A kitchen with beautiful, white cabinets

With so many beautiful cabinet designs available today, you might be tempted to give your own cabinets a makeover. Choosing a paint or stain is an important step, but the one product that tends to be overlooked is primer. For those of you asking “do you have to prime cabinets before painting?”, the answer is yes.

Selecting the best primer for kitchen cupboards or bathroom cabinets might seem like a simple step, but it’s important to know what options are available and what is needed for your specific project. This article will help you find the best primer for cabinets by covering the following:

Before we get into how to select a primer, let’s dive into some options for the best primer for kitchen cabinets and more. If you’re also looking to prime your furniture, check out the best primers for furniture.

 

8 best primers for cabinets

With the amount of options available, finding the best primer for painting cabinets can be difficult. To help you with your search, here are some of our recommendations for primers for cupboards and cabinets.

1. Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer

Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $44.22

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Shellac-based

Best Feature: Seals knots

For a primer that will help you cover up stains on your cabinets, use Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer. The stain blocker technology helps to conceal old stains and protects against new ones, while also sealing knots in the wood. It sticks to all surfaces, in addition to being one of the best primers for wood cabinets, and also blocks out odours.

2. KILZ Adhesion Interior/Exterior Primer

KILZ Adhesion High-Bonding Interior/Exterior Latex Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $84.81

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Glossy

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: High adhesion

If you’re working with cabinets with a difficult surface, use KILZ Adhesion Interior/Exterior Primer. One of the best bonding primers for kitchen cabinets and best primers for laminate cabinets, this will help latex and oil-based paints stick to the toughest surfaces. It dries in 30 minutes and can be recoated in an hour.

3. Zinsser Bondz Maximum Adhesion Primer

Zinsser Bondz Maximum Adhesion Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $29.19

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Bonds to tough surfaces

Zinsser Bondz Maximum Adhesion Primer is also a good option for helping your paint really stick. This primer will help prep kitchen cabinets with hard, dense surfaces for all types of paint. It’s also quick-drying and has low odour.

4. INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer

INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $32.99

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Semi-gloss

Type: Latex

Best Feature: Versatile

INSL-X STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer is a great option for laminate cabinets. This primer is designed to bond to hard-to-coat surfaces to ensure application is easy and that you get a beautiful finish. It works on a variety of other surfaces and dries in 30 minutes.

5. Zinsser Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Primer-Sealer & Stain Killer

Zinsser Cover Stain Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $39.95

Size: 500 ml

Coverage: 9.8 sq. m./litre

Finish: Flat

Type: Oil-based

Best Feature: Quick-drying

If you need a primer that works both indoors and outdoors, Zinsser Cover Stain Primer-Sealer is a great choice. In addition to providing great coverage, this bonding primer for cabinets will also help protect against future stains. It also dries in 30 minutes and can be recoated 2 hours later.

6. KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer

KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $41.74

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Strong adhesion

For a multi-surface primer, opt for KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer. This primer seals almost all surfaces, and can cover stains and previous colours, making it one of the best primers for oak cabinets. It’s low odour and resistant to mildew.

7. Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 PLUS Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $22.99

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Low odour

Another great multi-surface choice is Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer. This primer works well with all surfaces to block oil and water stains. It can be used as a primer for laminate cabinets with many great perks, including it being mold and mildew resistant, low odour, and ready for a topcoat 1 hour after application.

8. Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Premium Latex Primer

Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Premium Latex Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $23.76

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Latex

Best Feature: Versatile

For a primer for wood cabinets, opt for Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover Premium Latex Primer. Available in grey and white, this primer is great for helping you achieve a beautiful finish that bonds well and is long-lasting. It blocks stains and will help keep your cabinets looking smooth.

 

How to pick the right primer for painting cabinets

When it comes to selecting the best primer for painting cabinets, you want to be mindful of the needs of your cabinets specifically to determine what type and finish are needed. These are your choices when choosing a primer for painting cabinets.

Choosing the right primer finish

Your primer’s finish is a really important factor, as it will determine the amount of shine it gives off, even before adding paint. Here are the main three finishes you’ll find when choosing a primer for kitchen cabinets:

  • Flat/matte: Produces no shine; works best with the majority of paints.
  • Semi-gloss: Gives off a fair amount of reflection; has characteristics of both flat and glossy primers.
  • Glossy: Incredibly shiny; helps create a super smooth surface and enhances the look of approved paints.

Choosing the right type of primer

The type of primer you use, or more specifically the base, will impact how the primer will interact with the surface and the paint. These are the most commonly used bases for primer:

  • Oil-based: Versatile and resistant to stains and weather; works best with enamel paints.
  • Latex: Healthier than oil; can be used with latex paints on wood, masonry, drywall, metal, and plaster.
  • Shellac-based: Works great on interior projects; dries fast and blocks stains.
  • Water-based: Shares characteristics of oil-based and latex primers; works best with acrylic and latex paints.

 

Best way to prime cabinets for a smooth finish

While using the right primer is crucial to getting the best results on your cabinets, it’s only part of the solution. You also need to know how to best apply it to achieve flawless results. Here are some tips for priming cabinets for a smooth finish:

  • Remove doors and drawers – Uninstall your cabinet doors and drawers so you can paint them at a separate workstation. This is ideal for priming and painting comfortably and efficiently.
  • Protect the area – Apply painter’s tape around your cabinets and use drop cloths or sheets where needed. Your focus will be so much better if you’re not worried about getting primer/paint in the wrong places.
  • Remove handles and hardware – You’ll also want to remove the handles and hardware that could get in the way of your primer/paint. This is also important for focus and efficiency.
  • Repair any damage – If there are any cracks or holes in your cabinets, fill them before you begin. You don’t want to have to redo everything because you chose to make repairs after the fact.
  • Sand away the old – Use 120 grit sandpaper to remove the old primer/paint and buff up the surface. This is an important step to ensure your primer/paint will actually stick.
  • Clean the surface – Use a damp cloth to remove any dirt or debris before priming. Anything left behind could interfere with your work or jeopardize the final look.
  • Apply primer along the grain – For wooden cabinets, follow the grain when applying primer/paint. This will give you the smoothest results.
  • Smooth it out with a foam brush – If your primer starts to drip, use a foam paint brush or foam roller brush to smooth the surface. This is ideal for perfecting the surface without creating more issues.
  • Let it fully dry – Allow each coat of primer to fully dry before you apply a new coat of primer or begin painting. If it’s not dry, this could cause damage and give you patchy coverage.

 

Top 6 mistakes to avoid while painting cabinets

In addition to knowing what to do, you also need to know what not to do when working with your cabinets. These are the most common mistakes DIY painters make during cabinetry projects.

1. Not removing the doors and drawers

While it might be tempting to skip, uninstalling your cabinet doors and drawers is an important first step. It will allow you to paint these surfaces more efficiently and comfortably, which makes it more likely that you’ll get the smooth coverage you desire. Leaving your doors and drawers installed makes applying the same coverage throughout more difficult and could also result in missing some sections.

2. Using the wrong primer

Choosing any primer for your cabinets without doing your research could ruin the look of your cabinets. It’s important that your primer is suitable for both the surface it’s being applied to and the paint you’re using. Using an ill suited primer could cause it to not stay on your cabinets or your paint to literally slide off the primer.

3. Not giving yourself enough time

Painting cabinets is meant to be a lengthy process. It’s important that you give yourself enough time to properly complete the project, including proper dry time. Attempting to apply additional coats of primer or paint to the previous coats ruin your work, forcing you to go back to the very beginning.

A laundry room with nicely painted cabinets

4. Not sanding all the surfaces

Sanding is another task that is really tempting to skip, especially since so many products are advertised as the best primer for cabinets without sanding. However, it’s really important to at least sand the entire surface of your cabinets before you begin, and also consider sanding in between coats of primer and paint. There is such a thing as sanding too much, but sanding enough to remove the previous work, buffing up the surface, and smoothing out imperfections will give you the results you’re looking for.

5. Not cleaning before you begin

Just because something looks clean doesn’t mean it is. Tiny dust and debris particles can affect the final results of your paint project, so it’s crucial to take time to wipe down your cabinets with a damp cloth before your brush hits the primer.

6. Not labelling your doors and drawers

Even those with the best memory can fall victim to forgetting which doors and drawers belong where. Take tiny pieces of painter’s tape and a pencil to label the inside of all your cabinets and which doors and drawers belong where, so you can be certain everything will be reassembled as it should.

 

Now that you know everything about choosing and using the best primers for cabinets, it’s time to get started. If you think you’d prefer to hire a professional, the City Painters are here to help. Contact us here or give us a call for a free quote.

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