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What is Primer and When Should I Use It?

There are instances in adulthood where you may skip a step you did not know you needed to take. For example, I bought the most amazing jute rug for my newest apartment. It is neutral and fits perfectly with the bohemian vibe I wanted in my new space. It is the perfect contrast to the original cherry hardwoods this 1920’s apartment has.

Little did I know that jute rugs shed, A LOT. Like many “new adults” I knew I missed something somewhere. Bring in the rug pad. If my mother, a lifelong realtor and interior design expert, knew I did not use a rug pad she would roll her eyes and take me to the nearest home store. 

Although I should have known to take this step, I overlooked the importance of the base. How to choose a paint and a primer can be a little overwhelming. There are several other ways people forget the basics, but paint primer should not be one of them. If you want your DIY paint job to turn out perfectly, priming your paint job is a MUST. 

Related: Satin Paint | Flat Paint | Eggshell Paint | Oil-Based Paint | Gloss Paint | Enamel Paint | Latex-Based Paint | Chalkboard Paint | Matte PaintTypes of Primer Paint | Water-Based Paint

What is Primer?

Paint primer may seem like one of those steps in painting that is unnecessary. That could not be farther from the truth in most cases. Paint primer is used to protect, seal, and prepare your items to be painted. The primer can help your space look better and last longer. The likeliness that your paint will chip is lower when you prepare your walls, ceilings, and anything else you might paint.

The primer itself acts as a layer of protection before your paint even goes on, giving it a smoother and more polished finish. It also acts as an adhesive to your paint. This allows your paint to stick to the walls faster and dry better. 

When To Use Paint Primer

This is a close look at a wall being painted with a roller.

The Surface You Are Painting Is Stained

If you plan to paint your ceilings a new shade of ivory, but you had a leak and there is a water stain, you will definitely need to prime the surface first. If you do not prime the surface, there is a good chance the stain will show through your new paint job. Most stains such as water and mildew can seep through paint. Using primer such as KILZ, can actually kill mold while covering up that gross blemish. 

You Are Painting Over Metal

Metal has an unusually slick surface for paint. When surfaces are slick, adding paint, especially water-based paint will be more likely to chip. By adding a primer before painting, the coat (or coats) of paint you use will have something to adhere to. Adding primer on surfaces such as metal will also make the surface less likely to rust over time, saving you more money in the long hall.

You Are Shifting From Oil-Based Paint To Latex

A change in texture can definitely be a reason to use a primer. Oil-based paint is generally more glossy than latex. With that being said, using water-based paint to go over oil, will not work without a primer. The sheen of oil-based paint will need something like a primer in order to stick. 

You Are Changing The Color Dramatically

If you plan to change your “forest green” office wall to “gray owl,” you will definitely need to use a primer. Painting over dark colors in order to lighten the space is not going to be easy. Imagine trying to use white paint on canvas that is bright red, it would take several coats. The same applies to your walls. Using a primer ensures the previous color will not bleed through and makes the coats of paint needed to cover the space smaller. 

You Are Painting On New Drywall 

Drywall that has not been primed will eat your paint up very quickly. New drywall creates a sponge-like texture when it is not primed and can not only force you to use a ton of paint but will also create an uneven look on your walls or ceilings. 

How Much Primer To Use 

The amount of primer you will need for your space can vary quite a bit. Usually, one to two coats of primer will be enough to solve any unforeseen issues. However, the amount of space you are covering, material, and color change will make the amount needed to differ. If you are painting wood, you should generally use an oil-based primer and paint.

A bare wall being covered with primer paint.

This surface will cause you to use more primer than drywall or other materials. Asking your local paint store expert can be very helpful if you do not know how much primer you will need given your space. For reference, one gallon of primer will most likely cover around 225 square feet of space. 

When You Do Not Have To Use Primer

Many paints are actually painted and primer in one. Although this is a fairly new trend, on many surfaces this can work. Although a good rule of thumb is to always buy the highest quality you can find, on smaller spaces that do not need a super long life, paint with primer in it can be a quick fix. 

Good Primers To Buy

  1. Lowes — KILZ 2 Interior/Exterior Multi-Purpose Water-Based Wall and Ceiling Primer (Quart)
  2. Ace Hardware — Zinsser Bulls Eye 123 White Water-Based Styrenated Acrylic Primer and Sealer, 1 Gallon
  3. Walmart — ColorPlace ULTRA Interior Paint & Primer, Soft Sage, Semi-Gloss, 1 Gallon
  4. Home Depot — Glidden Premium Base 1 Semi Gloss Interior Paint, 1 Gallon
  5. Amazon — Rust-Oleum Corporation 271009 Advanced Synthetic Shellac Primer, 1-Quart, White