Which Zinsser Primer to Use? A Side-by-side Comparison

When painting on wood or any other surface, priming is usually necessary for the best results. This is especially true for untreated wood or new drywall. A coat or two of primer paint is key to make sure that the paint adheres well to the surface.

It’s important that you choose the right primer for the job. And when it comes to primers, you can’t go wrong with Zinsser primers.

However, with so many types of Zinsser primers available, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for you. 

In this post, let’s find out which Zinsser Primer to use depending on the situation.

Which Zinsser Primer To Use?

zinnser chart

Choosing the right primer for your painting project depends on the surface you are painting. For example, if you just need a primer for the walls of a room, you can use Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3. Alternatively, if you’re working on a high-tannin wood surface, Zinsser B-I-N, a shellac-based primer, would be your best choice to prevent bleed-through.

The following are some of Zinsser’s most popular products:

Related: Best Nails for Furniture

Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Based Primer 

If you need a really effective stain-blocking primer, then Zinsser B-I-N (available here on Amazon) is your best choice. 

It can adhere to numerous surfaces but it is mainly used for wood surfaces. As a stain-blocker, it can kill most stains (and the smells that come from them). It’s effective in blocking water, nicotine, ink, rust, marker, and smoke stains. It can also permanently seal odors caused by fires.

This primer is ideal for high-tannin wood surfaces such as mahogany or cedar. Specialty primers like these block those tannins from bleeding through.

Note that Zinsser B-I-N can dry and harden in your brush which can essentially ruin it. It’s important to clean your brush right away after you use the primer. 

Like many powerful primers, Zinsser B-I-N is prone to drying extremely firmly and ruining brushes if left on for too long. Cleaning your brushes immediately after use is key. To clean the brush, you need to use acetone, denatured alcohol, or ammoniated detergent. Alternatively, you can use a cheap and disposable brush and throw it away when finished. 

Zinsser B-I-N is overall a great primer for any type of project, but it’s best used on surfaces where you specifically need an effective stain-blocking primer.

Price: $82.60/gallon

Related: Can Primer Be Used As Paint?

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Water-Based Primer

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 (available here on Amazon) is a multi-purpose primer that can adhere to a wide variety of surfaces such as

  • Drywall
  • Plaster
  • Wood
  • Metal
  • Ceramic tile
  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
  • Plastic
  • Concrete
  • Stucco
  • Brick

When applied over clean ferrous metal (e.g. iron, steel), it can prevent rust formation. It also has great resistance against mold and mildew, which makes it great for high-humidity areas such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

While Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 has stain-blocking properties, it isn’t as effective as Zinsser B-I-N. That said, if the surface you’re priming doesn’t have severe stains or wood high in tannin content, Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 will do its job just fine.

Compared to the other two popular Zinsser primers, Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 is the safest for your health and the environment. It releases low VOCs, which makes it ideal for indoor application. It also has easy cleanup: a bit of soap and water can wash it away. 

Price: $32.98/gallon

Zinsser Cover-Stain Oil-Base Primer

Zinsser Cover-Stain works well both indoors and outdoors. However, if you’re going to use it indoors, make sure that your work area is well-ventilated since this primer gives off a strong odor.

Zinsser Cover-Stain, like other oil-based primers, is a bit hardier than Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 and other water-based primers. That being said, it’s great to use on furniture, trim, doors, and other high-traffic surfaces. Water-based primers on the other hand are more suitable for walls and ceilings. 

Zinsser Cover-Stain can stick to all kinds of surfaces. It’s especially recommended for wood surfaces since it can seal porous surfaces. It also doesn’t cause swelling in wood, unlike Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 under some circumstances.

You’d find that Zinsser Cover-Stain is easier to work with than Zinsser B-I-N. It doesn’t wreck your paintbrushes as Zinsser B-I-N can. It has better coverage too, which makes it the better choice for large areas. And it’s much cheaper, being just above half the price of Zinsser B-I-N.

Of the three Zinsser primers mentioned so far, Zinsser Cover-Stain takes the longest to dry. That said, properly plan your day if you want to prime and paint on the same day. It’s also the thickest, so you sometimes might have to thin it with mineral spirits to make it easier to work with.

Price: $34.98/gallon

Specialty Zinsser Primers

Rust-Oleum also offers specialty Zinsser primers for specific purposes.

Zinsser Peel Stock Triple Thick

Zinsser Peel Stock Triple Thick is a water-based primer specifically designed to penetrate and stop previous coatings from peeling. This specialty primer is three times thicker than regular primers when properly applied. It fills and seals cracked, peeling, and weathered surfaces to create a smoother, more uniform surface for painting or finishing.

Note that this primer requires specific application conditions. You should only use Zinsser Peel Stock Triple Thick when the air and surface temperatures are between 40-90ºF (4-32ºC). Also, relative humidity should not go beyond 85%.

Price: $52.98/gallon

Zinsser Mold Killing Primer

If you need a primer or coating that can kill existing molds, mildew, fungi, moss, odor-causing bacteria, and other fungal organisms, then Zinsser Mold Killing Primer is the one for you. It’s a water-based primer that also acts as an EPA-registered fungicidal protective coating. Aside from killing mold, it also prevents the future growth of mold. 

You can use it on non-porous interior and exterior surfaces. That said, it’s not recommended for new or unpainted aluminum, metal, or vinyl siding.

Price: $48.98/gallon

Zinsser Odor Killing Primer 

Want to paint a surface but it has this detestable smell? Zinsser Odor Killing Primer will eliminate that nasty smell for you. It’s a water-based primer that’s designed to kill existing odors on interior surfaces. It can eliminate difficult existing odors such as smell from animal urine, cigarette smoke, fire and smoke damage, and decay.

Price: $46.98/gallon

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Deep Tint And Plus

Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Deep Tint is a popular version of Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 that has cost-saving benefits. Tinting is the process of mixing a bit of the latex you plan to use into the primer. This essentially changes the hue of the primer so that it more closely matches the color of your paint. By tinting your primer, you can often get away with applying fewer coats of paint while still achieving the full color of the paint.

Aside from the deep tinting benefits of Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Deep Tint, this product also comes with the same benefits as regular Zinsser Bulls Eye primer. 

Price: $41.61/gallon

Zinsser Spray Paints

Almost all Zinsser primers also come in spray paint form. Although primer in spray form tends to be a bit more expensive, spray paint primer is much more convenient in many cases. Spray paints can be quicker and easier to evenly apply than regular canned primer paint. They’re also useful for nooks and surfaces that a paintbrush can’t reach.

However, for priming large surfaces such as walls liquid primer is the more practical choice. 













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