What is the Best Exterior Primer? (2024)

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The powerful formulation of this product does more than just enhance the visual allure of your furniture; it provides substantial protection as well. In my experience, finding a product that strikes the perfect balance between functionality and aesthetic enhancement is quite a challenge, but Ready Seal 512 rises to the occasion.

It stands out as an exceptional choice for anyone looking to both preserve and elevate the appearance of their outdoor furniture. So, in this article, I tested the best exterior primers to find the perfect solution for your project.

Premium Option
Prestige Paints E500-9 Paint and Primer in One
Editor’s Choice
Rust-Oleum 7780730 Stops Rust Clean Metal Brush On Primer
Budget Option
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
Prestige Paints E500-9 Paint and Primer in One
Rust-Oleum 7780730 Stops Rust Clean Metal Brush On Primer
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
• High Hiding Formula
• Made from high-quality acrylic latex
• Finest blend of paint and primer in one
• Low VOC Emissions
• Premium Mildew Resistant Coating
• Excellent Coverage
• Oil-Based Formula
• Heavy-Use Environment Resistant
• Fast Drying Time
• Strong Adhesion Base
• Indoor and Outdoor Application
• Weather and Corrosion Resistant
• Water-based formula
• Quick drying time
• High coverage
• Excellent stain-blocking resistance
• Compatible with all topcoats
• One-coat hide
Premium Option
Prestige Paints E500-9 Paint and Primer in One
Prestige Paints E500-9 Paint and Primer in One
• High Hiding Formula
• Made from high-quality acrylic latex
• Finest blend of paint and primer in one
• Low VOC Emissions
• Premium Mildew Resistant Coating
Editor’s Choice
Rust-Oleum 7780730 Stops Rust Clean Metal Brush On Primer
Rust-Oleum 7780730 Stops Rust Clean Metal Brush On Primer
• Excellent Coverage
• Oil-Based Formula
• Heavy-Use Environment Resistant
• Fast Drying Time
• Strong Adhesion Base
• Indoor and Outdoor Application
• Weather and Corrosion Resistant
Budget Option
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer
• Water-based formula
• Quick drying time
• High coverage
• Excellent stain-blocking resistance
• Compatible with all topcoats
• One-coat hide

Reviews of the Top Exterior Primers

1. Rust-Oleum 7780730 Stops Rust Clean Metal Brush On Prime

This Rust-Oleum 7780730 Primer is definitely worth the investment if you’re looking for a durable, weather-resistant, and corrosion-resistant solution for your surfaces.

The primer bonds really well with other interior and exterior surfaces, including masonry, concrete, wood, and more, ensuring that the top coat will adhere well and last for a long time. It is oil-based, which provides great rust prevention.

In terms of application, the primer goes on smoothly and dries relatively quickly, reaching touch-dry status within 2-4 hours. It also covers up to 22 square feet. The white finish is flat, but it can be easily covered with any topcoat.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

2. Prestige Paints E500-9 Paint and Primer in One

Prestige’s product is an attractive option for those seeking a paint and primer combination. It provides a refined and timeless surface appearance. If you have walls that are peeling and appear dull, this primer is a dependable choice.

This top-of-the-line primer solution is excellent for covering up any unattractive exterior rough surfaces. The one-gallon could cover significantly around 400 sq. ft. of surface area and it has a semi-gloss finish which provides a bright and shiny appearance.

This Prestige Paints E-500-9 Paint and Primer in One also has a 100% acrylic formula, which makes it resistant to fading and peeling, even in harsh weather conditions. Moreover, it is effortless to clean and withstands high humidity exposure.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

3. Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye 1-2-3 All Surface Primer

This exterior primer paint is cheap, but it does not compromise on quality. I use it on concrete, drywall, wood, and metal and it worked exceptionally well, and the paint adhered to the surfaces without any issues.

Another great feature of Zinsser 02004 Bulls Eye is its quick drying time. It dries to the touch within 35 minutes, and you can apply the topcoat after just one hour. Additionally, I cover between 87-112 sq. ft. per quart, which is quite impressive.

In addition to its exceptional features, this product boasts impressive stain-blocking resistance, a rust inhibitor, and antibacterial properties that prevent the growth of mold—a crucial aspect for maintaining a healthy living environment. Its ability to seamlessly block stains ensures that the topcoat not only appears smooth but also uniform, resulting in a professional and polished finish.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

4. KILZ Oil Adhesion Interior and Exterior Primer

The KILZ Oil Adhesion Primer is a primer that has strong adhesion, making it ideal for surfaces that are typically difficult to stick to. The advanced formula of styrenated acrylic polymer creates a sturdy base for topcoats, which can remove the need to sand glossy and dense surfaces.

I found it easy to apply, and it dries to touch within 30 minutes and is ready to recoat in just 60 minutes. I also appreciated the fact that it can be used as a topcoat with either oil-based or water-based paint. With a coverage of around 300 square feet per gallon, this product might initially appear to have a modest yield. 

However, its exceptional opacity and performance negate the necessity for a second coat, ensuring that a single application is sufficient for a thorough and lasting finish. This efficiency not only saves time but also proves to be cost-effective, making the product a smart choice for those looking to achieve stellar results with minimal fuss.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

5. Rust-Oleum 1980502 Painter’s Touch Primer

If you’re in search of a primer that works well on a variety of surfaces, the Rust-Oleum 1980502 may be worth considering. I used it on unglazed ceramic, masonry, plaster, metal, and wood, and it leaves a flat finish that minimizes surface imperfections.

Additionally, it’s suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications. One notable feature of this primer is its low odor, which makes it more pleasant to work with than some other primers. It’s also water-based.

In terms of performance, it provides long-lasting protection and increases the adhesion of the finish coat. I also found that it dries to touch in 30 minutes, allowing for quick project completion.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

6. KILZ 3 Premium Primer, Interior/Exterior

This water-based product is designed to seal surfaces and achieve a uniform finish. The consistency of KILZ 3 Premium Primer is just right, allowing for a smooth finish that hides stains, and old colors, and fills in small imperfections.

What I liked the most was its versatility. It can be used on interior and exterior surfaces. I tried it in brick, masonry, paneling, woodwork, plaster, and drywall. It covered up all of the imperfections seamlessly.

Another feature I appreciated was the mildewcide protection that helps prevent mildew. This is especially important in high-humidity locations. Since it is a low-VOC product, it was safe to use and had no harsh odor.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

7. INSL-X AQ040009A-01 100% Acrylic Water-Based Sealer Primer

I used INSL-X AQ040009A-01 on wood, metal, and previously painted walls and it provided a strong bond and excellent coverage. The product’s stain-blocking primer properties also worked well, as I didn’t notice any bleed-through of stains or discoloration from the previous coating.

Additionally, the low VOC content made it a more eco-friendly option. One gallon of this product covered between 300-400 square feet, which was right on target with what the label indicated.

It was easy to apply with a brush, roller, or sprayer, and based on other reliable exterior primer paint reviews, this product could be used when the ambient temperature was between 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

8. Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 Cover Stain Interior/Exterior Oil Primer

This oil-based primer is perfect for repainting work and priming small projects, remodeling, or new construction. The powerful formula of the Rust-Oleum Zinsser 03504 conceals stains and effectively seals surfaces against nicotine, water, and smoke damage.

And its easy sanding properties further enhance its utility. What impressed me the most about this oil-based primer is it provides enamel undercoating performance. It also delivers flexibility and full penetration on exterior surfaces. The primer gives an extra shine to the product, which is a bonus.

I found the application process effortless, and the primer stuck to the stain-prone surfaces very well. The end result was a smooth, uniform surface that was ready for painting.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

9. KILZ 2 All-Purpose Primer, Interior/Exterior

This water-based primer is incredibly versatile and can be used on a wide range of interior and exterior surfaces, including wood, stucco, drywall, metal, brick, and even in properly prepared glossy surfaces.

The KILZ 2 All-Purpose Primer can block mild to medium stains, including felt marker, ink, grease stains, and water damage. It also effectively hides old colors and creates a mildew-resistant film, which is essential for areas prone to high humidity.

The coverage is impressive like what exterior primer paint reviews say. Each gallon covers roughly 300-400 square feet. Plus, it is compatible with both oil-based paints and latex paints, giving you greater flexibility in your color choices.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

Exterior Primers Buyer’s Guide

Primer Type

Oil-Based

As the name suggests, oil-based paint primers have an oil base or carrier. They are known for their excellent adhesion. They are commonly used for painting wood, especially for exterior surfaces.

Oil-based primers are also durable and resist stains and water damage but may have high VOC (volatile organic compounds) levels and require a mask for safety. They may also have a longer drying time.

Water-Based

Water-based primer, also called acrylic or latex primers, is less toxic and dries faster than oil-based options. It may require more coats because it is not as thick as an oil-based primer.

They are eco-friendly and low in VOC. Water-based primers are also easy to clean up with soap and water.

Shellac

Shellac primers hold a renowned reputation for their unparalleled stain-blocking capabilities. They showcase exceptional proficiency in concealing tannins, masking water stains, and eradicating signs of smoke damage. 

Furthermore, their ease of sanding contributes to a seamless preparation process, creating an optimal base for subsequent painting or staining.

They are not recommended for use on exterior surfaces and they can be a bit harder to clean compared to water-based primers.

Odor

Some wood primers can have a strong odor that can linger for days or even weeks after application.

If you are sensitive to strong smells or have respiratory issues, it is important to choose a low-odor or odorless outdoor paint primer. You can also consider primers that are labeled as “low VOC,” which means they emit fewer harmful chemicals into the air.

Toxicity

When choosing the best exterior primer paint, it is important to consider the toxicity of the product.

Look for primers that are labeled as “non-toxic” or “low toxicity,” especially if you have children or pets who may come into contact with the painted surfaces. Avoid using primers that contain lead or other harmful chemicals.

selecting best exterior paint

Tint and Coverage

Exterior paint primers come in a range of colors, but most are either white or tintable. If you plan to use a dark color for your final coat, it is best to choose a tintable primer that matches the color.

Additionally, consider the coverage of the primer, as some of the best exterior wood primers require multiple coats for full coverage.

Finish

The finish that a primer imparts plays a significant role in dictating the ultimate look of your paint job. The majority of exterior primers on the market exhibit either a flat or satin finish, aligning well with the needs of various outdoor surfaces. 

Nevertheless, for those aspiring to achieve a more lustrous and shiny outcome, opting for a primer specifically labeled as “high gloss” is the way to go. 

This choice ensures that the final appearance aligns with your aesthetic preferences, contributing to a successful and visually appealing projec

Ingredients to Look out for

When choosing a primer, look out for the ingredients listed on the label. Some common ingredients of the best outdoor paint primer include acrylic, latex, and oil-carrier formulations. Choose a primer that is compatible with the type of paint you plan to use.

Additionally, look for primers that contain rust inhibitors or other additives to protect against corrosion and weathering.

Drying and Curing Time

The drying time refers to the period it takes for the primer to dry to the touch, allowing for subsequent layers or sanding. On the other hand, curing is a chemical process where the primer reaches its maximum hardness and durability.

These processes can vary depending on the brand and formulation. Some primers can dry in as little as 30 minutes, while others may take several hours or even days to cure fully.

Also, consider the climate and weather conditions in your area when choosing a primer, as extreme temperatures and humidity can affect the drying and curing time.

Scratch Resistance

When it comes to painting surfaces that endure frequent contact, scratches, or abrasions—like doors or trim—it’s vital to choose an exterior wood primer that’s up to the task. Look for products that boast scratch-resistant properties. 

It’s important to note that not every primer on the market includes special additives designed to create a harder, more durable surface to withstand scratches.

Eco-Friendliness

If you are concerned about the environmental impact of your paint job, choose an eco-friendly exterior primer. Look for the best exterior wood primer that is labeled as “low VOC” or “zero VOC,” which means they emit fewer harmful chemicals into the air.

Additionally, look for primers that are made from sustainable or renewable materials.

Surface

Painted Wood

If you plan to paint over a previously painted surface, choose a primer that is compatible with the existing paint. You can use an exterior oil-based primer as it provides a smoother finish and is better at preventing imperfections like chalking on painted wood.

painting over walls

Bare Wood

If you are painting bare wood, it is important to choose a primer that will seal the surface and prevent moisture from penetrating the wood.

For bare wood, you can use either oil or latex primer. These are designed for use on unfinished wood and contain additives to prevent mildew and rot. But keep in mind that oil-based primers emit VOCs, so be careful when using them.

Stained Porous Wood

If you are painting over a stained, porous wood surface, choose a primer that will prevent the stain from bleeding through. Look for primers that are specifically designed for use on stained porous surfaces and contain stain-blocking additives.

To cover water-based stains, use a latex primer. But for grease or smoke stains, use an oil-based primer or sealer instead.

Glossy Surfaces

For glossy surfaces like glass and plastic, it’s best to apply a bonding primer instead of a glossy one. A bonding primer is specially designed for these glossy surfaces and works with any type of base, as long as it is labeled as a bonder or for a glossy surface.

bonding primer

Metal

Look for primers that are rust-inhibitive, as metal surfaces are prone to rust and corrosion. Avoid using a latex stain-blocking primer on metal surfaces as they can cause more rust formation.

Coating metal can be challenging due to the risk of rust and the smooth finish of the surface. Apply a specialized metal primer instead.

Paint and Primer in One vs. Separate Primer

Paint-and-primer combination products can save time by allowing you to prime and paint in one step, but it’s important to use them only in appropriate situations. Here are the situations when they are appropriate:

On the other hand, here are the circumstances when you should apply a primer and paint:

paint and primer

Choosing the Right Primer Based on Your Project

Moisture-Prone Surfaces and Areas

Areas that are often wet, such as closets, bathrooms, and kitchens, are prone to problems like mildew and peeling.

To prevent moisture from seeping in through walls, it’s a good idea to use a vapor barrier primer. For interior walls, a stain-blocking primer can effectively manage mildew and peeling, and prevent blistering on exterior walls.

Before priming, you should remove mildew by mixing three parts water with one part bleach.

Painted Wood Pieces

Before buying a primer, check first the type of paint that’s already on your painted wood pieces. If the previously painted surfaces are in good shape, you might not need a primer. However, if there are chips or the surface is chalky, using an oil enamel will help restore the original appearance.

After priming, lightly sand the surface to create a smoother finish. It’s best to use an enamel undercoat to ensure a high-quality topcoat. Avoid using water-based and shellac primers, as they tend to become brittle when drying.

Exterior Wood

If you want to protect the exterior surface of the wood from harsh elements, it’s important to use a high-quality outdoor paint primer. For the best results, an acrylic paint primer is recommended. 

To ensure the best outcome, it’s a good idea to use paints and primers with the same brand.

painting exterior

Old Exterior Paint

For exterior paint that has been on the surface for a long time or peeled bare wood, an acrylic or latex paint primer is the most suitable to use. However, if the paint is becoming powdery or chalking, then the entire surface must be redone.

To know if the surface is chalking, wipe the surface with a cloth. If dust is picked up, then it indicates that the surface is chalking

Use pressure washing to remove loose paint and prepare the surface for painting, but keep the nozzle at least 16 inches away from the surface. Also, clean, sand, and scrape peeling areas before starting any work.

Failure to clean the surface properly can result in a poor finish that may need to be redone in two years.

New Drywall

When working with new drywall [1], be careful when applying mud to the seams. If the mud is not treated properly, it can result in blemishes that show through the paint. This is known as flashing and can create an uneven finish.

painting drywall

To avoid this, it’s important to use a drywall sealer or primer before painting. Wait at least two days for the primer to dry, as some primers can bond well with paint applied over them. After priming, it’s best to wait for a few more days before you start painting.

Newly Repaired Areas

If you have repaired walls and plan to paint them, you might notice that certain areas absorb paint differently from the rest of the surface, resulting in visible patches after painting.

To avoid this issue, it’s essential to use a high-quality drywall primer that covers the surface evenly and prevents flashing. If you used plaster during the repair process, I recommend using an oil-based stain-blocking primer for the best results.

By using these primers, you can achieve excellent results and ensure that your painted walls look uniform and attractive.

New and Bare Wood

For new bare wood, it’s important to use an exterior wood primer to seal the surface. This will prevent the wood from absorbing moisture and will hide any imperfections on the surface, resulting in a more uniform look.

I recommend using slow-drying oil-based primers due to their strong adhesion properties and are easier to sand than a water-based exterior wood primer.

painting new barewood

MDF

When working with medium-density fiberboard (MDF), there are types of primer you can use. If you are using MDF that is not pre-primed, an exterior oil-based primer is recommended.

Before applying the primer, ensure that the surface is clean and free of any dirt or dust particles. This will help to create a smooth finish.

It is also important to note that using water-based paint on MDF can cause the material to swell, so it is best to stick with oil-based products for the best results.

Surfaces With Faded or Intense Changes in Color

When painting a surface with a darker shade, it can be challenging to cover up the marks left by the previous surface. This requires more coats, which can be time-consuming and costly. However, a simple solution to this problem is to tint the primer before applying it.

This will reduce the number of coats required to effectively cover the darker marks. It’s important to note that not all primers require tinting, so be sure to check the product label before purchasing.

painting dark walls

FAQ

How many coats of exterior primer should I apply?

In general, it’s a good idea to apply at least two or three coats of primer before painting the exterior of your home. This helps to ensure that the paint will adhere properly and provide a smooth, even finish.

How should I apply exterior primer paint?

To apply exterior primer paint, you can use a sprayer, brush, or roller. It’s important to use even strokes and avoid over-brushing or over-rolling to achieve a smooth and consistent finish.

What paint type should I apply above exterior primer paint?

In general, for exterior surfaces, it is recommended to use high-quality 100% acrylic latex paint. This type of paint is flexible and has a durable protective coating and can withstand exposure to the elements.

Check the product label to ensure the paint is suitable for the surface.

How should I prep the surface before I apply exterior primer?

To prepare for applying exterior primer paint, it’s important to clean and dry the surface first. If there is existing paint, it must be removed using a putty knife or wire brush. If necessary, you can use a mild detergent or degreaser to clean the surface thoroughly.

Are primers long-lasting?

Primers are designed to be durable and long-lasting. They are formulated to adhere well to the surface and create a smooth, even base for the paint to adhere to. Primers also help to improve the paint’s adhesion, durability, and overall performance.

Is an exterior primer essential?

Using exterior primer paint is essential for several reasons. It creates a smooth surface for paint to stick to, sealing porous surfaces to prevent moisture damage, blocks stains, and reduces the amount of paint needed.

It is important for achieving a long-lasting exterior paint job on outdoor surfaces.

What are the different sheens of primer?

There are three types of finishes for paint: Satin, Matte, and Gloss. Each has certain uses. Matte finish is good for different surfaces, while gloss finish is commonly used on front doors, and satin finish is usually found in bathrooms and kitchens.

Recommended Readings:

 

My Top Pick For an Exterior Primer: Rust-Oleum 7780730 Stops Rust Clean Metal Brush On Primer

After testing different options, I chose the Rust-Oleum 7780730 as the best exterior primer paint. This primer stands out as a prime selection for individuals who are dedicated to protecting and extending the life of their exterior surfaces. 

It offers an exceptional blend of attributes including robust resistance to weather and corrosion, unmatched adhesion properties, and excellent prevention against rust.

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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