Best Primer For Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding

Everybody has their preferences when choosing the best primer for your kitchen cabinets. I think the best bonding primer for painting kitchen cabinets is an oil-based primer for various reasons. Although it might not be the best-smelling product to use, it makes up for its durability, ability to block stains and tannin bleed, and it’s the ease of sanding. Oil-based primer is the best bonding primer for laminate kitchen and oak cabinets.

The Best Oil-Based Primer for Kitchen cabinets is Zinsser Coverstain.

There are many suitable primers, from water-based to oil, pigmented shellac, hybrid, etc. Here is some in-depth science behind primers, how they work, and what makes them perform at their best.

Related Article: Paint Water-Based Paint Over Oil-Based Primer

This ultimate guide to painting kitchen cabinets has everything you need to know about the process, materials, and determining what type of cabinets you have!

how to paint kitchen cabinets guide download

Best Water-Based Primer For Kitchen Cabinets

If you don’t want to deal with oil-based primers, then your other option is this water-based bonding primer that is so good that it will even stick to tile or glass.

The best water-based bonding primer is INSL-X STIX, in my professional opinion.

With the proper prep, this primer will stick to any cabinet. Event laminate.

In a separate article, we answered the question Is Stix Really A Good Primer? So go check that out too!

How to choose the best primer for cabinets

When you use a specific bonding primer to paint kitchen cabinets, you tend to look for a primer that dries instantly. 

But does having a quick-drying primer guarantee adhesion? 

Does it guarantee stain-blocking? 

Is it the best option for the customer, or would it be better to use a primer that might take longer to dry but guarantees solid results?

Before applying any primer, whether oil-based, water-based, hybrid, pigmented shellac or so on, you must permanently remove any grease on your surface. No product will perform well over Grease!

Understanding your Surfaces

We will see tiny rigid edges if we take an authentic close look at our surfaces. 

Even if it’s Maple wood, although Maple wood (see image below) is smoother than other wood, it will still have tiny rigid edges. 

If there’s a finish on your word, like a lacquer, for instance, it will contour itself to those ridges.

When you sand the surface, you will open up those ridges. 

Although it might feel smoother, you’re opening up those ridges more. 

This will help create a mechanical Bond between your surface and the primer.

Here are some of the most common wood examples to help you identify what type of cabinets you have.

Maple Wood Example

maple wood cabinet door example

Oak Wood Example

Cherry Wood Example

cherry wood cabinet door example

Laminated Wood Example

laminate wood cabinet door example

Hickory Wood Example

hickory wood cabinet door example

Read more about Do I need a primer for kitchen cabinets?

Oil-Based Primers Are The Best Primers For Cabinets!

Molecules of oil-based primers can be up to 20 times smaller than water-based primers. 

This makes a huge difference when creating a mechanical bond between primer and surface.

It is the best choice for priming laminate cabinets and oak cabinets.

The tiny molecules of the oil-based primer dig into the rigid edges and creases of your surface that you created by sanding your surface.

oil based primers on cabinets

Although it might not be the best option regarding smell, oil-based primers perform tremendously well, provide excellent adhesion, and can even prevent chipping because they are so durable. 

Oil-based primers are the best bonding primers for oak cabinets because they fill in the grain better than other primers.

Here are the Best Oil Based Primers For Wood And More

We always do two coats of Zinsser Coverstain before painting.

In some states, purchasing oil-based products is prohibited, so painters have to come up with an alternative.

This oil-based primer will work for ANY kitchen cabinet.

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Water-Based Primers Can Be Your Best Alternative

The benefit of water-based primer is that a bit quicker and doesn’t smell as bad as an oil-based primer or pigmented shellac. 

But those are the only benefits of water-based primers. 

They do not block stains.

Even the ones that say they block stains don’t. 

Maybe on some rare occasions, it might, but I wouldn’t risk it. 

In addition, a lot of them are not sandable, and that makes a big difference when it comes to production. 

water based primers on cabinets

The best option for a water-based primer that will stick to any surface is Insl-X Stix.

It is best Used For Oak Cabinets and To Paint Over Laminate.

Also, If You Have Maple wood cabinets, this primer works great.

is stix really a good primer?
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Pigmented shellac and alcohol-based primers for Cabinets

Shellac has been around for ages and is produced from the extract of Lac beetle dissolved in alcohol pretty much. 

There is natural wax in shellac, so when you buy Zinnser Seal Coat vs. Zinnser Bullseye Shellac, you must remember that the bullseye contains wax. 

Although it leaves a nice finish when sanding, the wax will cause adhesion problems in the future. 

Zinnser Seal Coat Shellac is dewaxed and a much better product if you use clear shellac.

It is getting increasingly more challenging to produce shellac. Therefore, we are seeing much more synthetic shellac in stores lately. 

If we look closely at the molecules of shellac and even lacquer which are very similar in their molecular structure, we see that the physical molecules are actual chains. 

If I had to describe it, I would say it’s comparable to a pile of spaghetti. 

The problem is that water will find a way to get in between those spaces of chains or spaghetti to give you a visual again. 

If you ever left a water glass on top of a table and saw a white ring underneath it that is water forming in those microscopic gaps. 

The water will have difficulty evaporating in those spaces and turn into a hazy cloud underneath the surface.

shellac primers on cabinets

Are hybrid primers an excellent alternative to oil?

If you are looking for the best latex primer for kitchen cabinets, you might want to consider an alternative,

Hybrid primers are a great alternative to the oil-based primer and better than latex primers.

They lay down very nicely on the surface and are accessible to sand.

Best of all, they don’t smell as bad as oil-based primers, for granted, shellac.

They do not fill the grain as well as an oil-based primer, especially on Oak cabinets.

The only downside is that there is some bleed-through, although they have stain-blocking and bleed-stopping abilities. But neither does the best latex primer for kitchen cabinets.

This can be a bit discouraging. But if you are Lucky, what might be happening is that the stain or bleeding is showing through, but in all actuality, the primer encapsulates it.

If this is the case, the bleeding will not show in your topcoat.

So consider using latex or hybrid primers if stains and tannin bleeds are not a concern.

How do Hybrid Primers Work?

If you look closely at the molecular structure of hybrid primers, you get a mixture of water and oil

Once you apply your primer and the evaporation begins, what happens is that the polarity of the oil molecules is designed to lay flat onto your surface and sink into the ridges. In contrast, the water molecule gets released and evaporates.

hybrid primers on cabinets

Can I prime and paint over chipping and peeling paint?

Let’s say you decided to paint your kitchen cabinets but used the wrong primer or paint. Can you paint over the peeling and chipping paint? 

Sure, you could, but you would reencounter the same problem. 

If your surface is not prepped and primed correctly, and you do not have a mechanical bond between it and your paint or primer, it will chip and peel. 

It doesn’t matter how many coats you paint over it. 

You can even attempt to prime the entire piece again with an oil-based primer. 

It still wouldn’t work. 

If your foundation is not solid and you don’t already have a bond to your surface with your primer, it will continue to peel. 

If you want to dive deeper, here is Everything You Need To Know About Peeling Paint.

Your only option is to remove the paint and start fresh using the proper steps. 

More on How Do I Prime My Cabinets So That They Don’t Peel?

To Sum It All Up

If you want a primer almost guaranteed to work with any kitchen cabinet, then your best choice would be an oil-based primer. 

The best oil-based primer, in my opinion, is “Zinsser Cover Stain.” It is a great bonding primer and stain blocker and works every time we use it.

Remember that any primer will fail if you do not clean your cabinets correctly first!

To check out how we clean all cabinets before priming, read and watch this tutorial What Is The Best Way To Clean Kitchen Cabinets?

oil based cover stain primer for ceilings
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If you are looking for the best oil-based primer from Sherwin-Willams, I suggest “ProBlock.” Depending on the room temperature and humidity, it dries within 30 minutes and can be re-coated.


Let it (the primer) dry for 24 hours before applying the topcoat

When working with oil-based primers, use a natural bristle brush, ox hair, or china hair bristle brush.

Related article: Is it better to roll or brush primer on cabinets?

They can be expensive but are the easiest to work with and clean.

Here are a few options that are relativity low cost but of great quality.

When priming with oil-based primers, having a 2-inch or a 3-inch brush is always good.

This is my favorite brush for oil-based primers.

chinex purdy oil based brush

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This ultimate guide to painting kitchen cabinets has everything you need to know about the process, materials, and determining what type of cabinets you have!

how to paint kitchen cabinets guide download

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2 thoughts on “Best Primer For Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding”

  1. You have said oil-based is the way to go but your number one pick says water based on the can. I’m not trying to be nitpicky but can you clarify?

    • No problem!
      Oil-based will work guaranteed but the smell, application and clean up is a pain. The fact that a water-based product works just as well in most cases but avoids the smell has an easier application, and cleans up easier makes it number 1 in my experience.


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