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What is the Best Primer for Kitchen Cabinets (and Why)?

Kitchen cabinet primers with brushes

So, you’re considering refinishing your kitchen cabinetry and are wondering about the best type of primer to use.

That shows that you’re smart!

Choosing a primer isn’t as straightforward as you may think it is. And while it’s not the most difficult thing in the world to do, there are a few considerations you need to be aware of.

And that is why we are here today – to learn about how to choose the best primer for your kitchen cabinets so that you achieve the best results after painting.

Alright, the early bird gets the worm.

Let’s get into this!

Types of Primers for Kitchen Cabinets

Top view of primers and paint brushes.

OK, so when you’re shopping for kitchen cabinet primer, you’ll notice four main types on the market:

  1. Water-based latex acrylic primers have lower levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), meaning they are not as dangerous because they give off less hazardous fumes than other types of primers. They’re also easy to work with and clean up. However, they are not as durable and long-lasting as other primers.
  2. Oil-based (solvent-based) primers are very durable, but they also give off a lot of powerful fumes that can be harmful to your respiratory system. If you’re going to use this kind of primer, be sure to wear professional respiratory protection.
  3. Alcohol-based (shellac-based) primers are very adhesive and they work well on metal, plastic, and wood. However, they give off even more harmful VOC’s than oil-based primers do. If you’re going to work with this type of primer, please be sure to protect your lungs!
  4. Hybrid acrylic urethane-based primers offer properties of water-based and oil-based primers combined, making them fairly easy to work with and also quite durable.

Now that we understand the different types of primers available for kitchen cabinets, let’s take a look at three top-rated primers available today.

Some Popular Primers for Kitchen Cabinets

Each of these, plus various others, are capable of providing an excellent base for painting. It really comes down to what is available in your local supply stores.

As long as you stick to a quality product from a well-reviewed manufacturer, and you use the product according to its instructions, you really can’t go wrong. It’s cabinet primer, not nuclear fusion!

Let’s take a closer look at:

  • Ultra-Cover Premium Latex Primer by Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch
  • Interior/Exterior Primer KILZ 2 All Purpose
  • Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer

Rust-Oleum and KILZ are brands that I have personally used for many years and never had anything but positive experiences with. I like sticking to brands that I know deliver quality and long-term value.

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

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

This quality kitchen cabinet primer by Rust-Oleum can work on plastic, unglazed ceramic, masonry, metal, and wood. It doesn’t give off a lot of odor, is very durable, and resists chipping and scratching with long-term protection.

It’s an oil-based formula that dries to the touch in about 20 minutes. It comes in an aerosol can with a comfort spray tip, and each can covers about 12 square feet of surface.

This Rust-Oleum cabinet primer applies to a smooth, flat finish and provides an excellent base for any type of subsequent coating.

Buy at Amazon | Buy at Home Depot

Interior/Exterior Primer KILZ 2 All Purpose

Interior/Exterior Primer KILZ 2 All Purpose

I’ve been a KILZ fan for more than 30 years. I have used this particular KILZ product in its old and new formulations. It’s water-based, low-odor, low-VOC, fast-drying, and does an excellent job at priming, sealing, and blocking stains.

Plus, it resists mildew and mold, all the while creating a superior base with excellent adhesion for paint. If your kitchen cabinets have water, grease, pencil, ink, or other stains on them, this effective primer will do an outstanding job at covering and concealing them.

This KILZ primer is also an exceptional choice for when you want to change colors on your cabinetry, and it works on all surface types. You can also use it on top of or underneath oil-based or water-based paints.

Buy at Amazon | Buy at Home Depot | Buy at Walmart

Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer

Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer

Rust-Oleum® Zinsser® B-I-N® Primer is the go-to-choice for professional painting contractors. It’s pricey compared to a lot of other primers, and it’s worth every penny, in my opinion. Like I say, I typically stick with KILZ, but I have enjoyed using this product more than once, and man does it spread and cover nice!

It’s a shellac-based primer, and nothing works better for blocking tough stains, sap streaks, wood knots, and stinky odors like smoke and pet urine. This superb kitchen cabinet primer powerfully adheres to all surfaces with no need for presanding.

And it’s formulated to dry super-fast, meaning you can typically recoat it within an hour. It’s also compatible with any top coat you have in mind.

Again, PLEASE overdo your safety protocols when using any product that off-gasses toxic fumes! I have several old friends who can barely breathe anymore because they slacked on their safety, many years ago, in the work field. Please ensure excellent ventilation and circulation in your workspace, and wear an approved respirator when using high-VOC products.

Buy at Amazon | Buy at Home Depot | Buy at Walmart

PRO TIPs for Priming Your Kitchen Cabinets

Hand applying primer on the kitchen cabinet door.

Alright! We’ve made it this far!

Now we understand more about the different types of primer available, their potential uses, and their limitations. Regardless of the quality kitchen cabinet primer you select, it’s good to follow a few professional tips when you’re refinishing your cabinetry, including:

  1. Especially if you’re using a paint sprayer to apply your primer and paint on your kitchen cabinets, be sure to protect your work area. Use plastic tarps, rosin paper, masking tape, and other products, as necessary, to protect everything in your work area from overspray. The failure to do so will have you going back over everything, scrubbing off millions of tiny primer specks, which is never fun!
  2. Regardless if you’re using a paint sprayer, brushes and rollers, sponges, spray cans, or any other medium for applying your kitchen cabinet primer and paint, please be sure to ensure proper ventilation. Open some windows and doors. Turn a fan or fans on facing out of the room you’re painting in. You don’t want the fans blowing in towards your painting area, possibly blowing up dust and debris.
  3. Remove all of the hardware and your doors from your kitchen cabinets to ensure the best results when priming and painting. It’s very smart to use a small piece of masking tape and label each component so that it’s easier when it comes to reassembling them all. You’ll know exactly where they go, and believe me, 20 or 30 cabinet doors can be confusing!
  4. Always clean and sand your cabinets down before priming to achieve the best results. I also like to run a vacuum after cleaning and sanding, not only on the cabinets, but in the area all around where I’m working. And then, I even use a tack cloth to remove any residual debris that may still be on the cabinetry. My goal is to get the cabinets super-clean, dry, smooth, and free of everything down to the smallest piece of dust!

My final pro tip for you about painting and priming kitchen cabinetry is to consider using a high-velocity low-pressure (HVLP) paint and stain sprayer, instead of using traditional painting tools like brushes and rollers.

I consider myself highly skilled at brushing and rolling, but I cannot come close to the level of quality that a good paint sprayer produces, even on my best day. And the sprayer does it effortlessly and so much faster!

My Closing Thoughts About Primers for Kitchen Cabinets

There are a lot of effective primers on the market today that will help to ensure that you achieve an excellent result when refinishing your kitchen cabinetry. There’s no golden rule about which primer is best for what.

In general, you’re simply providing a solid subsurface for paint or another coating medium to adhere to. It also protects the cabinetry, blocks stains, and conceals bad odors.

Always ensure proper safety protocols when priming and painting your kitchen cabinetry, and always closely follow the instructions that the manufacturer provides on the product’s label.

Thank you for reading along today, and I hope that you have gained some valuable information that will help you choose the best primer for your kitchen cabinet painting projects.

Enjoy the Prime!