Best Primer For Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding In 2020

Best Primer For Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding

When choosing the best primer for your kitchen cabinets everybody has their own preferences. Personally, 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 easy 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.

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How to chose 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 really 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 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 actually opening up those ridges more. 

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

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Oil-Based primers

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

This makes a huge difference when you are trying to create 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.

 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 the 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.

oil based primer on cabinets

Water-Based Primers

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

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

It does not block stains.

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

Maybe in 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

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 that 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 actually cause adhesion problems in the future. 

Zinnser Seal Coat Shellac idewaxed and a much better product if you choose to use cear 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 is very similar in its 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 form underneath it that is water forming in those for 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

Are hybrid primers a good alternative for oil?

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

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

They lay down very nice 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 top coat.

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

How do Hybrid Primers Work?

If you look close 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 are 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 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.

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 an humidity.


Let it (the primer) dry for 24 hours before applying 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 great quality.

It is always good to have a 2 inch and a 4 inch brush when priming with oil based primers.

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2 thoughts on “Best Primer For Kitchen Cabinets Without Sanding In 2020”

  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 I am confused. 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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