Best Primer For Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding

When choosing the best primer for your kitchen cabinets everybody has their preferences. 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 ease to send. Oil-based primer is the best bonding primer for laminate kitchen cabinets and oak cabinets.

There are many good primers out there from water-based to oil, pigmented shellac, hybrid, and so on. Here is a little in-depth science behind primers and how they work and what makes them perform at their best.

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!

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How to choose the best primer for cabinets

When you choose to use a certain 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 it’s oil-based, water-based, hybrid, pigmented shellac, and so on, you will always have to remove any grease that is on your surface. No product will perform well over Grease!

Understanding your Surfaces

If we take a real close look at our surfaces you will see that there are tiny rigid edges. 

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 to the touch 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!

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

This makes a huge difference when you are trying to create 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 as far as smell, oil-based primers perform tremendously well and provide great 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.

We always do 2 coats of Zinsser Coverstain before painting.

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

This oil-based primer will work for ANY type of 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. 

It does 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 sand-able 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.

Best Used For Oak Cabinets and Laminate/Formica.

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

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

There is a natural wax in shellac so when you go to buy Zinnser Seal Coat vs Zinnser Bullseye Shellac you have to keep in mind 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 choose to use clear shellac.

It is getting increasingly more difficult to produce shellac for that reason we are seeing much more synthetic shellac in stores lately. 

If we take a close look 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 with this 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 seen a white ring appear underneath it that is water forming in those microscopic gaps. 

The water will have a hard time evaporating in those spaces and turned into a hazy cloud underneath the surface.

shellac primers on cabinets

If You Have Maple wood or laminate/Formica Cabinets then this primer works great.

bin shellac based primer
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Are hybrid primers a good alternative for 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 easy to sand.

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

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

The only other downside is that there is some bleed through or though they have stain blocking and bleed stopping ability. 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, then the bleeding will not show in your topcoat.

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

How do Hybrid Primers Work?

If you look closely at the molecular structure of hybrid primers you see that 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 while 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 decide to paint your kitchen cabinets but you used the wrong primer or paint can you just paint over the peeling and chipping paint? 

Sure you could, but you would run into the same problem again. 

If your surface is not prepped and primed correctly, and you do not have a mechanical bond between your surface 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 just continue to peel. 

The only option you have now is to completely remove the paint and start fresh using the right steps. 

To Sum It All Up

If you want a primer that is almost guaranteed to work with any type of 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 then read 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 would suggest “ProBlock”. It dries within 30 minutes and can be re-coated depending on the room temperature and humidity.


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

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

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

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

It is always good to have a 2 inch or a 3-inch brush when priming with oil-based primers.

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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