Top 5 Best Paint Primers | DIY & Pro Guide | 2020 Review

Are you in search of the best interior paint primer? You're in luck!

We've compiled all the information you'll need to select the absolute best paint primer for your next DIY, home improvement project.

Whether you're new to the work of paint and priming, or an experienced painter, choosing the right primer can make all the difference in your finished project. 

Best Interior Paint Primer

That's exactly why we want to make it as simple as possible to choose the best primer for you.

In this ProPaintCorner guide, you will learn:

  • What matters when selecting an interior paint primer
  • How to select a product based on surface type
  • Why you should prime a surface before painting
  • And much more!

We've compiled our top five best interior primers. Keep reading to learn more about how to choose the best primer for your particular situation.

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Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer
  • Dries quickly in 30 minutes or less
  • Water-based formula dries uniformly
  • Effective stain blocker
  • Dries quickly in 30 minutes or less
  • Water-based formula dries uniformly
  • Effective stain blocker
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KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer/Sealer, White
  • Super affordable
  • Highly rated product
  • Fast drying
  • Super affordable
  • Highly rated product
  • Fast drying
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KILZ Restoration Maximum Stain and Odor Blocking Interior Latex Primer/Sealer, White, 1-gallon
  • Low Odor
  • Non-Flammable
  • Can be used to prime a subflloor too
  • Low Odor
  • Non-Flammable
  • Can be used to prime a subflloor too
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KILZ Premium 3
  • Prevents mildew and mold
  • Ideal for high humidity environments
  • Formulated for interior and exterior use
  • Prevents mildew and mold
  • Ideal for high humidity environments
  • Formulated for interior and exterior use
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KILZ Adhesion
  • Bonds to most tough-to-paint surfaces
  • May be used under epoxies, lacquers, and products containing Xylene
  • Scratch-resistant
  • Bonds to most tough-to-paint surfaces
  • May be used under epoxies, lacquers, and products containing Xylene
  • Scratch-resistant
View on Amazon

Our Overall #1 Rated Pick

(updated 4/30/2020)

Zinsser has been a name painters trust since the 1940s. This 1-2-3 formula covers in ways other primers won't.

It lays down that perfect foundation for a bright, vivid top-coat. 

It covers well, including challenging wax or oil stains such as crayon, marker, fingerprints and more. 

Averaging above a 4.5/5 in user feedback ratings, we're not alone in our choosing Zinsser's 1-2-3 as the best interior paint primer.

Top 5 Best Interior Paint Primers

Did you know: Not only does paint primer increase your paint's adhesion to the surface, but it also improves corrosion resistance for a long-lasting paint job. 

What is primer for interior paint?

Interior paint primer helps protect, seal, and prep the surface you're about to paint, resulting in a better-looking finish. 

Priming also helps your topcoat better adhere to any surface that you'd like to paint. It will also protect the surface as well as increase the overall durability of your paint.

A primed surface allows the paint on top of it to last longer, without fading, cracking, or peeling. 

Paint manufacturers today have introduced various paint and primer in one formulas, sometimes called self-priming paint. While these may save you some time, they have limited applications.

If your intention is to paint a wall that's in relatively good shape, with minimal imperfections, you may get by ok with one of these.

When must you prime before painting?

If this sounds like you, prime first:

  1. You're painting drywall that's never been painted. Prime the wall. This prevents your top-coat from being absorbed into the drywall.  It will also save you money. Primer is usually less expensive than a quality top-coat paint, so your efforts to seal your drywall will pay dividends, as you'll end up using less top-coat material.
  2. You're painting a flat finish over a glossy wall. Use a primer. Otherwise, your new paint won't even adhere to the surface that's underneath.
  3. You're painting over challenging surfaces such as wood, metal, concrete, and masonry. A specially formulated primer such as KILZ Adhesion should be used.
  4. You're painting over an area that's been patched or that has nail holes. Minimally prime those patches before applying top-coat.

While not a must, you'll want to very strongly consider using an interior paint primer when covering a dark color with a far lighter color. This will reduce the number of coats needed to achieve that ideal color and finish.

Read More >> How to Paint Baseboards with Carpet

What are the different types of interior paint primer?

You'll find a variety of primer options on the market, seemingly all totally different. In truth, they're not all that dissimilar, and much of your choice will boil down to your intended use. 

Prepping new drywall is a typical use of an interior primer. There are other materials you should prime such as wood, metal, stucco, cinderblock, and more. Consider your desired application before you choose a primer. In this guide, we've detailed the specific use cases for each product recommended. 

Our goal in doing this is to save you time researching when selecting the right primer for the job. Otherwise, you might just browse a local paint store such as home depot and roll the dice that whoever assists you makes a solid recommendation. We'd, of course, rather you have our experience guide your decision.  

Our reviews for the best interior paint primer

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer checks all the boxes. It's effective, cheap, and painters all agree - you can trust it.
It covers colors well and also sets up for a nice even finish when your target color is bright and vivid. 

Superior stain-blocking ability means this primer will handle even the nastiest of tasks, including the artistic crayon wall art your child so kindly made.

Do not be alarmed by the Rust-Oleum name on the can. Zinsser is simply a brand owned under the Rust-Oleum brand umbrella. While it is formulated to tackle rust, it's strength is in its all-around usability.

Pros

  • Dries quick, 30 minutes or less
  • No smell, water-based formula
  • Helps bright colors look their best

Cons

  • Will not prevent moisture on OSB / particleboard
  • Could take up to four coats of paint when covering colored tile

KILZ Original Multi-Surface Stain Blocking Interior Oil-Based Primer/Sealer, White holds up to the test of time.

Now, it is a budget option, so it may not tackle every priming task. Nonetheless, we offer this for budget-minded DIY painters. 

it's oil-based. So it will create an aroma, and it will give off actual fumes. 

Ensure you have proper ventilation and that you wear a respirator or a mask.

The manufacturer also recommends re-coating after one hour. You may choose otherwise based on your particular situation. 

You may also want to consider the shellac primer Zinsser makes, called B-I-N. It works much like KILZ Original except it is faster-drying, better over polyurethane finishes, and lower-odor. These conveniences will, however, come at some added cost.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Trusted brand name, since 1968
  • Excellent stain-blocking ability

Cons

  • Goes on thick and may leave brush marks
  • The oil-based formula gives off noxious smells and gasses
  • Not recommended for flooring

KILZ Restoration Maximum Stain and Odor Blocking Interior Latex Primer/Sealer, White, 1-gallon is the exact same formula, only with a new name.

Give this primer serious consideration if your surface is particularly challenging, distressed, or aged.

Porous surfaces are no match for KILZ MAX.


While water-based, it blocks stains like an oil-based primer. If your aim is odor elimination, this product does it well.

Smoke, pet, and food odors are no match for KILZ Restoration. Light mold and mildew are also easily abated with this formula. 

It works well for tackling water damaged surfaces, removing smoke (including nicotine) aromas, and when covering ink stains, pet stains, and rust. It also does wonders when sealing a concrete floor prior to laying laminate.

Great for use in airless sprayers, you'll have a steady flow often simply using the sprayers' standard nozzle tip that's included.

Pros

  • Dries clear, may be used to seal hardwood floors
  • Superior stain-blocking primer
  • Water-based, low-odor formula

Cons

  • Higher priced than other less robust formulas
  • Avoid use on fiberglass tub surrounds

KILZ Premium 3 formula has some versatility that some others on our list lack.

For starters, the "Premium 3" blend has the flexibility to be used as both an interior and an exterior primer. 

Formulated to include a mildewcide, it offers protection against mold and mildew. 

That makes KILZ Premium 3 an ideal choice for laundry rooms, bathrooms, and other high-humidity areas.

Another strength is that it will help prevent tannin bleed through from unfinished pine. While it may take two or more coats to accomplish this, it is advertised to handle the task with ease. 

Classified as a primer-sealer, this formula is a great choice when priming porous surfaces. It's also gained a reputation as a primer that's easy to clean up.

(Here's some additional information from the EPA about VOCs and how they affect indoor air quality.)

Pros

  • Prevents mold and mildew
  • Can be used as an exterior paint primer
  • Low VOCs and low odor

Cons

  • Expect to use a minimum of two coats
  • Despite the low-odor formula, proper ventilation is needed

KILZ Adhesion High-Bonding Latex Interior Primer/Sealer nearly won our top pick.

It being high-bonding, it's a great choice when priming bare wood, including paneling.  

A bonding primer, for those unaware, is one that specializes in bonding to tough-to-paint surfaces, as the name suggests.

You can expect coverage of approximately 300-sq-ft per gallon of primer. That's enough to cover four walls in a small room.

You can use this formula with a paintbrush, roller, or sprayer. Ensure you mix well before application as that will ensure a smooth, even finish that will require less sanding.

Pros

  • Capable primer for nearly any surface
  • Highly scratch-resistant
  • Great primer for tile floors and backsplashes

Cons

  • Not ideal for sub-flooring
  • Not mold inhibiting

As you embark upon your next home improvement project involving painting, strongly consider using a primer. For many tasks, a simple, trusted option like the Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer is an easy choice.

It works great as a drywall primer and primes glossy surfaces quite well. Water stains are no match for the 1-2-3 when applied properly.

While it may not fit the bill for each and every task, it is well-suited for most applications, budget-friendly, and a name painters trust. 

Plus, it’s an excellent value for the money! Check the low price now on Amazon.

Final Thoughts on Primers For Interior Painting


The purpose of this guide was two-fold. First, we helped you narrow down your interior paint primer selection process to a few safe bets.

You will ultimately make your selection based on a number of factors, including your budget, painting environment, and of course the specific surface that you'll be priming.

As far as compatibility between primers and topcoats, most combinations work. You may use Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, Behr, or nearly any other topcoat brand you'd like to for your paint job.

Be mindful of your desired top coat paint color. As explained, certain brands do better than others as a color mask, when painting light over dark.

Read More >> How Do You Paint Your Home's Exterior Yourself?

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

RJ Parker

RJ Parker

My first job as a painter’s assistant at the ripe young age of 13 charted a path ahead in my life that would gravitate around painting. Now as a freelance handyman and writer, I paint both with the brush and with words. If I’m not edging-in trim or rolling on a top-coat, you might find me out in the fields tending to a flock of goats. Literally. No lie. Or, perhaps you may catch me engaged in my other favorite pastime, eating. It’s fair to say that I’ve painted outside the lines, so to speak, prior to finding my natural stroke. Now, these misadventures and mishaps that I’ve experienced don’t have to happen to you. My mission at ProPaintCorner is to continue painting remotely through the advice, inspiration, and confidence that I give to my readers.

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RJ Parker

RJ Parker

My first job as a painter’s assistant at the ripe young age of 13 charted a path ahead in my life that would gravitate around painting. Now as a freelance handyman and writer, I paint both with the brush and with words. If I’m not edging-in trim or rolling on a top-coat, you might find me out in the fields tending to a flock of goats. Literally. No lie. Or, perhaps you may catch me engaged in my other favorite pastime, eating. It’s fair to say that I’ve painted outside the lines, so to speak, prior to finding my natural stroke. Now, these misadventures and mishaps that I’ve experienced don’t have to happen to you. My mission at ProPaintCorner is to continue painting remotely through the advice, inspiration, and confidence that I give to my readers.

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