Zinsser vs Kilz Primer: Which One is Better?

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Paint primers ‘prime’ or prepare surfaces before paint application. Without a good primer, you cannot achieve a smooth and durable finish, especially on porous surfaces. Not knowing the best brand to use can lead you to repeat the process and spend more money. 

As a professional woodworker, I recently pitted two top names in this Kilz vs Zinsser primer comparison to assess which is my best option.

What are Kilz Primers?

The Kilz paint primer brand was created by Masterchem Industries LLC, which has been in the paint manufacturing business since 1954. The company was later acquired by Masco Corporation in 2000. 

Kilz Primer

What are Kilz Primers Used For?

Kilz primer is known for its outstanding opacity which is perfect for covering up tough stains. It has a thinner consistency so it’s easier to stir and apply, and it dries fast. You can use oil-based paints with Kilz.

Best for Color Switch

Kilz primer is recommended if you want to change the color of your project. It’s opaque enough to prevent the colors underneath it from showing through the new paint color. 

Less Odor and Stains

I find Kilz primer to be outstanding when it comes to blocking stains from graffiti, tannin bleed, smoke, water, and fire. It also does a great job of sealing odors from pets, smoke, and any food residue that might have been left on the surface.

Seeps into Wood

Kilz Original is an oil-based primer that is thin in consistency letting it seep into wood, and allows the later coat of paint to bind better with the wood’s porous surface. 

air spraying Kilz Primer on wood

Recommended for Layers of Paint

The original Kilz primer allows two coats of paint or more to be applied without the fear of them peeling off. 

What are Zinsser Primers?

Zinsser was founded by William Zinsser in 1849 and claims to be the first to develop the shellac-based paint primer. Zinsser products are currently manufactured and marketed by Rust-Oleum. It is considered the most popular among water-based primers.

What are Zinsser Primers Used For?

Because of its thicker consistency, I’ve found that Zinsser primers require fewer coats, and I usually don’t need to do much sanding to achieve an even coat. They’ve proven to be especially effective for interior surfaces and spot priming in my experience.

Keeping Mold Growth Under Control

Zinsser’s primer can prevent mold and mildew. Zinsser does have a ‘Mold Killing Primer’ variant that you can use to kill mold and mildew that may have survived surface cleaning  – perfect for restoration work. 

Zinsser Primer

Pore Sealing

Due to its thick consistency, Zinsser primer seals pores and even out minor cracks and holes.

Avoiding Bleed Through

Zinsser primer seals off existing stains from oil, water damage, graffiti, and tannin bleeds. Zinsser’s Bulls Eye provides good coverage for most situations but if that does not work, you can try their B-I-N® Shellac-Base Primer, for tougher stains and even unpleasant odors.

Primer for New Furniture

I’ve found Zinsser primer to be particularly impressive when it comes to fresh woodwork and furniture. It’s excellent at covering up nail holes, scratches, hairline cracks, and any measurement marks on the wood. Moreover, it effectively seals off tannin bleeds and adheres well to most surfaces, making it my top choice for priming furniture.

Comparing Kilz and Zinsser Paint Primers


Let’s start with the first aspect in our primer comparison: the odor. I’ve noticed that Kilz Original has that unmistakable foul odor because it’s an oil-based primer. On the other hand, Zinsser Bulls Eye, being a water-based primer, has a less pronounced odor, but it can still be strong enough to make you feel dizzy.

man painting a wall

Therefore, wear protective gear as always, and try to make your work area as well-ventilated as possible.

Consistency and Application

Zinsser’s thick consistency makes it hard to stir and spread, especially on tight corners. On the plus side, the resulting coat will be hard-wearing, and you probably won’t need to reapply.

On the other hand, Kilz primer is thin, and may not provide great coverage, and you probably have to apply more coats. It is easy to stir and spread though, so it is generally considered more beginner-friendly.


On most woodwork, the original Kilz primer allowed more bleed-through. This can either be good or bad, depending on your project. Expect bleed-throughs on woods like mahogany, softwoods, and cherry, and prepare accordingly. Zinsser primer provides better coverage and less likelihood of bleed-throughs.

pouring paint primer


Zinsser primer exhibits improved adhesion on tougher surfaces compared to Kilz primer, ensuring durable coatings all the time. As long as the surface is clean, Zinsser will stick to it even without sanding

Mold Resistance

Both Zinsser and Kilz have options for mold resistance. If I’m dealing with surfaces that were previously infested with mold, each brand has its own specialized water-based primer designed to combat molds. Zinsser offers the Zinsser Mold Killing Primer, while Kilz has the Kilz Mold & Mildew Primer.

Rust Inhibition

Having the quality to avoid rust buildup is a definite win for Zinsser primers against Kilz’s lack thereof.

Dry Time

Both generic primers need about an hour of dry time before painting over, but due to the Zinsser primer requiring less coat application than Kilz’, we can say Zinsser takes the dry time category. 

(For a better understanding, know more about the drying times of primer next!)

Zinsser Primer on wooden wall


Both products offer extensive varieties of primers for every situation and surface. Both Zinsser and Kilz work with most topcoats including oil-based paint, water-based paint, and latex paint.


As of this writing, Kilz Original ranges from $13-16 per quart, while Zinsser Bulls Eye costs around $14-$17. They’re pretty much equal in this category, due to Kilz requiring more application, and Zinsser possibly draining the bucket more per coat. 

How to Choose a Primer Type?

The surface and situation of your project are going to dictate which type of primer you should use.

Latex primers are great for most purposes. They are water-based, easy to clean, and can cover minor stains from heat, smoke and crayons on the exterior or interior walls. Examples of latex primers are Zinsser Bulls Eye and Kilz Premium 2 & 3.

spray painting wall with white paint primer

Oil-based primers like Kilz Original seep into wood well, so they are better suited for exterior woodwork. Previously, Kilz Original was said to be not suited for drywall or plaster, but upon checking, its formula must have been updated to address these surfaces. If you want to protect the exterior woodwork much better, consider painting latex over this oil-based primer.

Lastly, we have shellac-based primers. They are good for covering tougher stains from severe smoke or water damage. Shellac primers give off more fumes and require denatured alcohol for thinning. It is not advisable to use a foam roller on shellac primers due to its compounds.

Which is the Best Paint Primer For You?

Kilz or Zinsser Primer for Cabinets

Both primers from Zinsser and Kilz are great for cabinets, although Zinsser provides better sealing, particularly against tannin bleed [1], and does not require sanding or multiple coats. 

Kilz or Zinsser Primer for Water Stains

Zinsser primer provides better coverage for stains. For tougher stains, especially those stains covered with another stain, try the Kilz Premium High-Hide Stain Blocking Interior Primer, or the Zinsser BIN Shellac Primer. Note that shellac-based primers are not recommended for exterior surfaces, although Zinsser B-I-N’s description says otherwise.

Zinsser B.I.N

Kilz or Zinsser Primer for Bathroom Use

Zinsser provides mold and mildew resistance, better coverage for stains, and provides better adhesion for paint. This makes it the superior choice for surfaces in the bathroom.

Can Primers Be Left Unpainted or Serve as a Final Coat?

Primers are meant to be painted over, and leaving them unpainted may post the risk of dirt adhering, making repaints difficult. A good oil-based primer on exterior wood may be okay, but consider applying a final coat over your primer coat just to be safe.

FAQ on Kilz Primer

Which Type of Kilz Primer is Right For You?

You can’t go wrong with the Kilz Premium 2 for most surfaces and the Kilz Restoration (formerly Kilz Max) for heavy-duty stains. There are also specialized primers for unique surfaces such as the Kilz PVA Drywall Primer, and the Kilz Concrete & Masonry Bonding Primer.

How Many Coats of Kilz Primer are Recommended?

You can apply Kilz Original primer two to five times, because of its thinner consistency. 

Kilz and Zinsser primers lined up

FAQ on Zinsser Primer

Which Zinsser Primer Should I Use?

You should use Zinsser Bulls Eye 1 -2-3 ® Water-Base Primer or Primer Plus. Just like Kilz, they have different primers for all painting jobs. Notable variants are the Zinsser Bondz Maximum Adhesion Primer and the Zinsser Metal Primer for rusty surfaces.

For more options, you may want to pick among these top-quality spray paint primers for wood!

How Many Coats of Zinsser Primer are Recommended?

Zinsser Primer Coat is recommended to be applied once. Due to the thicker consistency of the Zinsser primer, it is recommended to apply it only once, or risk the primer not sticking or the surface becoming thicker than intended.

See Also: Eggshell vs Satin Paint Comparison 


In our Zinsser vs Kilz primer comparison, Zinsser came on top in terms of odor, bleed-through prevention, and adhesion. Since Kilz Original is oil-based and won’t paint on galvanized metal surfaces, Zinsser is more of the multi-purpose paint primer between the two. 

However, Kilz primer in the Original variant is better for interior exterior woodwork and more beginner-friendly due to its thin consistency being more forgiving of errors. 

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.
Robert Johnson

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