A closeup of primer partially applied to a wall

If you live in an older house, chances are you have some outdated wallpaper that you’d like to cover up. Or you might have wallpaper with a sleek, modern design that you’d like to hang on your walls. Whatever you want to do with your wallpaper, there’s one product you need to be sure to use: primer.

There’s a variety of primers available, but only some are best suited for working with wallpaper. This article will help you find the best primer for wallpaper by covering the following:

Before we get into how to select the right primer, let’s dive into some options for the best primer for painting wallpaper. If you need to protect your floors during this project, check out the best drop cloths for painting.


4 best primers for painting over wallpaper

Before you attempt to conceal your wallpaper, you should know that not all primers will work well with it. To find the right one to use on your wallpaper, here are some recommendations for the best primers for painting over wallpaper.

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: Stain blocking

For one of the top stain blocking primers, try Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer. This is a great oil-based primer for painting over wallpaper that can be used on any surface to help block stains. It also blocks odours and only takes 45 minutes to dry.

2. 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

Zinsser Cover Stain Primer is a popular choice for covering just almost all surfaces, including old wallpaper. This primer is one of the best at providing great coverage while also protecting against stains. It’s also quick-drying, allowing you to complete your project in less time.

3. KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer

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

Price: $22.70

Size: 946 ml

Coverage: 300 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Versatile

For those having a tough time covering their old wallpaper, choose KILZ 2 All-Purpose Interior/Exterior Primer. It’s really great at creating an adhesive surface for new paint while helping to hide previous colours and stains. This primer is also mildew resistant and is ready to paint in 1 hour.

4. 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: Mold and mildew resistant

Another great primer for covering old wallpaper is Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Plus Primer. It sticks to all surfaces and has high hiding properties, which is perfect for covering tough stains and old designs. It has very little odour, is mildew and mold resistant, and is ready for a new topcoat in about an hour.


4 best primers for applying wallpaper

If you are looking to apply wallpaper, rather than covering it up, there are different primers made specifically for this. Here are our recommendations for the best primers for applying wallpaper.

1. ROMAN PRO-999 Rx-35 Problem Solving Sealer/Primer

ROMAN PRO-999 Ex-35 Problem Solving Sealer/Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $51.69

Size: 3.78 l

Coverage: 350-450 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Clear

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Dries clear

If you’re looking to prime your walls before putting up new wallpaper, ROMAN PRO-999 RX-35 Problem Solving Sealer/Primer will do the trick. This seals and primes walls in order to create a smooth, adhesive surface for your wallpaper. It contains little VOC and won’t drip down your walls.

2. ROMAN PRO-909 Vinyl Prep Clear Wallpaper Primer

ROMAN PRO-909 Vinyl Prep Clear Wallpaper Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $43.77

Size: 3.78 l

Coverage: 400-450 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Clear

Type: Latex

Best Feature: Dries clear

ROMAN PRO-909 Vinyl Prep Clear Wallpaper Primer is another great choice for wallpaper application. This wallpaper primer can be applied to sealed drywall to hide flaws and prep for your wallpaper to be hanged 3 hours later. It also has a low odour and doesn’t splatter.

3. Zinsser Shieldz Universal Wallcovering Primer

Zinsser Shieldz Universal Wallcovering Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $49.95

Size: 3.78 l

Coverage: 350-450 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Water-based

Best Feature: Easy hanging and removal

For those looking to make their project as stress-free as possible, Zinsser Shieldz Universal Wallcovering Primer can help. It’s specially made to ensure you can easily hang your wallpaper in an ideal position, as well as quickly remove it when needed. It primes, seals, and conceals in as little as one coat and helps protect against mold and mildew.

4. ROMAN PRO-977 Ultra Prime Pigmented Wallpaper Primer

ROMAN PRO-977 Ultra Prime Pigmented Wallpaper Primer
(Image credit: Amazon.ca)

Price: $68.48

Size: 3.78 l

Coverage: 400-550 sq. ft./gal.

Finish: Flat

Type: Latex

Best Feature: Works with translucent coverings

If you’re working with translucent wallpaper, you need ROMAN PRO-977 Ultra Prime Pigmented Wallpaper Primer. This primer applies white, creating an ideal background for your wallcoverings. It doesn’t splatter, produces low odour, and allows for up to 33% more coverage.


How to pick the right primer for painting wallpaper

With the amount of primers available, it can be difficult to find the best one for painting over wallpaper. It’s important to be able to select a primer that will both cover your wallpaper and will help you achieve your vision. Follow the guidelines below to find the right primer for painting your wallpaper.

How to choose the right primer finish for painting over wallpaper

Your primer’s finish will impact the overall coverage and final look of your walls. These are the types of finishes you’re likely to encounter when shopping for a primer for wallpaper:

  • Clear: Applies coloured and dries clear to have no effect on the paint; for durability and protection purposes only.
  • Flat/matte: White or grey with no shine; works with most paints.
  • Semi-gloss: Fairly reflective; helps to enhance the look of your paint.
  • Glossy: Very shiny; helps achieve a smooth coverage and give approved paints a glossier finish.

How to choose the right type of primer for painting over wallpaper

Equally as important as the finish is the type of primer you choose. You need to ensure that it’s approved for use on your wall and with your desired paint. These are the different types of primer to consider for your wallpaper:

  • Oil-based: Great for versatility, stain resistance, and various weather conditions.
  • Latex: Health-conscious option; works great on wood, drywall, plaster, masonry, and metal.
  • Shellac-based: Ideal for interior surfaces; dries fast and provides great coverage.
  • Water-based: A safe alternative to the three main types of primer; avoid using on wallpaper unless approved.


Best way to paint over wallpaper

In order to see the best primer and paint results over your wallpaper, you need to know what to do to achieve your desired results. Follow these tips to successfully paint over your wallpaper:

  • Repair any damage – If there’s minimal damage, try to repair it before you begin. Any tears or peeling wallpaper can show through your work.
  • Clean the surface – Use a damp cloth to wipe down the wallpaper. This is to eliminate any dirt and debris that could prevent a smooth finish.
  • Protect the surrounding area – Use painter’s tape and drop cloths or sheets to protect your trim, floors, etc. You want to be focused on priming and painting, not avoiding your surroundings.
  • Add extra adhesive – If the corners of your wallpaper are coming off, apply some new adhesive to keep them sticking to the wall. Lifting wallpaper can show and ruin your work down the road.
  • Use the right tools – Like all other projects, you should cut in the wall with wallpaper. Use a brush to paint the edges and corners and a roller to cover the main surface of the wall.
  • Smooth out the primer – Use a foam brush or foam roller to smooth out any drips. This will keep your new wall looking smooth and untouched.
  • Let the primer dry – Each coat of primer needs to be completely dry before you apply more primer or paint. Applying new material too soon could result in the wall becoming patchy.
  • Apply multiple coats of paint – Concealing wallpaper can be tough, so be sure to apply 2 or more coats of paint to fully cover the surface. Make sure to give yourself enough time to do this properly.
  • Sand between coats – Use sandpaper to even out and smooth any imperfections between coats. This will help you achieve the smoothest finish possible.


Top 8 mistakes to avoid while painting wallpaper

Despite the information available, many people still make big mistakes when trying to paint over wallpaper. These are the most common mistakes you need to avoid when painting over wallpaper.

1. Not repairing damage

If your wallpaper has any tears or is beginning to peel, choosing to prime and paint over it and not repairing it would be a big mistake. Not only will the damage actually show through your work, but it could ruin your work as the damage gets worse. Reapply adhesive to peeling wallpaper and use new pieces to cover any holes before painting.

2. Not cleaning beforehand

This step is tempting to skip, especially when taking a quick glance at your wallpaper. However, it’s really important to be sure to remove all potential dirt and debris from your wallpaper before diving into your work. Anything left behind can appear in your work and even affect the adhesiveness of your primer or paint.

3. Not using primer

A closeup of a paint tray with a roller and brush next to a can

Many are asking, “Can you paint over wallpaper without primer?” Even though several primers advertise the ability to use with sanding, you should always prime wallpaper before painting over it. Primer is incredibly helpful in building a solid coverage over your wallpaper and will also help increase the durability of your paint.

4. Using the wrong primer

When selecting a primer, it’s crucial to make sure it will assist in the coverage of your wallpaper and is approved for walls and the paint you’d like to use. Using the wrong type of primer can decrease the durability or not allow your paint to stay put. Oil-based and shellac-based are the best options for wallpaper, but others can be used if they’ve been approved for these types of projects.

5. Using an unapproved water-based primer

There are many great water-based primers with various benefits available, some we’ve even highlighted in this article. However, it’s important to do careful research. A lot of water-based primers are incompatible with wallpaper and can cause significant damage.

6. Not letting each coat dry

A closeup of primer being rolled onto a wall

Every primer and paint product comes with a dry time and recommended amount of time needed before applying a fresh coat. It’s extremely important to follow these guidelines as you’ll get the best results when priming/painting over completely dry material. Priming and painting over wet material can cause the previous coat to lift, creating a patchy surface and ruining your work up to that point.

7. Using an incompatible paint

You’ve found the perfect primer for helping to conceal your wallpaper, but is your paint compatible with it? Ensuring that your primer and paint work with each other is crucial for achieving your desired results. Incompatible paints can be vulnerable to damage and may even refuse to stay on the wall.

8. Not giving yourself enough time

Painting wallpaper is supposed to be a lengthy project, often requiring prepwork, multiple coats of primer and paint, and plenty of time to complete each task. Be sure to have a plan in place for your project and to give yourself lots of time to complete everything. Rushing this type of project could result in undesirable results and even damage to your work.


Now that you know everything about selecting and using a primer for wallpaper, it’s time to get going on your project. If 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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