coats with Alkyd Primer in a spray can.
  • New Drywall - New Drywall should always take PVA primer first. This will seal the drywall so the solvents from the topcoat cannot penetrate and crack the drywall. If the drywall job was poorly done then one or even two coats of acrylic will do the job justice. High build primers will also fill in minor defects in the drywall job but do not seal very well so a PVA would have to be used first on the drywall.
  • Smoke Damage - Smoke Damage is best covered with BIN Primer. Remember to have the guy at the counter shake this up twice. No other primer will dry quick enough for the smoke damage to not come through. PVA and acrylic primers will also work but take at least two coats to stop the smoke damage from coming through
  • Chalky Areas - Any chalky areas will need to be power washed first using TSP. What doesn’t come off can be covered with an excellent acrylic primer. The acrylic primer will bond like glue.
  • Hardy Board (Composite Wood) – This is a topic of little known facts. Most will tell you to use any primer you want. NOT TRUE. Most solvent even in water based paints will destroy the glue that holds the wood together! We only use one primer from our paint manufacture PPG Porter paints. A100 Primer. Then we go with a higher quality topcoat 
  • Extreme Color Change – For going from a dark or bright color use acrylic primer. Most color changes, even somewhat extreme, can be handled by a PVA primer
  • Bare Metals – There are many choices here. Generally they are all oil based with the exception of a few water based primers that are just OK for metal. If there is any risk of rust a rust prevention primer WITHOUT TINT is necessary.
  • Wood – Most paint manufactures make a good primer for wood. It should be a high build so it fills in cracks. Really any high quality acrylic primer should work just fine. If you really need to seal it up good go to an oil based primer.

About 

Grant Barnard started painting in 2000 and started Grants Painting in 2008. Originally doing business in northern Indiana, the business was moved to Indianapolis and Greenwood shortly after. Today the Grants Painting has blossomed into a reputable painting contracting company with an ever growing extensive website including our How To DIY Articles. Grants Painting covers all aspects of coatings and specialized in epoxy flooring, interior painting, exterior painting and cabinet painting.

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Grant Barnard started painting in 2000 and started Grants Painting in 2008. Originally doing business in northern Indiana, the business was moved to Indianapolis and Greenwood shortly after. Today the Grants Painting has blossomed into a reputable painting contracting company with an ever growing extensive website including our How To DIY Articles. Grants Painting covers all aspects of coatings and specialized in epoxy flooring, interior painting, exterior painting and cabinet painting.

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Posted in All Articles, Interior, Product Reviews
48 comments on “Types of Primer – When and Why to use these different primers
  1. Anonymous says:

    It is also the best and only primer for new drywall.(PVA)

    REALLY????????????????????????????????

    • Grant Barnard says:

      “cheap and ONLY works for sealing a surface” is what I said. A quality top coat and the surface completely sealed by the pva is the best option for the costs. The high quality paints of today work better when the surface is completely sealed. Any Acrylic primer will also seal the surface but why? unless you plan on a cheap topcoat. I never do. Thank you for your comment. Next time leave your website address for a link back to your site.

  2. Dan says:

    If I paint exterior rusty metal after it has been scraped and sealed with kembond do I need to put a topcoat over it?

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Hello Dan
      It depends on how well it was prepped. If you had even the smallest amount of rust that made its way into the coating then you will want a topcoat for sure.

  3. mary pepper says:

    Hello Grant,
    I am hoping you can help me. My daughter just purchased her first house, which is quite a fixer-up. The problem is the gentleman that owned it previously unfortunately was unable to care for himself, and many of the walls are urine soaked. I am wonder what you would suggest for a prep? Should she use the BIN primer? Should she wash the walls first with a TSP and then prime it? I want the rooms to be healthy for the grandkids. Thanks for your help

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Hello Mary.
      Well the obvious solution is to replace the damaged drywall areas. Otherwise you will have issues with the worst kinds of mold. If your not going to replace the drywall then I cannot give you any other suggestions than to soak the walls with pure bleach or a very strong pool shock solution(calcium hydroxide). However human waste IS what grows “Black Mold”!!!!

      • Aimee says:

        Urine is different from feces. Black mold can grow where pet or human urine sit on drywall but the reason is the moisture – urine itself shouldn’t be providing nutrients for mold growth but the wall substrate might when wet.

      • Grant Barnard says:

        Hi Aimee. Thanks for the informed response on this issue. We always love to inform the public with reputable information. If you would like to submit an article on the issue we would be willing to compensate you for that. Please email us at grantspaintingservice@yahoo.com if you are interested.

  4. Renata says:

    One living room wall painted over for color change (involving only neutral beiges). Problem: the paint used was old – bad – tainted; it was stored for several years in a plastic canister (from a veg protein powder drink) which the container was bubbling out. During and after the wall was painted it smelled like combination dead animal, vomit, cat urine, sour milk, mold/mildew, rancid fish, dirt = very smothering thick heavy toxic odor, unbearable. This lasted for about 5 months, has dissipated but re-activates in humid weather or when heat is on and windows shut for example. Considering using Zinsser BIN Shellac Based Primer Sealer and then paint. Also dealing with factors of household with persons with Chemical Sensitivity and several cats – do not want to make situation even worse.
    Kindly appreciate your best advice on how to repaint this wall in our apartment while maintaining all sanity. Thanks.

    • Grant Barnard says:

      OK. Well it kinda depends on several factors. Like how much work its worth to you and what your expectations are.

      Hello Renata

      A simple way would be to just simply two coat it. It will still probably leak through but not nearly as bad.

      A little harder would be to use an Alkyd or oil based primer and let the primer dry at least 24 hours. Then two coat. This sucks because oil primer is sticky and messy and ruins tools.

      A cost saving measure would be to use two coats of a PVA primer and then two coats of topcoat.

      PLUS. They also make paint scents that you can add to paint but they only last about six months.

      The BIN primer would work but man that stuff will burn the hairs right out of you nose!!! However the smell is gone very quickly as the paint drys. It also may very well take two coats because the alcohol will dissolve the nasty paint just a bit.

      Best of luck.

  5. Renata says:

    Hi Grant,

    We were coming to the same conclusion too – probably just two-coat it, at this point.
    For sure – trying to avoid the BIN.

    Any recommendation on paint brand/type?

    Were considering Behr Premium Plus or some MPI X-Green option.
    (need Canadian options)

    (I would have tackled that old plastic canister of paint out of their hands
    …if I had known. What a miserable mess.)

    Renata

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Well I cannot be sure of what is available in Canada. Im no fan of any Behr products. You defiantly need to use an acrylic paint which all paint manufactures have. Try Olympic, Pittsburg Ultra, or PPG.

  6. Renata says:

    While considering various brands of acrylic paints – a relative just painted
    a room with Behr – so brought it to our attention and were interested in your professional opinion.
    So glad to get your valued input with all of this – certainly helps towards a resolution.
    Thanks Grant.

  7. Douglas Johnston says:

    On an old, previously painted house that’s washed and scraped and that’s not chalking, must you spot primer? Wouldn’t application of a high quality, alkyd paint do as well?

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Douglas.
      What type of paint can vary on what type of weather that your home endures. Basically primer makes everything better. Yes you can use a high quality paint and apply two thick coats. However why not spot prime so you wind up with a better job in the areas that receive the most abuse? Then apply two good coats and have a lasting paint job. Or, Yes if you want the easy way out then hit the bare spots with paint and then do a coat over everything but expect to be doing the same thing in 5-7years or less depending on your paint choice.

      Thanks,
      Grant

  8. Bruce says:

    I am painting the interior of a house that had wallpaper. I peeled the wallpaper and under that is paint and under that coat of paint is another layer o different wallpaper. I am getting the glue from the original paper off now and unfortunately some areas ( very big ) where the paint is coming off from under the paper that I just pulled you can see very big sections of the old wallpaper. Also other areas that I am trying to get the glue off the paint is just bubbling up and peeling away. Once I have all the glue off. It seems I will have certain areas that are showing old wallpaper ( dark blue ) and some areas that are painted green ( that are chipping away over the dark blue wallpaper) and the top half is just painted blue which is no problem. They got a very light light grey (almost whitish) Behr paint and primer all in one. What should I do with everything before applying this. What primer would be best to cover the chipped paint and the dark wallpaper?

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Bruce, Id really have to see a picture of it to give you better advise. Plus what are your expectations? You can text a picture to (317) 800-4540.

      Paint and primer in one often can cause already peeling surfaces to peel more. You really want to seal it up the best you can. I might consider a pva primer and then a high build primer like Valspar High Build Primer. You can also mix powder 120 minute mud into an acrylic primer and then sand it down with a pole sander. The dark color bleeding through wont matter because you need a full prime and two coat anyway. You can still use that 2-in1 paint but you still need a primer coat(or two)

  9. Chits says:

    Hello Grant,

    I would like to paint my mdf staircase. Can I use an acrylic primer on an new mdf staircase ? Will the use of an acrylic primer stop the squeaking noise of an mdf tread? I thought that the paint on the mdf might wear out over a period of time so decided to go with a carpet stair tread on it. Your advice is much appreciated.
    Thank you
    Chits

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Thats a grey area because some solvents used in paint can attack the glue. Your never going to know for sure because unless its a toxic or hazardous solvents then the paint manufacturer doesn’t have to tell you.

      That being said. If it were mine, Id go for oil based primer that is sand-able(not all of them sand so easy) Then a porch and floor enamel(2 coats). The acrylic might be more dangerous to the glue because the glue is most likely water based so the same solvents being used is unlikely.

  10. Sgt_Stash says:

    I accidentally bought the wrong kind of primer (CIL Tintable primer) and it is non-refundable. when I applied it, it went on clear and glossy when I was hoping for a solid white. So I was wondering if I can use it as a sealer for a light blue paint?

    • Grant Barnard says:

      Yes you most certainly can, Sgt Stash! LOL
      You could actually make them tint it to light blue or even add white tint. Most tintable primers will take at least 2 oz of colorant.

  11. Amy G. says:

    Hi Grant,
    I really enjoy reading your advice and am hopeful you can expand just a bit on your advice to Sarah. We are re-plastering our bedroom ceiling and repairing some spots on the walls with Westpac’s Fastset 90. I am planning to repaint both the walls and ceiling when the compound is dry. We have no moisture issues whatsoever. Do you recommend PVA for this application? And does any plaster dust need to be damp sponged off? Thank you.

  12. steve fish says:

    Hi, I am about to lay Gerflor vinyl self adhesive tiles on masonite underlay. The laying instructions, say use a PVA primer
    (to seal the masonite). Is this necessary?
    thanks

  13. omar says:

    when painting steel siding do i use oil based ore latex primer and what finish do yyou suggest on exterior flat semi or high gloss

    • Omar. You cannot use a latex primer but you can use most high quality acrylic exterior primers. I would use Seal Grip Acrylic Universal from PPG but you could also use PPG Acri Pro 100 Acrylic Primer. PPG Speedhide also has a primer specifically for galvanized steel (6-209). Ive never used the Speedhide option but I would suppose that would be best.
      As far as the gloss level… Your always going to get a bit more out of the higher gloss. However with a good prime the flat will still last long, while still hiding small dents.

  14. fitz rollins says:

    I have a wood fence that gets cold in winter and direct sun in summer. The paint is peeling and I got most of it off with wire brush and putty knife. It is old wood and most of it is now bare, but I can’t get it all off unless I perhaps sand blast. Do I need to sandblst or should I just get all I can off using the methods above. Would an acrylic primer work or should I use oil base before using the top coats? Thanks

    • Hey Fitz.
      Sand blasting would be overkill. You could use a solid stain if the wood is bare enough. Or for a bit longer lasting product try using the Acri Shield line of paint with the bonding primer and two satin topcoats.

  15. lisa williams says:

    HI. I’m trying to paint an old dresser that has some type of dark oil stain on the top. I tried a 321 primer but the stain keeps bleeding thru. Please can you help with some advice?

  16. Mary says:

    Grant –
    After plumbing work, I have a large patch (2×2) on a wall that is was skim-coated and painted (Behr Ultra, pale color) a few years back. With saved paint, I hope to do a reasonable job of painting over but understand it’s all about the prep. I note you mention PVA and Alkyd primers as options for a patch. But, as mine is sizeable patch, I ask if there is a preference for this situation. And, assuming I don’t need an alkyd primer, what do you think of KILZ General Purpose Interior or Zinsser Bulls Eye 1*2*3? Any guidance would be much appreciated. Thanks.

  17. hi grant,i bought aluminum-zinc alloy roofing sheets for a house am building.I now feel i need to roof with colored sheets,it will be a big loss to sell off these sheets and buy the colored ones.
    i have thought about spraying them with primer and paint but am not sure whether they will have long life as the pre-painted roofing sheets, i also don’t know which primer and paint to use.
    pls advice

    • Martin, Thats a super technical question. It really depends on how much work and how long you want it to last. Do you live in AZ or MI? Can you spray a finish on with HVLP or do you want to brush and roll? Plan on painting while its on the roof or off?

      Me. I would spray on a colored aliphatic urethane. Thats the only thing that will really hold up. Your looking at about $150 for 400 sq ft. Anything water based will be a joke and anything oil based will bake off the metal after a few years.

      Shoot me a call if you have any questions. 3178004540

  18. Lorraine says:

    Hi Grant, we have just finished the inside of our screened in porch with v groove pine and I want to paint it white, I purchased porch and floor paint with the primer included. However I am wondering about the knots in the pine, I wonder if the paint with primer will seal the knots, or should I first use a coat of Zinsser BIN 2 on all the new pine and then top it of with the orch and floor paint with primer.

  19. Lorraine
    No, BIN primer works well for knots but its really only for strictly interior application. You should use the alkyd version called cover stain. It has a gold label and is sold in quarts gallons or spray cans.

  20. CHRIS says:

    Grant,
    I’m working in an older home that has wallpaper installed over non-sealed drywall (which is still in very good shape). The wallpaper has since been pulled off, but there are large patches very thin glue on the surface. I’ve tried to remove the glue but ended up gouging the sheetrock. Much of it came off and have sanded, and used topping to even out the surface. Is PVA okay to use to seal both the sanded topping and existing remnant glue patches prior painting with latex?

  21. eileen ellison says:

    Hi,
    I just bought a 1650 sf condo in florida on the ocean. to my dismay i have found that the unit was occupied two owners previously by a heavy smoker– 10 years ago. There is a lingering smoke odor, most of which is going away. All of the walls were wallpapered, which we have reomved. the ceilings were popcorn and we had them removed as well. the ceilings are now smooth with drywall compound. I now need to prime. I am mostly concerned about odor, not stains. Which primer do you recommend for the walls? and for the ceilings? The floors were carpeted which we are removing and also replacing the entire kitchen. we are having the AC ducts cleaned as well as replacing the electric switches and outlets.
    There is so much conflicting advice out there…..
    thank you!!

    • Eileen.
      Well I think you have done enough. However, both oil and BIN(shellac) with both do the trick. I would suggest an oil primer even if its alkyd because it stands up to water damage better. So if you leave your windows open alot, the humidity will break down the BIN and may let some of the smoke damage come through.

  22. darrin says:

    I have peeled wallpaper and a few spots tore the drywall exposing the brown paper. I painted with zinsser 123, then realized the advice is to use oil based primer, but I used water based. Will this work?

    • Well if it didn’t peel right up, you might just be fine. Do a few coats and let dry completely each time. The solvents in the finish coat can be stronger than the primer and will deactivate the glue long enough for it to release from the wall. Ohhhh. Interior painting with wallpaper… how fun. :)

  23. Doyle Adams says:

    Grant- Just hung ( or had hung) 90 sheets of new drywall for gameroom. What’s your opinion of Kilz PRO X PVA vs PPG Speedhide 6-2. Tape and float is an average job with an “orange peel” texture on top. Thank you.

    • Doyle. Im not familiar with the Kilz but the 6-2 is a go to product for texture and raw drywall. Now it wont fill in anything, just seal it real good. If you want a little “fill in” and leveling, go with an acrylic universal primer.

  24. Thomas says:

    just did a skim coat of joint compound over the new drywall I put in. The PVA is easy to peel off with blue tape. And the skim coat wasn’t dusty. It’s a small bathroom. What should I do? Apply another coat of a thick primer? Peel off PVA and use something else? Thanks

  25. Deirdre says:

    Hello Grant
    I have started doing up old furniture. I would like not to have to sand first. Is there a primer that I can use to cut out this laborious job?
    Deirdre

  26. Diane says:

    Hi Grant! Re: Drywall patch work in a large large home… I accidentally used a “pure white paint & primer in one” as my primer for all the mudded and sanded patches (there were a ton, that alone took me 4 hours.) Please tell me that it will work just fine and that when I paint the areas (with the original paint color of grey), it will match the rest of the walls just as good as if I had used a primer. Ack.

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