Best primer for kitchen cabinets ( full guide )

Best primer for kitchen cabinets

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Stained kitchen cabinets should always be primed before painting, preferably two coats. Even painted cabinets should be primed, unless they have been primed before, and the paint is in good condition with no visible tannin bleed.

When you use the proper primer, it should seal the surface of the cabinets and adhere very well with the wood and paint to prevent rubbing off when cleaning. If you paint directly onto stained cabinets without primer, the tannin and existing stain will bleed through the paint (no matter how many coats are applied), resulting in an awful paint job.

Best primer for kitchen cabinets

Oil-based primer versus latex

Oil-based primer versus latex

One of the biggest mistakes made when painting cabinets is using latex primer instead of oil. Products like Kilz 2 latex and Bullseye 1-2-3 will not completely seal the wood to prevent tannin from seeping into the paint. Latex primer is also smooth when dry and comes off easily.

Nobody likes the smell, but the oil-based primer seals the surface of the cabinets better, preventing tannin bleeding. Oil primer dries harder and sands well too. The paint adheres very well to oil, using a good paint of course.

With all the different primers available, buying the right one can be confusing, and even the people at the paint store can give you the wrong advice. I have worked with several products, but there are three that I really like for priming the cabinets.

Shellac Zinsser BIN Primer

Shellac Zinsser BIN Primer

BIN is a shellac based primer that I use when spraying cabinets. BIN’s milk-fine consistency makes it splatter easily when brushing and rolling, but for spraying it’s awesome. Primer sets very well on cabinets that have been cleaned and sanded. By spraying the doors horizontally, the material levels out nicely on the grained oak and seeps into the cracks without having to roll it up.

This product is an excellent sealant that bonds well to wood. Drying time is quick, typically less than an hour, allowing for light sanding and a second coat on the same day. If you spray BIN, you should clean the sprayer with ammonia or denatured alcohol, not paint thinner. You can also brush and roll this product well, but with the quick drying time, the primer will start to get tacky if you don’t apply it to the surface quickly enough.

The cost is about $ 42 per gallon at regular price as of this writing, but you can buy BINs at many paint stores, except Sherwin Williams, using discounted account prices.

Zinsser Cover Stain Oil Based Primer

Zinsser Cover Stain Oil Based Primer

Cover Stain oil, not the newer latex version, is a good primer sealer and adhesive coat for kitchen cabinets. About $ 22 per gallon, the price is half the cost of BIN. Like most products in its category, the smell is horrible. Whether spraying or rolling, gloves and a respirator are recommended.

Cover Stain doesn’t level as well as shellac-based primer, but for brushing and rolling, the slightly longer dry time is a bit more forgiving. Primer is much thicker than shellac, so when using a brush and roller, a light coat should be applied to avoid heavy textures that would show through the paint unless sanded.

The primer sprays finely with an airless sprayer, but a larger spray nozzle is needed, preferably size .015 to .017, otherwise the material will not atomize well resulting in a touch when spraying.

I prefer shellac primer over oil because it dries faster. The material accumulated in the corners does not stay wet for hours like oil does. But if you plan to brush and roll, this product won’t splatter as much as shellac. Once completely dry, it is easily sanded to achieve an excellent bond with paint.

Sherwin Williams ProBlock Oil Primer

Sherwin Williams ProBlock Oil Primer

Pro Block is sold exclusively at Sherwin Williams stores. It works very similar to Cover Stain, except in my experience, it doesn’t sand as easily. Dries very hard and seals surfaces exceptionally well.

The smell is probably the worst of all the oil-based products I’ve used, but it sticks really well to wood and paint for a smooth finish. If your cabinets have tough stains that won’t come off after cleaning, Pro Block will seal them.

You can spray this product or use a roller, but like Cover Stain, the thicker consistency can cause the rope to become textured when rolling if you apply too much. It takes a bit of practice, but imperfections can be sanded off before painting. This product can also be used to prime drywall stains and patches.

Questions and answers

Question: Hi! I am painting my oak kitchen cabinets. I read your advice and settled on the BIN primer. Spray in 2 coats. I am now painting with SW Emerald Urethane Finish Enamel. I’m doing my second coat right now and I think I see a little tannin bleed in some areas. Help! I am devastated that I have spent so many hours on this project. How can this be fixed?

Answer:Oak cabinets should be primed with BIN shellac primer, or oil primer, to prevent spillage. There are some newer BIN products, like the advanced synthetic version, that I have never used. I use regular BIN shellac primer and never had a problem with bleeding. Cabinets should also be sanded and cleaned to remove surface contamination. Sometimes there will be some tannin stains on a couple of doors that the primer didn’t seal completely. You can use a spray can of oil primer to apply primer to those places. If there is tannin bleed everywhere then it looks like the wrong primer was used and the doors would have to be re-primed. If the grain didn’t fill as well, that could be part of the problem. The grain fill fills deep valleys and cracks in the wood where the primer can be difficult to work with when spraying. A coat of grit caulk levels the oak. You can also try spraying a little heavier as the primer may not seep into the cracks enough to block the tannin.

Question: I’m going to get someone to paint my new kitchen cabinets. She doesn’t want to use oil-based primer. He said that he is horrible to work with and that I will not be able to stay home for 3 weeks due to the smell. He said latex works just as well. I paid a lot for these cabinets and I want to make sure I get a good paint job. Is this true or should you use oil and what do you recommend?

Answer: If the cabinets are new and already painted, the latex primer is probably fine. Oil primer is good when painting stained cabinets. Oil primer dries harder than latex and seals the surface. The primer only smells bad on the day of application, not weeks after. Open a window and the smell will disappear when the primer dries.

Question: My local hardware store told me that I did not need to prime my stained cabinets. As I put on my first coat of paint and I notice that the yellow is coming out. I went online and started reading. Do I now need to remove the first coat of paint from my cabinet and then apply the two coats of primer? Or can I just lightly sand my cabinets and go ahead with my two coats of shellac primer?

Answer: No, the store is bad. This is why you are bleeding tannin in your cabinets. Primer is a must, but not latex primer. Latex primer and paint alone will not seal or adhere well to wood. Primer and paint over paint that you already applied could create more problems. Remove paint, apply two coats of oil primer or shellac primer, and paint. Cover Stain Oil Primer is ideal for cabinet primer or Zinsser BIN (shellac primer). Also, be sure to clean the cabinets and sand.

Question: Do I need to somehow remove a primer / paint combination before applying the proper oil-based primer to the “wood” in my RV, or can I paint over the existing product (Beyond Paint) with the correct primer?

Answer: It would be better to sand all that down and start over with oil primer.

Question: I am preparing to paint my kitchen cabinets. I have an HVLP sprayer (wagner flexio 3000). Can you recommend the best option? I am planning to paint / roll the frame and spray the doors.

Answer: I’m not sure what you are asking. If you’re referring to the best primer option, use an oil-based primer or a white shellac primer (BIN). Cover Stain Oil Primer is great if you go that route. You can use your HVLP sprayer for the cabinets, but you will likely have to thin the primer and paint, depending on the products you choose. I use an airless sprayer and don’t have to thin my primer and paint.

Question: I am painting oak kitchen cabinets with a clear finish that does not have major open grain issues. I plan to do it with a rotating brush and coat it with BM Advance. The biggest goal is a smooth finish at the end. What do you think i should do?

Answer: If you are brushing and rolling the cabinets, working with Cover Stain will be less of a hassle. BIN Shellac Primer is very fine like milk and goes everywhere when brushing it, but it seeps into the grain much better than Cover Stain due to its consistency. If you change your mind and decide to spray the cabinets, use BIN. That’s what I use when I spray my cabinets and it works great. Cover Stain sands easier, but both will give you a smooth finish after sanding, but BIN levels out much better and you can re-coat in 45 minutes. Cover Stain takes hours to dry.

Question: I removed the oak cabinets, sanded with 100 grit, and wiped off all debris until nothing was left on the rags. I applied Zinsser Cover Stain and once dry, there is chalk. What has caused the chalk? Or will light sanding and repainting be fine?

Answer: White residue on the surface of Cover Stain is normal and is easily removed with an antistatic cloth. To get a super smooth finish with this primer, apply two coats, sand between coats, and wipe off dust with an antistatic cloth. When sanding, use a 220-grit sanding sponge (3M brand works great). Make sure primer is completely dry before sanding. Cover Stain sand well once it has had time to dry completely. Sand the second coat and remove the dust again. Your paint finish will be as smooth as glass.

Question: Have you used original oil-based Kilz? If so, how does this compare to Cover Stain Oil?

Answer: Yes, I have used Kilz oil based primer many times to block drywall stains, but I have not used it to prime cabinets. Cover Stain works as a stain blocker and adhesive layer. I like Cover Stain because I can use the leftover primer for exterior projects. Original Kilz is interior only. Kilz oil based primer, not latex, would probably be fine as a cabinet primer, but again, I’ve never used it for that purpose so I can’t vouch for it as a cabinet primer, but it’s a good product. Most acrylic latex paints adhere well. I now use Zinsser BIN shellac primer on all of my cabinets.

Question: I have purchased a new unfinished cabinet to add to the kitchen. The other cabinets are painted and we plan to repaint them as well. Question: what would be the best primer to use on unfinished wood? I will paint all cabinets with Behr latex. Thanks?

Answer: The best primer to use is oil based primer or shellac based primer. Do not use latex primer.

Question: I need to repaint my cabinets. They have a clear coat. Can I apply the primer directly without removing the actual finish?

Answer: No, you need to sand the clear coat to dull the surface of the primer. Primer and paint adhere stronger to surfaces that have been sanded and cleaned.

Question: What primer can be used on veneers and is there anything that can be used on laminate?

Answer: In laminate, oil-based adhesive primer or shellac-based primer such as BIN is fine. The surface must be cleaned and sanded first to remove the shine. You can use the same primer on the veneer.

Question: I have wooden cabinets. 3 years ago I painted them with a Java Gel Stain. Now I want white cabinets. I sanded the cabinets and used Zinsser Bulls Eye 123. I am on my second coat of primer and the primer is not drying white but tan. Is this normal or is it tannin? If it’s tannin, should I stop buying Zinsser hairspray? Can shellac be painted over the primer or will I have to sand the cabinets again?

Answer: The cabinets are bleeding tannin through the primer because the primer you are using is water based. Do not apply BIN over 123. This primer forms a weak bond for painting cabinets. Sand or remove water-based primer from cabinets and prime with BIN shellac primer or oil-based primer. Either one will prevent tannin bleeding. Sand and clean cabinets thoroughly before priming as well. Apply two coats of primer, sanding between coats.

Question: I am planning to spray some new oak cabinets for a friend using an HVLP spray system. What primer would you recommend for this, the sherwin Williams zinc lacquer or pro block?

Answer: If you are spraying with an HVLP sprayer, I would use the BIN shellac primer. It is thin and will spray well through an HVLP without having to dilute it. If you are referring to Pro Block Oil Primer, it is too thick for an HVLP without thinning it first. If you mean Pro Block latex primer, don’t use it. It is a poor choice for cabinets. The BIN primer comes in much smoother and works just as well as the oil primer, so I would only use that product.

Question: I have new oak cabinets that I sprayed with Kilz latex and they are still sticking when sanding after four days of drying. I’ve always had good results with Kilz because it dries fast and sands easily. Any ideas why it won’t dry out or sand? I painted them inside with air conditioning in 76, 4 days ago. I have moved the doors and drawers to the garage to see if the heat heals them better.

Answer: You didn’t mention if Kilz latex is a primer or its paint. Cabinets must have been primed with BIN white shellac or oil primer. If you primed them with Kilz latex primer, or no primer, that’s the problem. It is also not the best option for use in cabinets. The paint is too soft. If it sticks when sanding and you didn’t prime the surface first, or you used a latex primer, that could be the reason, or it’s the product itself.

Question: Which primer is the least toxic and the best to prevent mold?

Answer: You can add a mildew additive to the primer if you are concerned about mold development.

Question: I am getting ready to paint my ugly stained cabinets orange. I was just wondering about the order of things. I know I need to sand and fill the grain of the wood, but what would be the order of all that? Clean, sand with 120, wood putty, sand with 220, shellac primer and then paint?

Answer: Clean and sand first. Then fill in the grit and sand that down. Prime with an oil-based primer or white shellac primer. For sandpaper, a finer grit of 150 or 180 is good for the first sanding. No need to sand down to bare wood. Enough to remove the shine. Use 220 to sand the primer and 320 if you sand between coats of paint.

Question: Would you recommend spraying BIN with an HVLP rather than an airless one for easy cleaning?

Answer:I have never sprayed BIN with an HVLP sprayer, but you can. The reason I use an airless sprayer is because it is faster and much more productive than using an HVLP when it comes to spraying over twenty cabinet doors. With an HVLP, you would have to constantly refill the cup, but with an airless, you can work straight from the can and spray all the doors in one session without having to stop to refill. Cleaning is difficult with both airless and HVLP. With an HVLP, you also have to take everything apart to clean the parts well, just like you would filters in an airless sprayer. However, HVLP would be fine to spray BIN on cabinet wall boxes. It would not require as much, if any, to fill the cup, as you would if you used it to spray over twenty cabinet doors. You can also get a fine finish spray BIN through an airless, using fine finish spray tips. BIN is as thin as milk and looks great when sprayed. But an HVLP is fine too, it will only take much longer to finish the job if you are using it to spray multiple doors.

Question: What size nozzle would you use on an airless sprayer to spray the BIN primer? Can I get enough construction with it to even out the wood grain in oak cabinets after sanding?

Answer:The tip I use the most for spraying BIN on cabinet doors is a 310 tip. I use the Graco FFLP green spray tips. For oak, BIN is very thin and fills the grain cracks quite well even without filler, but not completely with spray alone. By spraying the oak cabinet doors on a flat surface, using a 310 or 312 tip, you can build up the primer quite well to fill a good amount of the grain holes, but some deeper cracks will remain. What I do is spray a coat of BIN first, so I can see the remaining cracks more easily, then I fill them with grit caulk, sand, and spray a second coat of primer. Then I apply two coats of paint. This will soften the oak, but it is very difficult to completely remove the natural grain pattern. However, the cracks in the pores of the wood will disappear when you do it this way. This also avoids having to use a grain filler on the entire surface of the doors. Just use it between coats of primer when needed.

Question: I was raised in BIN, it was always the first step. However, recently paint stores have been advising against its use for anything other than spot primer. Have you heard the same?

Answer: No, I have not heard that. Works well for cabinet primer and spot primer. The price is a bit high compared to the oil primer, but I have not had any problems with BIN.

Question: What about high-quality non-wood cabinets, like the cheap ones in an RV or apartment? Do I still need to prime, and if so, are these the primers I should use?

Answer: Yes, the surface still needs to be sanded, cleaned and primed. Use an oil-based or shellac primer.

Question: I used Zinnser Cover Stain. I am trying to figure out when can I apply my actual color. I applied 2 coats. 2 hours have passed, do I have to wait 24 hours? Is it possible to expect too much too?

Answer: Let the primer dry overnight before sanding and painting. Cover stained sands much more easily that way. Sanding it 2 hours after priming will make it sticky and harder to sand.

Question: I have a Graco Magnum X7. I don’t think you can spray it with BIN shellac due to fire hazard. Wouldn’t BIN spray be preferable to brushing cabinets?

Answer: Generally spraying is preferable to brushing cabinets, but based on my experience with primer spray cans, they don’t always work exactly the same way as gallon primer. I don’t know why, but that has been my experience with oil primer. I have used BIN spray cans to detect primer without issue, but not to spray entire doors. You can test a couple of doors first before spraying them all, or you can rent a professional airless sprayer to spray the BIN. Some paint sores rent Graco sprayers. Ask if they rent a Graco 395. A contractor sprinkler like this can handle BINs without fire hazard.

Question: I am painting my bathroom cabinets with semi-gloss enamel. Can I prime the cabinets with Zinsser BIN shellac primer?

Answer: Yes, BIN Shellac Primer is a good product to use on your bathroom cabinets, but it is tricky to work with if you are brushing and rolling because it is so thin and splatters easily. Oil-based primer is thicker and less messy for brushing and rolling. If you only have a small dresser, you would buy two or three cans of primer and spray it instead of brushing and rolling. Clean cabinets, sand, and apply primer.

Question: Painting cherry cabinets with milk paint, what primer is recommended?

Answer: I would use BIN or oil based primer. Cover Stain is good. Milk paint alone does not have sealing properties. The cherry spills red oil like crazy, so if you don’t print the cabinets properly, you’ll see red streaks everywhere through the milk paint. I would make two coats of any of the products I mentioned.

Question: Is the first Zinsser BIN spray as effective as the can?

Answer: Yes, the spray can version is the same as the can version.

Question: And the painting? I am looking for white paint for my dark wood cabinets. I read that oil-based white will yellow. It is not a question of if, but of when.

Answer: I use Emerald Urethane Enamel to paint cabinets and would recommend it. I spray it with my airless sprayer. The paint does not yellow like oil paint, but dries hard, similar to oil paint.

Question: Can you paint over Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer with Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Enamel Paint?

Answer: Yes, you can use Emerald urethane over BIN. I have painted many cabinets with this combination.

Question: I am putting a shellac and Eurathane emerald trim on my stained cabinets. I’ve degreased, filled with grain, and sanded. Would it be okay to clean the cabinets with acetone now as I am concerned that there might be some teaspoon traces still in the cabinet as it is hard to see if I got it all out the first time? Would acetone react badly with any of these products? As a bonus, I think it can clean up the dust from sanding.

Answer: I would not clean them with acetone. That could be too abrasive. I would just use a mild cleanser and rinse the surface well.

Question: Restoring my kitchen cabinets with the Rustoleum Cabinet Makeover. I have Zinsser Cover Stain Primer. It is very thick and I am afraid it will leave streaks in my raw wood. I am brushing it. Now that I see how thick it is, I’m thinking of going with Shellac-based BIN. Would it be better to switch to the shellac base? Will shellac base work as well as oil base on my rough wood? With more uniform coverage?

Answer:Both products have advantages and disadvantages. BIN applies a softer brush because it’s super thin, but it will dry on your brush pretty quickly. You can clean the brush periodically to prevent the bristles from hardening. You need to cover everything very carefully if you brush BIN, or even Cover Stain because both products spread everywhere, and both are very messy to brush and roll, especially BIN. Both are excellent sealers and stain blockers. Either one would be fine to prime your cabinets. Cover stained sands a little more easily than BIN. If you get a few brushstroke marks on the Cover Stain, you can sand them off when it dries completely. It is sanded to a fine powder. If possible, I recommend spraying rather than brushing and rolling. BIN sits nicely on cabinet doors when sprayed. Your overall finish will look much better and you will save a lot of time.

Question: What primer to use with maple cabinets?

Answer: Use oil based primer or BIN. I use BIN. It sprays very well into a smooth finish.

Question: Have you ever used Sherwin-Williams Extreme Bond Primer? If so, what do you think?

Reply: No, I have not used Extreme Bond Primer. However, I know that because it is latex, the primer will not seal the wood tannin. If you are working with an oily wood like oak, I would use an oil-based primer.

Question: My home is 5 years old and the builder installed cabinets that were painted with an oil-based glaze but painted in place (not baked). Some dings / dents have appeared in the softwood so I have filled them with painter’s putty or Bondo glaze putty depending on the area. I need to touch up the paint now. I plan to touch up these areas with the same paint the builder used, but should I use a latex primer or an oil base?

Answer: Oil based primer.

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