How To Prime Kitchen Cabinets The Right Way | The 518 Painter

How to prime kitchen cabinets the right way

Oil-based primer will always be your best option for priming kitchen cabinets. However, a water-borne primer is less evasive and easier to work with. You do not have to be a painting professional to paint your cabinets if you know how to prep and prime them right way! Painting your kitchen cabinets is easy and affordable, and anybody can do it!

How to prime kitchen cabinets and other high gloss surfaces?

In order to get the best results, you need to know how to prime kitchen cabinets and other high gloss surfaces. 

If you don’t properly prepare your surface to be painted you will most likely have paint peeling off your cabinets in the future. 

A good primer will create a bond between glossy and hard-to-paint surfaces such as laminate and/or Formica and the paint that is being applied.

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But What Is The Best Primer For Laminate Cabinets?

Traditionally we would use an Oil-based or Shellac-based primer for these type of jobs. 

But besides having to thoroughly sand your glossy surfaces, the smell of oil-based and shellac-based primers can be a little bit too much for some people.

oil based primer

The pros of Oil-based primers?

The advantage of an oil-based primer is that it will adhere to very glossy surfaces. 

In addition, it has very strong stain blocking abilities. 

If you have a surface that has been painted with an oil-based paint previously, you will have to use an oil-based primer because latex will not adhere.

How do I know if my surface has oil-based paint on it?

By simply adding some rubbing alcohol to a cloth or cotton ball and rubbing it on the surface.

If the paint starts to rub off and discolor your cloth or cotton ball then it is latex paint. 

If it does not rub off then it is oil-based paint and you will need an oil-based primer.

Under NO circumstances attempt to paint over oil-based paint with latex paint!

It will fail and you will be left with a finish that peels off easily because it can not adhere to the surface!

What are the cons of oil-based primers?

Anything oil-based has a high odor and you will need to have a well-ventilated area and use a respirator. 

Besides that, oil-based products take longer to dry and will slow down production time.

What are the pros of a shellac based primer?

Shellac based primer has great stain-blocking attributes. 

They are better at blocking tannin bleed than oil-based primers are.
The fast dry time of shellac based primers really speeds up production time. 

Shellac based primers do not dry as durable as oil-based primers but are VERY close runner-up as far as durability!

insl-x seal lock plus synthetic shellac primer

What are the cons of a shellac based primer?

Shellac based primers are very thin in consistency and tend to splatter and run a bit if you don’t pay attention to your application.

And just like the oil-based primer it is very high in odor and will require a well-ventilated area and respirator.

What Is An Alternative To Oil And Shellac-Based Primers

Since regulations on VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) are getting increasingly higher each year.

Manufacturers are developing alternatives that not only perform under extreme circumstances but also have less of an odor than your traditional primers.

I tested 3 of our go-to primers against each other and this is what happened:

After I posted the video, I let it sit for a couple more days. 

The Stix and Seal Lock dried about evenly durable and the Coverstain did well too but was still soft and easy to remove with my fingernails on the edges.

Clearly, the Insl-X Seal Lock is the primer I would recommend to reduce the time and still get a solid result. 

The dry time of this product is amazing and allows for a quick turnaround. 

The only Downside is that it smells a bit like Hairspray but the smell doesn’t linger as long as an oil or shellac-based primer.

The great thing about this primer is that even if you are unsure and feel as if you might not have scuffed/sanded the surfaces properly, it will still perform and almost guarantee great ending results!

The runner-up in this test is the Insl-X Stix.

This primer is amazing! We use it to bond to any problem surfaces. I even used it to paint over tile and could not believe that it actually worked and stayed durable for years!

The only downside is that it takes longer to dry and to really ensure that it is solid you will have to let it sit 8-12 hours depending on the temperature and humidity.

Where can I buy these cabinet primers?

You can purchase the Insl-X Stix and the Insl-X Seal Lock ether at your local Benjamin Moore retailer.

You can also search for it on Google. There are multiple sites that offer them.

You can find the Zinsser Coverstain at Home DepotLowes and in some Wal-mart stores.

I personally never suggest that you do not de-grease and clean your surfaces followed by a light scuff before priming.

But let’s be honest here from a diy perspective.

If you decide to paint your kitchen cabinets for the first time and you are unsure if you took the right steps during operation, then this primer will help you get over those fears of failure

In conclusion

The best primer for ANY kitchen cabinets will be an oil-based primer. The downside to that is the odor. But it will guarantee (considering you cleaned and scuffed the surfaces) that your primer will stick and no stains or tannin will bleed through.

If you can’t stand the smell of oil-based primer your second option is Insl-X stix which is a water-borne product but it might not block all stains. In that case, you’ll have to spot prime the stains with an oil-based primer aerosol can.

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8 thoughts on “How To Prime Kitchen Cabinets The Right Way | The 518 Painter”

  1. With new unfinished cabinets the only thing needed is a light sand, prime then paint, correct?

    • Depending on the wood. In most cases, yes but if you are painting them white you want to make sure you do not have a wood that is known for tannin bleed. Then you will have to prime. A general rule I have is that when you paint them white I would prime them with at least one coat of Benjamin Moore’s FreshStart primer to prevent yellowing in the future. Any dark colors your fine just painting them but I would use PPG Breakthrough in that case.

  2. I was told by a Benjamin Moore sales person to use INSL-x stix primer on my 20 year old dark cabinets…after finishing the long step by step prep work, I painted on my first coat of primer. Went back to store to buy two sample white colors and was told by a different sales person that this primer was not a stain blocker even if I used two coats it would still bleed thru …I have read and researched but have not found any information on this, please help asap

    • Absolutely go with Zinsser Coverstain. It is an oil-based primer that will block any stains or tannin bleed.

      • Hi..I watched the vedio for comparing 3 of the primers but I’m still confused..I finished cleaning and sanding and i will start the priming process tomorrow..hope I get you reply before.
        I was going to buy the Zinsser “CoverWhite Oil-Based Primer and Sealer” but two store agents insisted that I get the STIX one and do one coat.
        And I watched a vedio for you using the same one (I’m transferring my brown old cabinet from the 90s to white and want to hide the oak grain).
        I prefer to do one coat of primer..one told me that it will cover the grain and the other said might not.
        Please which one to use.
        What is the difference between the STIX and the oil base Zinsser.
        The price is not an issue for me but the STIX is for $50 and the Zinsser Is for $20!!!
        Can you please help me decide?

        For the zinsser also there is a sprayer that you we can use to spray the hard areas.

        Sorry for the long msg but I’m really confused and I trust your opinion.

        Please help ASAP.

        Thank you

  3. Not fully Is ok..but the most.

    So I watched your best three primers you shose the seal lock and then the Stix over the zinsser.
    And I also watched another vedio you used the stix and the advances BM on oak wood.
    What’s the difference..thanks


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