5 Best Primers for Kitchen Cabinets in 2021

Kitchen cabinets are practical and often visually appealing. However, they are positioned in an environment where the temperature often changes, and there is constant exposure to water, steam, and smoke. As a result, kitchen cabinets may need a primer to seal stains and prepare the surface for new paint.

The best primer for kitchen cabinets is the KILZ Kitchen and Bathroom Interior Primer, which is specially produced for such environments. It has strong adhesion, coverage, and versatility outshines other primers in terms of reliability and practicality.

This article will cover all you need to know about primers starting with our top recommendations for kitchen cabinet primers. Moreover, it will cover the difference between shellac, water, and oil-based primers so you can learn which one is best for your cabinets. You will also learn whether you can use a primer as paint and if your primer will chip off, among other primer-related insights.

1. KILZ Kitchen and Bathroom Interior Primer

The KILZ brand is built around protecting the interior and exterior surfaces from mold, stains, and water damage. Thousands of customers rely on KILZ products to protect their expensive hardwood floors and other furniture, making the brand’s interior and bathroom primer one of the safest options for your kitchen cabinets.

Spills and frequent use can affect kitchen furniture, and the last thing you want is something happening between the priming and painting stages of your cabinet. At best, you will have a few stains and browning of cabinets, but molding and odor problems can occur as well if certain elements get trapped between primer and paint.

KILZ Interior Primer is designed with the environment in mind. Places that are likely to get humid and hot, like bathrooms and kitchens, require different quality of primer with contents that guard against humidity until the cabinet is painted.

Mold and mildew can be a serious problem because one does not even know there is a problem until it becomes visible, and by then, it is already spreading. KILZ Kitchen and Bathroom Primer contains high mildewcide content to protect against mildew forming on humid surfaces. Aside from guarding against mold and mildew, the primer forms a film that blocks stains and resists humidity in general.

These features are besides the fact that it is a high-quality opaque primer providing just the right surface to paint over.

This is a white primer that prepares the cabinet surface for any color of the paint. And while regular paint would chip off cabinets, the primer’s adhesion is important because the primer’s entire purpose is to provide the paint with a secure surface and grip so the paint can last longer and the cabinet can look the way you want.

The container holds 1 gallon (3.78 liters) of primer, and if your cabinet is small, you can store the rest for use with a variety of surfaces, including but not limited to wood, drywall, plaster, brick, and paneling. The water-based primer also has low odor making it convenient, especially when you consider a quick drying time of 1 hour.

Often you will need to apply two coats of primer, especially if you are painting over a darker color. You can apply the second layer of KILZ Interior Primer after one hour and drastically bring the entire project’s waiting time.

You can reliably order KILZ even if you are a beginner at painting cabinets considering their high product rating for its value for money proposition and ease of use.

Another key element is thickness. The thickness of a primer directly affects how well the paint over it performs visually. If you want your paint’s true colors to pop, you have to select a primer that you don’t need a thick coat of primer. It also has a high rating when it comes to thickness rating. And that brings the overall score of KILZ to the best combination of adhesion, thickness, and ease of application.

Reasons to Buy

  • The brand has over 40 years of experience and a reputation for reliability.
  • Manufactured specifically for the kitchen environment.
  • It is mold and mildew resistant.
  • Low odor and quick drying time make it convenient.

2. Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer

You can paint over stains on a kitchen cabinet by priming the surface. But if you are interested in painting a cabinet to completely change its color, one of the most important aspects of a primer is its hide and coverage. Zinsser Bulls Eye is marketed as a premium stain blocker. The primer is available in white and gray, allowing you to paint bright and dark colors over it.

For instance, If you wish to paint the cabinets black, it would be counter-intuitive to use a white primer. However, for lighter colors, white is likely the best choice. With Zinsser, you aren’t limited by the primer’s color and can buy the primer based on the color you want to paint.

Another factor you must consider when shopping for primers is usability. This container can cover 100 square feet, and if the area you wish to prime is smaller, you can rely on the product’s versatility. It has the capacity to prime metal, wood, concrete, and glass, among other surfaces.

Furthermore, it is not just stain-resistant but is also rust-resistant when it comes to metal. This means that you can safely cover the knobs and hinges without affecting the metal for your kitchen cabinets.

It also actively resists mold and mildew. This is important if you are not painting cabinets full time. By priming the surface with a quality primer like Zinsser, you can resume the painting at a later time without having to worry about mold, mildew, water damage, and stains undoing your previous work. Furthermore, you don’t want your kitchen to have any odor that impacts your appetite. Since this primer is water-based, it has little odor, which quickly goes away.

The product has a high Amazon global rating for its value for money proposition by customers’ specific rating and its ease of use, making it one of the most user-friendly primers listed on the market place.

It is also important to consider a primer’s adhesion before your purchase. Zinsser has a 4.5-star rating for adhesion, which implies that the primer makes a great base for the topcoat. More importantly, you can rest assured that the project will not be too much of a mess to clean up going by its 4.5-star rating on the ‘easy to clean’ dimension.

Reasons to Buy

  • Available in gray and white for darker and lighter topcoats, respectively.
  • Great value for money and can cover up to 100 sq ft with one container.
  • Versatile and covers surfaces including metal, glass, and concrete aside from wood.
  • Rated 4.5 stars out of 5 for ease of cleaning and given an overall rating of 4.7 stars across 770 reviews worldwide.
  • Resists mildew, mold, and even rust.

3. KILZ Adhesion Primer

Often when you are shopping for a primer, it is because you have previously tried painting a cabinet or a surface without a primer. It is one of the most common mistakes, and people soon realize that the paint can chip off. In other instances, you have tried using a primer, but it has not held up well against time.

Yes, it is possible for primers to chip off, too, especially on cabinets and finished surfaces. That is where you have to focus on strong adhesion. KILZ adhesion primer is made to hold onto a surface so that the paint over it can stay in place for a long time.

Aside from being reliable in adhesiveness, the primer is also an excellent choice for coverage. Each gallon approximately covers 300 square feet. At this point, you may be wondering if there will be any leftover after your project. Well, fret not because the primer is very versatile and can be used over PVC, glass, and almost all surfaces where bonding is critical. Since this is a latex-based primer, it is ideal for your cabinet if you plan to use oil paint on top.

Before you embark on a project, it is also worth noting how long you plan to take when painting your cabinet. In the instance that you want to paint in a day or less, a quick-drying primer is very important. KILZ dries to touch in 30 minutes though you have to wait an hour before you can recoat the primer.

It also acts as a sealer and provides limited protection. However, it is important that you prepare the surface well before priming it with KILZ adhesion primer. That includes making sure there is no dust or other impurities that don’t interact well with latex.

Another important aspect of your priming and painting experience is the application. Many people do not like to use brushes and rollers and would much rather prefer using a spray to apply the primer. You can apply KILZ adhesion primer with a spray and repay after 30 minutes to finish priming in a matter of minutes. That said, you must keep in mind that priming with the spray can be wasteful.

Another aspect of your project is the clean-up. KILZ adhesion primer only needs water for the clean-up and is rated 4.7 stars out of 5 for ease of use. People consider ease of application and the ease of clean-up in rating a product for its ease of use.

The overall rating for the product is 4.7 stars out of 5, with over 700 reviews on Amazon. Not only is its adhesion rated at 4.6 stars, but its durability is also rated similarly, making it a reliable primer for surfaces that aren’t conducive to water and oil-based primers. Because of high durability and adhesion, you will not need to sand your cabinet as much if it has a glossy finish as many cabinets do.

It is also important that your primer does not leave an odor suspended in your kitchen, especially because this is a latex primer. However, the 4.2-star rating on the product’s scent assures one that it will not create an unpleasant odor that hangs in the space for a long time. Finally, you must consider value for money for which customers have given Kilz Adhesion primer a 4.2 out of 5 stars rating.

Reasons to Buy

  • KILZ brand has a solid reputation for reliability in painting and priming.
  • It has a stronger grip and is less likely to chip off surfaces that regular water-based primers and oil-based primers can’t stick to.
  • It is easy to clean with water.

Note, however, that If you plan to paint your cabinet with water-based paint, this primer is not ideal. It only works well with oil-based paints.

4. KILZ Restoration Interior Primer

One of the reasons you may be looking for kitchen cabinet primers could be that there is a stain or smoke damage on your cabinets that you want to cover up. Not everyone wants to repaint cabinets in new colors. Often people just want to freshen up the interior, and for that, KILZ restoration primer is ideal as it is designed to block and cover stains simultaneously.

This is especially important for stains caused by kitchen operations like yellowing due to smoke and fire exposure. The damage handled by KILZ restoration interior primer includes rust, which can occur due to steam. Steam, a regular result of cooking, can also cause medium water damage. This primer can handle not just medium water damage but also heavy water damage. Furthermore, it blocks the odor left by smoke and other accidents.

While pets are not likely to produce stains on cabinets, the fact that KILZ restoration can handle Pet stains and seal the odor is of great value because you will likely use the primer elsewhere as well.

Because the primer can cover up to 400 square feet with one gallon, you will be able to bank on the primer’s versatility to reuse it on surfaces like drywall, glass, ceramic tile, and brick as well. While the water-based primer has a relatively neutral odor, it can cover other odors well by giving a sealing effect.

According to the manufacturer, the primer was designed to perform like an oil-based primer while being a water-based formula. People admire oil-based primer’s sealing capabilities. However, oil-based primers don’t take hold of glossy and finished surfaces, as well as other primers. That is why you need to sand wooden cabinets until the wood shows before the oil-based primer can take hold over the raw surface.

Compromising your cabinets in such a way is not a good idea. That is what makes the KILZ restoration primer such a great alternative. Because it seals similarly to oil-based primers yet has strong adhesion to finished surfaces. That is why customers have given it 4.3 stars out of 5 ratings on adhesion alone.

Among other feature-based ratings is the product’s ease of use, for which it holds 4.6 stars. This is reassuring for first-time painters doing the project for their own kitchens. It also holds 4.5 out of 5 stars on the scent, which backs the manufacturer’s claims regarding the product’s ability to mask odors.

Of course, the primer’s thickness is important as that saves you time because you don’t have to apply multiple coats, and it also keeps the top coat from being negatively impacted by the color underneath. For its thickness, the average customer rating is 4.2 stars out of 5, and the overall product rating globally stands at 4.6 out of 5 stars.

Reasons to Buy

  • Blocks odor like an oil-based primer while being a water-based primer.
  • It has stain-resisting capabilities and can handle medium to strong water damage alongside another staining like fire and smoke stains.
  • They rated 4.6 stars out of 5 with over 340 reviews.

However, If you are in California, the products may be subject to proposition 65 rules and regulations, making the purchase and use more complicated than alternative primers.

5. Zinsser BIN Shellac-Base Primer

Often it is hard for beginners to learn how to apply paint with a brush. There are different kinds of brushes, and some have a tendency to leave behind brush marks. To learn how to apply paint with a brush or buy a roller, many would prefer to opt for an easier application like spray primer.

Zinsser BIN Shellac-base Primer spray is ideal because you don’t have to worry about application precision at all. You can spray it at any angle, and it is just as effective and sealing and priming as a regular primer applied by hand. However, you can’t overspray an area in one sitting as an alternative for double coats of layers. You have to apply the first layer of the primer by spraying once and then reapply another coat an hour later.

Zinsser BIN Shellac-base Primer is white and can handle color changes as well as repainting to old colors (usually done to cover up stains). It is shellac-based, which retains the benefits of oil-base while bringing the benefits of strong adhesion and high-quality stain sealing.

It does not just resist stains but can easily seal pet stains and other odors resulting from exposure to water and other elements. This is especially important for kitchen cabinets located close to stoves.

Aside from being an effective stain-sealer, the spray is also great at sticking to surfaces, thanks to its shellac base.

However, the product is not as odor-proof as most water-based primers. As long as you let air flow through the room as you apply the primer to your cabinet, the odor will clear out. Ultimately, it is a trade-off between ease of application and the longevity of the residual smell. The sprays can contain 13 ounces of primer, so you may have to use multiple cans on a single project.

This is especially true if you are applying multiple layers of primer before painting. Furthermore, you will need to lightly sand the cabinet if it is too smooth or laminated. That is because shellac-base may be stronger in adhesion than oil-base, but it is still not adhesive enough to cover smooth surfaces for long periods of time.

While you can apply this primer on a smooth surface, you can expect it to start chipping off. But if you are willing to lightly sand your cabinet, this primer can hold on to the surface much longer than general use primers. That is why it has a rating of 4.7 stars on adhesion, one of the highest among primers of any kind.

Since the spray can only hold 13 ounces, you may want to know how thick the first layer is or if you need to apply two layers. The number of coats you need to apply will depend on your satisfaction but according to the customer reviews; the spray gets 4.6 stars out of 5 on thickness, which is quite promising.

Moreover, the can is rated at 4.5 stars for its value for money proposition. If you are on a budget, then this is an important factor to consider. Finally, despite being a shellac-based primer, the product did not receive a scent-rating lower than four stars. Amazon’s overall customer rating for this product stands at 4.6 out of 5 stars, with over 160 reviews on the site.

Reasons to Buy

  • Ease of application. The product can be sprayed onto a prepared cabinet in a matter of minutes.
  • The product is reliably adhesive and has a stronger hold than oil-based primers.
  • Seals odors and resists stains, including smoke stains, water damage, and pet-related stains.

Since the product is shellac-based, it is not likely to be as odor-free as water-based equivalents. It also requires light sanding of the surface before reliable application.

Tips on Finding the Right Primer for Your Kitchen Cabinets

Type of Primer

When shopping for primers, you will encounter different bases listed on labels. It can be confusing to see “oil-based,” “shellac-based,” and “water-based” without knowing what each term means and what it signifies for your furniture.

  • Oil-based primers are almost exclusively only good for unfinished and raw surfaces. The oil base can take hold on porous surfaces and between creases. However, for smooth surfaces, oil and latex are the best options. conducive to different types of paints. 
  • Water-based primers are conducive to different types of paint as oil-based primers. It used to be less adhesive than shellac, but the water-based primer market has expanded, forcing most manufacturers to improve their water-based primers in adhesion and durability.
  • Shellac is in the middle of the adhesion capacity spectrum. Shellac has a strong grip but requires light sanding.

Can You Use a Primer as a Paint?

If you are using a primer to cover up stains, you may look at the white surface primed to paint and wonder whether you should just leave the primer as the topcoat.

You can use primers as paint but must know that primers usually yellow quicker than paint. If you do not mind having to repaint often, then you can apply the primer and skip the painting altogether. However, to make sure the cabinet looks great for a long time, apply paint and then a sealer on top just to make sure dust, stains, water, and odor do not penetrate at any level.

Can You Paint Without a Primer?

As you start calculating your painting costs and the time required to let layers of primer dry, you may be tempted to skip out on the priming stage altogether. However, doing so is a mistake because of multiple reasons.

A primer provides a neutral background, which makes your paint’s colors come off as truer. Most paint companies assume primer application and show the results of their paint with the primer in the background. If you use the same paint without a primer, the colors will be off from what you see on the paint’s packaging. That is because a lot of the color will get absorbed by the surface, leaving the cabinets looking duller.

Aside from providing the right background against which the paint can look great, the primer helps seal the surface, so mold, odor-causing bacteria, and stains don’t get underneath the paint. And finally, the primer helps provide adhesion, especially against very smooth surfaces. Most cabinets, unlike rough wood, are finished, and any paint directly applied to the surface may easily chip off.

Therefore you can skip the primer application if the surface is unfinished wood with a bit of tooth to which the paint can hold on to. Even then, you have to apply multiple coats of paint to account for a drop in the color’s vibrance because of a lack of a neutral background.

Final Thoughts

Priming is a necessary step of painting over cabinets. Kitchen cabinets are likely to take steam, water, and stain damage across time because of their location. In such a case, it is advisable to freshen up the paint. If you want to sand your cabinets, you can invest in a shellac primer, which will be easy to apply and will hold for a long time.

However, it is always better to invest specifically in primers, like KILZ Kitchen and Bathroom Interior Primer, that are made for the kitchen environment. Furthermore, the specific primer you choose will depend on your furniture type, budget, and prior experience with painting and primers.

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