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Best Primers for Cabinets of 2022

Updated
Cabinet primers mean you can keep your kitchen looking better for longer.

If your kitchen cabinets look a bit tired, you could splash out and buy a whole new kitchen, but that would be costly. Instead, think about ways to make your old kitchen look new. Say hello to the best primers for kitchen cabinets.

We run through your options, rating our favorite 5 products on coverage, price, and quality to help you make your choice.

Our Top Picks

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Image
Model
Product Comparison Table
Features

Product Image of the KILZ Adhesion Primer, Interior/Exterior, 1 Gallon
Best Primer and Sealer
KILZ High-Bonding Latex Primer/Sealer
  • Covers up – 300 sqft
  • Works on glossy surfaces like formica & PVC
  • Recoats in an hour
Product Image of the Rust-Oleum 7582838 Professional Primer Spray Paint, 15 oz, Gray Primer
Best Spray
Rust-Oleum Professional Primer Spray
  • Ready for recoats in just 15 minutes
  • Easy spray application
  • Works on wood, plastic, concrete, & metal
Product Image of the INSL-X SXA11009A-04 Stix Acrylic Waterborne Bonding Primer, 1 Quart, White
Best Bonding
INSL-X Waterborne Bonding Primer
  • Low VOCs & washes clean with soapy water
  • Hybrid urethane acrylic primer
  • Can be sprayed, brushed, and rolled on
Product Image of the KILZ TRIBUTE Paint & Primer, Interior, Matte, Deep Onyx, 1 Gallon
Best Paint and Primer
KILZ Tribute Paint and Primer In One
  • Low VOCs & washes clean with soapy water
  • Comes in 4 sheens and 100 shades
  • Gives 400 sqft of coverage
Product Image of the Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer, Quart, White
Best for Oak
Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
  • Water-based - better for the environment
  • Ready for the second coat in an hour
  • Works indoors & outdoors


Product Reviews

With so many primers to choose from, narrowing down our favorite 5 products was a challenge. After hours of research, we have our top 5 picks.

1. KILZ High-Bonding Latex Primer/Sealer

Best Primer and Sealer for Kitchen Cabinets

When you want your kitchen cabinets to stay looking their best for a long time, this KILZ sealer and primer does the job. It is a water-based formula, so it is kinder to the environment and safer to use; plus, it cleans up with soap and water.

It also bonds to tricky surfaces like Formica and PVC, which means that once you’ve finished revamping your cabinets, your countertops can get a makeover too.

It can also be used indoors and out, and you get 300 square feet of coverage, depending on the surface quality, and it dries to the touch in 30 minutes. After an hour, you can lay down the second coat.

This is not a cheap option, but it does perform well where other products might fail.

Pros

  • Covers up to 300 square feet.
  • Works on glossy surfaces like Formica and PVC.
  • Recoats in an hour.
  • Designed for indoor and outdoor use.

Cons

  • Expensive compared to some primers.

Product Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Coverage 300 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time 30 minutes to an hour
Price $$$$

2. Rust-Oleum Professional Primer Spray

Best Spray Primer for Kitchen Cabinets

What could be easier than popping off the lid and spray priming your kitchen cabinets? There is no cleanup, you don’t need brushes or a roller, and it is easy to store away.

This primer works on wood, metal, plastic, and concrete, so it’s good to know that you can use it on various surfaces around your home. The obvious downside is you cannot undertake a complete kitchen revamp unless you buy several cans.

One 15-ounce can will cover 14 square feet and is touch-dry in 15 minutes, which means the second coat can go down in double-quick time, although it takes 24 hours for it to cure properly.

The other downside with a spray can is the primer can be difficult to control, so expect to get overspray, which might wasteful. However, it can spray at any angle, and it works indoors and outdoors.

Pros

  • Ready for recoats in just 15 minutes.
  • Easy spray application.
  • Works on wood, plastic, concrete, and metal.
  • Stores away easily.

Cons

  • Only suitable for smaller tasks.
  • Overspray is a problem.

Product Specs

Quantity 15 ounces
Coverage 14 square feet
Type Oil-based
Drying time 24 hours
Price $

3. INSL-X Waterborne Bonding Primer

Best Bonding Primer for Kitchen Cabinets

When you want a primer that bonds to the surface of your kitchen cabinets, this INSL-X is pretty hard to beat. This is the first hybrid urethane acrylic primer to feature, and it shares many attributes of oil and water-based products.

This primer sticks to Formica, PVC, vinyl, plastic, glass, and just about any other surface you can think of. It goes on well, covers between 75 and 100 square feet, and has low VOCs. It also cleans up with soap and water.

It applies with a brush, roller, and it can also be sprayed on for speedier coverage. You can apply the second coat in 3 to 4 hours, which is a long time compared to other products, but it can be applied in temperatures as low as 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

The downside is that this hybrid primer is super-expensive, costing half that of 1-gallon primers, yet you only get a quart-size tin.

Pros

  • Low VOCs and washes clean with soapy water.
  • Hybrid urethane acrylic primer.
  • Can be sprayed, brushed, and rolled on.
  • Bonds to almost any surface.

Cons

  • Super-expensive for a 1-quart tin.
  • Takes 3 to 4 hours to dry between coats.

Product Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage Maximum 100 square feet
Type Hybrid urethane acrylic
Drying time 3 to 4 hours
Price $$$

4. KILZ Tribute Paint and Primer In One

Best Paint and Primer for Kitchen Cabinets

When you want to finish the kitchen cabinets in the shortest possible time, look for a primer and paint all in one like this KILZ Tribute range. You don’t need to prime the cabinet and then wait for it to dry to apply the topcoat; just paint it straight onto the bare wood.

The formula is specially designed to adhere to cabinet surfaces to give superior coverage and mold and mildew resistance. Paint and primer in one is the perfect product for changing light colors to dark and for covering up medium stains.

This paint range comes in 4 sheens and 100 shade variations, so there is a color to suit, and because this product is a matte finish, it dries to a scrubbable surface and resists fading.

It comes in 1-gallon tins and offers 400 square feet of coverage per gallon, depending on the quality of the surface. It is low odor and low in VOCs, so you can use it in confined spaces, and it won’t harm the environment.

Once down, this paint dries to the touch in an hour and is ready for recoats in two hours. However, this paint is thick, so you are limited to brushing and rolling it on. Plus, this is an expensive paint, so it isn’t a budget option.

Pros

  • Low VOCs and washes clean with soapy water.
  • Comes in 4 sheens and 100 shades.
  • Gives 400 square feet of coverage.
  • Saves you having to buy a primer.

Cons

  • Thick paint can only be brushed and rolled on.
  • Costs a lot of money compared to some products.

Product Specs

Quantity 1-gallon
Coverage 400 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time 2 hours
Price $$$$$

5. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer

Best Primer for Oak Kitchen Cabinets

When you want to paint over oak, you need a versatile primer that handles almost any surface. This Zinnser 1-2-3 is a water-based primer, so it washes clean with soap and water and has low VOCs, which is better for the environment.

It works on wood, concrete, metal, and masonry and dries to the touch in 35 minutes and for recoats in an hour. You get between 87 and 112 square feet of coverage, depending on the porosity of the surface, and it has excellent stain blocking qualities, which is ideal for resisting food splashes.

You can use this product inside and out, so when you are done painting the kitchen, you can tackle the decking in the garden. One thing to keep in mind is when you order this paint online, watch for the packaging. Many customers say the paint is great, but the cans arrive dented and leaking.

Pros

  • Water-based, so better for the environment.
  • Ready for the second coat in an hour.
  • Works indoors and outdoors.
  • Maximum of 112 square feet of coverage.

Cons

  • Watch the packaging as many report damages.

Product Specs

Quantity 1-quart
Coverage 87 to 112 square feet
Type Water-based
Drying time 1 hour
Price $

Product Comparison Chart

Product Best Quantity Coverage Type Drying time Price
KILZ High-Bonding Latex Primer/Sealer Best Primer and Sealer 1-gal. 300 sqft Water-based 30 minutes – an hour $$$$
Rust-Oleum Professional Primer Spray Best Spray 15 ozs 14 sqft Oil-based 24 hours $
INSL-X Waterborne Bonding Primer Best Bonding 1-quart Maximum 100 sqft Hybrid urethane acrylic 3 – 4 hours $$$
KILZ Tribute Paint and Primer In One Best Paint and Primer 1-gal. 400 sqft Water-based 2 hours $$$$$
Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer Best for Oak 1-quart 87 – 112 sqft Water-based 1 hour $

Things to Consider (Buying Guide)

Not all primers are the same. Some work better at resisting mold and mildew, while others block stains. Knowing which features and benefits you should look for can be a challenge. Here’s our handy guide:

Type of Primer

Essentially, there are four types of primer: Water-based, oil-based, shellac, and hybrid. Let’s take a look at what makes them different.

Water-Based

Water-based primers are a firm favorite with DIY enthusiasts. They are easy to use, give good coverage, and are simple to clean up after with soap and water. They are also better for the environment because they are low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

They also dry faster than oil-based products, although water-based primers may not be as durable. And finally, water-based products also go by the names acrylic and latex primers.

Oil-Based

Oil-based primers are durable, hard-wearing, and give good coverage. They are staunch favorites of professionals; however, they give off strong odors and contain high VOC levels, which emit low-level ozone when the primer dries.

For this reason, oil primers are bad for the environment; plus, to clean up, you need to use a mineral spirit or thinner, which also pollutes.

Oil primers take longer to dry compared to water-based versions, but they offer a better surface for the paint to adhere to when they cure.

Shellac

Shellac was originally made from dissolved Asian Lac beetles in an alcohol solution. Today, they are synthetic and make an excellent primer for kitchen cabinets. You can get shellac in clear finishes, so the wood grain shows through.

This is ideal if you are going for that distressed shabby chic look. Shellac primers are solvent-based, which is bad for the environment, and they are very thin, so they don’t brush too well. You can apply shellac using a sprayer, but this might be messy because of overspray.

Hybrid Acrylic Urethane

This product offers the best of both worlds because it has many qualities of water-based and oil-based primers. Hybrid primers are easy to work with, cover well, and are easy to clean after use.

The downside is you don’t get the same odor and stain blocking protection that other primers deliver.

Surface Type

The type of surface makes a difference when it comes to adhesion. The main role of a primer is to lay down a layer that the paint bonds to, so if the primer doesn’t stick, neither will your paint.

Wood can be porous, which means you will use more paint to achieve that smooth look, so the primer could also save you money in the long run by reducing the amount of paint that you need.

Oil-based primers soak in better, protecting the wood grain and offering a better surface for the paint to adhere to, while water-based products need a couple of extra coats to create the same quality of finish.

Environmental Impact

Choosing a primer with low odor and low VOCs is important for two reasons: the environmental impact and the health implications. Odors can irritate your nose and throat, as well as your eyes, so good ventilation is a must.

VOCs emit low-level ozone as the primer dries, which is damaging to the environment. Also, when you perform the cleanup, you need mineral spirits or thinners when washing oil-based primer from your brush.

These chemicals pollute the environment and wash into the rivers and streams. Water-based primers are the best for the natural world because they are low in VOCs, odors and wash clean with soap and water. They are also better for your health.

Application Methods

How you apply the primer matters. No one wants to make their life more difficult, so getting a primer that goes on easily is a bonus. Most water-based primers can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed, whereas oil products are better when painted or brushed on.

Shellac is thin, so it lends itself to spraying, while hybrid primers can be brushed, rolled, and sprayed on.


FAQs

Do Kitchen Cabinets Need Primer?

If you want the paint to adhere, laying down primer is advisable. It helps to cover dark colors to light and light colors to dark and saves on paint costs. Also, most primers have mold and mildew resistance as well as odor and stain blocking qualities.

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Do You Need 2 Coats of Primer on Cabinets?

Bare wood is highly absorbent, so laying down two coats of primer is a great idea unless the product you have specifically states it only requires a single coat. The first coat of primer soaks into the wood, while the second one seals and makes the surface better for the paint to adhere.

It also reduced instances where the paint chips and peels.

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Is It Better To Roll or Brush Paint Cabinets?

Most primers can be applied using a brush, roller, or sprayer. You should use the roller for the middle sections of the cabinet and then a dry brush to remove any bubbles. For detailed work, using a brush is better.

What Sheen Is Best for Kitchen Cabinets?

It depends on what look you are going for. High sheen paints are more hardwearing and better for wiping up spills, but they show every little imperfection on the cabinet door, so they need a greater level of preparation.

Matte or flat finishes are better at hiding blemishes but stain easier and may not be as wipe clean as their glossy counterparts.

What Is the Most Durable Type of Paint for Kitchen Cabinets?

Gloss paints are the most durable of all the different paints, thanks to their higher levels of resins and binders used to create that glossy look.

It means that when the paint cures, you get a hard shell exterior that is wipeable and resists staining and odors.

What Happens if You Don’t Sand Cabinets Before Painting?

If you want the primer to stick, you should always sand the surface to give it a key to bond to. It also ensures that minor blemishes and inconsistencies get removed, giving you the smoothest surface possible.

The last thing you would want is to stand back and admire your handy work to see all the cracks and dents in the surface of the wood shine through.


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Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.