Zinsser Bin vs 123: A Full Comparison

Priming is an essential part of painting. A base coat of primer ensures the paint will properly adhere to the surface you’re painting and it’s especially important for new drywall or raw wood. Primer also helps to make your paint job more durable as well.

If you’re going to use a primer, you need one that you can trust. Fortunately, Zinsser primers are top quality. Zinsser has a diverse line of primers, each having a defining characteristic. Among these primers are Zinsser BIN and Zinsser 123, which may be Zinsser’s two most popular primers.

In this post, we’ll discuss Zinsser BIN vs 123 primers and the key differences that define each. 


Zinsser BIN is a shellac-based primer that’s very effective in blocking stains and tannins. It’s also great for permanently sealing unwanted odors (such as odors caused by fires, tobacco, urine, etc.).

Zinsser 123 is a versatile water-based primer that can be used indoors and outdoors. It has great resistance against mold and mildew. This makes it great for high-humidity areas such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

zinnser bin vs zinnser 123 chart

Primer ingredients 

Zinsser BIN (available here on Amazon) is a shellac-based primer that is very effective in blocking and sealing stains. Its main ingredients are a shellac-based resin, titanium dioxide for its pigments, and denatured alcohol and water for its solvents. 

It has a relatively high amount of VOCs, with a max of 550 grams per liter. It also has a strong odor when it’s being applied. With that in mind, make sure to wear a protective mask, and work in a well-ventilated area.

In contrast, Zinsser 123 (available here on Amazon) is a versatile water-based primer that can be used indoors and outdoors. Its main ingredients are styrenated acrylic for its resin, titanium dioxide for its pigments, and glycol ether and water for its solvents. It has a relatively low amount of VOCs, capping at only 100 grams per liter. This results in a fairly odorless application.

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

When To Use Zinsser BIN vs Zinsser 123? 

Zinsser BIN is a very effective stain-blocker. It can block stains caused by cigarettes, fire, water, ink, rust, animal waste, and many more. Not only that but it can also permanently seal odors caused by fires, tobacco, urine, etc. If you have a surface that has tons of stains that you want to cover, then Zinsser BIN is the perfect primer for you.

Aside from that, Zinsser BIN is also ideal for wood surfaces that have a high-tannin content (such as mahogany, oak, or cedar). If these tannins are not addressed properly, they can bleed through the paint, wasting an otherwise amazing paint job. Zinsser BIN can seal those tannins so that they won’t ever bleed through your top layer of paint.

Zinsser BIN is excellent for indoor surfaces. It can be used outdoors as well, but it’s generally best for spot-priming stubborn tannin stains on outdoor surfaces. It’s overkill to use Zinsser BIN to prime an entire outdoor surface that doesn’t necessarily need a stain-blocking primer. 

On the other hand, Zinsser 123 is also a great quality primer, and it can be used both indoors and outdoors. However, Zinsser 123 isn’t a specialty primer like Zinsser BIN is. While you would use Zinsser BIN specifically to prevent stain bleedthrough, Zinsser 123 is more of a general-use solution. 

Similar to Zinsser BIN, Zinsser 123 has great resistance to molds and mildew. This means that it’s the ideal primer for high-humidity areas such as bathrooms and laundry rooms.

It’s also a great primer for a sensitive nose. Since it has a very low amount of VOCs, it offers a fairly odorless application. Nevertheless, you should still apply it in a well-ventilated area.

Performance Characteristics 

Of these two primers, Zinsser BIN is the faster-drying option. This primer can dry to the touch in just 20 minutes. After 45 minutes, it should be dry enough for you to be able to recoat it or paint over it. However, keep in mind that these are approximate time estimates: primer can dry faster or slower depending on humidity and air circulation. 

It can adhere well to glossy surfaces even without scuff sanding. Its formula is very effective in blocking stubborn and persistent stains. It also seals bleeding knots and sap streaks. But aside from blocking stains, it can also permanently block all kinds of odors.

Zinsser BIN can be applied even in freezing temperatures. Extreme weather conditions will not greatly affect its drying time. And while it has a strong smell when wet, it’s odorless once it dries. Its dried film is non-toxic and hypo-allergenic, so no worries about triggering an allergic reaction.

Unlike Zinsser BIN which is best used indoors, Zinsser 123 is designed for interior and exterior applications. It can bond to glossy surfaces even without scuff sanding. And it can stick to all surfaces and it sands easily.

Zinsser 123 dries fast, but not as fast as Zinsser BIN. It touch dries in 35 minutes. You should be able to paint over Zinsser 123 after about an hour. 

It’s rust-inhibitive, which makes it a great choice for priming ferrous metal. It also has great resistance against mold and mildew, making it the ideal primer for high-humidity areas.

While it isn’t as effective in blocking stains as Zinsser BIN, it still has stain-blocking properties. And while it doesn’t dry as fast, it still dries in a relatively short amount of time. You can topcoat it with a coat of paint (or another coat of primer) in just an hour.

Of the two, Zinsser 123 has the easier clean-up due to its water-based formula. You can simply clean it up with soap and water. 


While the prices may vary due to several factors (location, retailer, container size), Zinsser BIN is more expensive than Zinsser 123

On Home Depot’s website, a gallon of Zinser BIN costs $74.98. In contrast, a gallon of Zinsser 123 on the same website only costs $29.68. That’s a very significant difference!

To avoid spending more than you need to, consider holding off on purchasing Zinsser BIN unless you absolutely need a heavy-duty stain-blocking primer for your project. 

Even if a gallon of Zinsser BIN and Zinsser 123 cost the same, using Zinsser BIN may still cost you more in the long run. Zinsser BIN is prone to ruining brushes. The primer doesn’t come off easily and it becomes very stiff when dried. You can use mineral spirits to clean your brushes, but it can still be a hassle regardless. 

With Zinsser 123, you can easily clean brushes with only soap and water.

Zinsser BIN vs 123: Which Is Best For You?

Which Zinsser primer is the best for you depends on your project. If you need a heavy-duty stain blocker, Zinsser BIN is the best primer for you. It’s great for blocking any stains and sealing all kinds of odors. It’s on the expensive side though, so it’s not recommended if all you need is a primer that does the bare minimum.

If you need a versatile, general-purpose primer that can be used for interior and exterior applications, then Zinsser 123 is the best primer for you. It’s very affordable yet highly effective.

Because of its high resistance to molds and mildew, it’s the ideal primer for high-humidity areas. For instance, if you need to paint your bathroom or laundry room, Zinsser 123 is a great choice






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