It is very difficult to find a good primer, particularly when you want to paint an outdoor surface. With the elements of nature being often unpredictable, you have to find the best exterior primer. But considering the multitude of choices, which one would work best for you?
Paint job after paint job, I’ve dealt with exterior primers before. I know that interior surfaces behave differently from the exterior kind. Based on my knowledge, I can help you pick the best primer for every exterior wood project.
This way, you won’t have to go through the trouble yourself.
Best Exterior Primer
- Kilz Premium High Hide Stainblocker Latex Primer – (Best Primer Overall)
- Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer –(Best Budget)
- Kilz General Purpose Exterior Latex Primer – (Best Primer Sealer)
- Kilz Adhesion High-Bonding Primer – (Best for Porous Surfaces)
- Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Brush-On Primer – (Best for Durability)
- INSL-X Prime Lock Plus Primer – (Best for Painted Wood)
- Kilz Klear Stain Blocking Primer – (Best for Easy Cleaning)
- Rust-Oleum Zinsser Cover Stain – (Best for Bare Wood)
- Kilz All-Purpose Exterior Primer – (Best Mildew Resistant Primer)
Product Reviews (Updated List)
We’ve listed seven best exterior primer paint revies you can rely on to complete your project. The features and benefits will guide you to pick the best.
1. Best Primer Overall– Kilz Premium High Hide Stain Blocker
Used in a variety of projects, for interior and exterior surfaces alike, the Kilz Premium High Hide primer is a favorite choice. It has very powerful stain-blocking properties and sports a 300-400 square feet coverage.
This is a water-based primer, which means that its toxicity is very low. It also doesn’t smell as much, meaning that it’s safe to paint without a mask (although using one still won’t hurt).
It is labeled as interior/exterior primer, which means that you may use the remaining primer to finish indoor projects as well. The adhesion is smooth and covers imperfections even on porous wood.
Compared to other primers for exterior surfaces, this primer is mold and mildew resistant. It works great under oil based or latex paint, and you may use it for both color updates or a full color change.
It can also be used on a variety of other surfaces. As an example, you may also proceed to paint the metal handles after you are done with the wood fence.
The formula of this latex primer is fast drying – which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. It’s perfect if you need to finish the project fast, but you also need to work just as quickly. Otherwise, it might leave brush marks.
- Mildew resistant formula
- Acts as both primer and sealer
- Water based formula that dries quickly
- Low toxicity and odor
- Since it dries quickly, you need to work fast
- It may leave brush marks
2. Best Budget Primer-Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye Primer
- Interior/exterior use on new or previously painted drywall, concrete, wood, masonry, metal and glossy or difficult surfaces
- Water-based formula seals uniformly and will stick to surface without sanding
- Dries to the touch in 35 minutes, ready to topcoat in 1 hour and covers up between 87-112 sq. ft. per quart
Compared to the Kilz Premium High Hide primer, which is on the high-range price side, this exterior primer is more affordable. With that in mind, even if the price is low, it does not lack in terms of quality.
Meant for both interior and exterior use, this product is highly versatile. Like the High Hide from Kilz, you may use it on various surface types (i.e. wood, plastic, metal).
Likewise, this water based primer features a rust inhibitor, making it a great option for rust-prone surfaces. The composition of this primer is antibacterial to prevent mold growth.
This exterior latex primer also has stain-blocking properties. Whether you are dealing with water stains, smoke stains, or grease stains, the formula should have good enough coverage.
Quality-wise, this primer for exterior wood is also resistant to blistering and peeling. It has an easy-to-apply formula that leaves fewer brush marks, giving it bonus points compared to the High Hide.
- Resistant to mold and mildew
- Works on multiple types of surfaces
- Low toxicity and odor
- Great stain blocking properties
- If you wish to change the color completely, you may need to apply multiple coats
3. Best Primer Sealer-Kilz General Purpose Latex Primer
- This fast-drying latex primer and sealer is specifically formulated for outdoor use to minimize problems caused by surface texture and porosity differences.
- KILZ General Purpose Primer seals porous surfaces and offers excellent adhesion for most exterior surfaces.
- Use on almost all exterior surfaces including stucco, wood, masonry and brick. Not recommended for flooring, glossy surfaces, or for stainblocking. Use on properly prepared surfaces free of dust, grease, chalk, rust and peeling paint. Mix well before using. Apply with brush, roller, or spray.
Next, we have one more product from Kilz – namely, the Kilz General Purpose primer. Its stain-blocking properties might not be as great as the High Hide primer, but with a second coat, you can still work wonders.
The formula of this exterior primer is quick-drying, curing completely in just about 30 minutes to one hour. Because of this, it is a good option if you want to finish the painting project fast.
The General Purpose of Kilz also works wonders in sealing porous surfaces. Just one gallon of this product can cover around 400 square feet of wood, allowing you to finish even the bigger projects.
Similar to the other products we mentioned above, it has no harsh odors, making it a comfortable primer-sealer to work with.
Unfortunately, Kilz General does not work that great on flooring or glossy surfaces. But since you will likely use it as an exterior wood primer sealer, this should not be a deal breaker.
- Clean formula with no harsh odors
- Superior sealing properties
- Dries within 30 minutes
- Poor stain blocking properties
- Does not adhere well to glossy surfaces
4.Best for Porous Surfaces-Kilz Adhesion Primer
- BONDING PRIMER: A high adhesion primer that bonds to a wide range of difficult to adhere to surfaces. It is formulated for situations where a secure bond is critical and use of a traditional water or oil base primer might be questionnable. It increases the possibilities for paintable surfaces.
- ADVANCED FORMULA: It's advanced styrenated acrylic polymer formula provides a sound anchor for topcoats while reducing or potentially eliminating the need for sanding dense, glossy surfaces. If using as a primer for epoxies, lacquers, products containing xylene or other hot solvents, allow to dry for 24 hours before topcoating and test for compatibility in an inconspicuous area before full coat application.
- MULTIPLE SURFACES: Use on most interior and exterior surfaces where a secure bond is critical. Bonds to tough-to-paint surfaces including Kynar, PVC, Formica, vinyl, glass, tile, glazed brick, chalky paints, glossy finishes, fiberglass and metals. Topcoat with either water or oil-based paint. For use on interior and exterior surfaces.
Porous surfaces are very difficult to deal with, which is why you need to look for wood primers with superior adhesion properties. This is why the Kilz Adhesion High Bonding latex primer is such a great choice for old, porous wood.
This product is highly versatile, as it doubles as both interior/exterior paint primer. It also has a smooth formula that prevents bleeding.
The Kilz Adhesion can cover as much as 300 square feet per gallon. It may not seem like much, but unlike the Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye primer, you will likely not need the second coat.
Like the products mentioned above, the Kilz Adhesion works on interior and exterior surfaces alike. You can also use it on surfaces that have been previously painted.
Bear in mind that if you use a primer on this kind of surface, you would have to sand it as well.
- Adheres perfectly even on highly porous surfaces
- Superior stain blocking primer
- Prevents mold and mildew growth
- You will have to use a brush, as it is not very compatible with spray painting
5. Best for Durability-Rust-Oleum 7780730 Primer
- Weather and corrosion resistant primer bonds tightly to exterior/interior surfaces like wood, metal, concrete, masonry and more to provide excellent adhesion for top coat
- Oil-based formula provides a durable protective coating with excellent rust prevention
- Dries to the touch in 2-4 hours and covers up to 22 sq. ft.
Unlike the other primers mentioned above, the Stops Rust from Rust-Oleum is an oil primer. Many see it as the best exterior primer due to its ability to withstand harsh weather.
Its primary use may be for metal surfaces, but it works just as well for masonry and used surfaces. It can easily cover an oil based stain, and it can be followed up by latex and oil paint coats.
The primer has high adhesion, which means you may use it on previously painted surfaces as well. Moreover, it has been labeled an interior/exterior primer, which means it can tackle all kinds of projects.
Like the Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye, this one also blocks rust and impurities from building on the surface. It also has a nice flat finish, making it a great choice if you wish to maintain a matte look.
- Powerful adhesion to any surface
- Great rust and stain blocking properties
- Beautiful flat finish
- Resistant to harsh weather
- Cannot be used without sanding
6. Best for Painted Wood-INSL-X Prime Lock Plus Primer
- Fast-drying, multi-purpose Alkyd-based coating that primes and seals a variety of substrates and hard to block stains with excellent adhesion
- High hiding Alkyd primer that seals stains from water, smoke damage, and more
- Superior adhesion to glossy surfaces
INSL-X has always been a brand that focused on quality and durability. Like the Stops Rust from Rust-Oleum, the INSL-X Prime Lock is also an oil primer that is perfectly compatible with exterior surfaces.
Despite the fact that oil based primers are said to dry much slower, this one dries in just one hour. It is one of the best exterior wood primers, as it can withstand harsh weather without peeling.
Unlike the Kilz General Purpose latex primer that cannot be applied on a glossy surface, the INSL-X primer has no such problem.
Just make sure that you don’t apply it in temperatures lower than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, as you might have to deal with peeling.
- Adheres properly to glossy and painted surfaces
- Effectively seals water stains
- Fast-drying properties
- High price tag
7. Best for Easy Cleaning– Kilz Klear Stain Blocking Prime
- PRIMER | CLEAR SEALER | BONDING PRIMER: A high-performance clear primer that is formulated to bond and seal porous and chalky interior and exterior surfaces with a tough, flexible, and breathable clear coating. KILZ Klear is an alkali-resistant clear primer and sealer. It helps protect topcoats from "hot" alkali found in masonry, cement and plaster and can be applied to fresh concrete with pH less than 13. Incredibly versatile, KILZ Klear primer can be used to seal porous surfaces and promote adhesion with a transparent flat finish that is particularly effective for same color painting.
- ADVANCED FORMULA: This incredibly versatile styrene acrylic primer can be used to seal porous surfaces and promote adhesion with a transparent flat finish that is particularly effective for same color painting. It is an alkali-resistant clear primer and sealer that helps protect topcoats from "hot" alkali found in masonry, cement and plaster and can be applied to fresh concrete with pH less than 13. Easy soap and water cleanup.
- MULTIPLE SURFACES: Suitable for sealing torn drywall facing paper, dried wallcovering adhesive, ‘hot’ joint compounds, concrete and stucco. Use on interior and exterior surfaces including drywall, plaster, wood, galvanized, aluminum, architectural plastics, masonry and brick. Prepare surfaces free of dust, grease, chalk, rust and peeling paint. Works with oil, alkyd and water-based paints.
Most primers have a color base to them that makes them all the more difficult to clean. Kilz saw this problem in many DIYers, which is why they came up with this clear exterior latex primer.
Unlike all the exterior primers mentioned above, this will not be as noticeable if you miss a few spots. The primer not only prepares the surface for the paint, but it also acts as a sealer.
Plus, once you are done, all you need is some water and soap to clean things up.
The fast drying time makes this the best exterior latex primer for fast projects. In only one hour, you should be able to follow through with the paint.
- Quick-drying properties
- It is very easy to clean
- Efficient bonder and sealer
- The thickness makes it unsuitable for spray painting
8. Best Primer for Bare Wood-Rust-Oleum Zinsser Cover Stain
- Cover stain, QT, Oil based stain killer primer/sealer
- Adds extra shine to your product
- Manufactured in United States
To this day, Zinsser still brings us the best primer paint for indoor and outdoor wood. This primer paint has the ability to cover difficult stains even from bare, porous wood.
Thanks to its smooth, quick-dry formula, this one fills the pores of bare wood – but unlike the Kilz Klear or Kilz Ahesion, it does so at a lower price.
Aside from bare wood, you may use this over latex paint as well. The only downside of this product is that since it has an oil base, it features high VOC levels.
Still, as long as you use a mask while using the paint, this should not be a deal-breaker.
- Adheres on latex paint
- You may easily sand the excess product
- Short drying time
- Smell can be rather strong
9. Best Mildew Resistant Primer-Kilz All-Purpose
- A good primer makes paint stick better to surfaces, makes paint color truer, and lets you use less paint. KILZ 2 blocks mild to medium stains, hides previous colors, and has a mildew resistant film.
- KILZ 2 Latex blocks mild to medium staining from water, grease, ink, pencil and felt marker and is ideal to hide previous colors. It seals porous surfaces and offers strong adhesion for new paint.
- Use this versatile primer-sealer-stainblocker on interior/exterior surfaces including brick, painted metal, properly prepared glossy surfaces, drywall, paneling, stucco, masonry, plaster and wood.
In high humidity areas, exterior surfaces like wood need something to keep the mold and mildew away. Thanks to its mildew-resistant film, the Kilz All-Purpose can make sure the wood withstands harsh weather.
Unlike the Zinsser Cover Stain or the INSL-X Prime Lock, this product does not have a strong odor. It also dries very fast, which means that you can follow up with the paint in as little as 30 minutes.
This product is the perfect choice if you wish to use latex or oil based paints. Plus, it efficiently adheres to any other surface.
As a result, if you also want to prime some metallic handles after priming the wood, you can use the remainder of this can. With only one gallon of this product, you can cover a surface of 300 square feet.
- Dries very fast
- Excellent mildew prevention properties
- Great adhesion that prevents peeling
- It will likely need multiple coats
Types of Primers for Outdoor Use
Primers for exterior surfaces come in a variety of types. These are the ones you’ll usually find:
1. Oil Based Primers
Oil based primers are the most common when it comes to painting wood, particularly the exterior kind. Top-quality oil based primers are among the most durable kinds, but they can have high VOC levels.
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact and indoor air quality, consider using low-VOC or water-based alternatives for a more eco-friendly approach to priming wood surfaces. Also,due to the toxicity, you might need to wear a mask. Moreover, it can also take longer to dry.
All in all, they give great results, and your biggest question may be, ” Can you put latex paint over oil primer?” It’s a valid concern, as compatibility between paint types is crucial for achieving a successful and long-lasting paint job.
2. Water Based Primer
Water based primer (also referred to as acrylic primer or latex-based) is slightly less toxic, and dries much faster compared to oil based paints and primers.
However, since it’s not as thick, you might need to apply more than one coat.
Shellac primers are highly recommended for exterior projects and porous surfaces that are difficult to deal with. Shellac over latex paint can be an excellent choice when switching from water-based latex paint to oil-based paint.
The only drawback is that they are slightly more difficult to clean.
- Gloss: The option with the most shine and can enhance gloss paint look.
- Matte: Flat finish with the least amount of shine.
- Satin: Somewhere in the middle of gloss and matte primer.
All three types of primers mentioned above come in different finishes:
Depending on the case, all of these types above can boil down to a primer and paint in one. This type of primer also doubles as paint, as it is a combination of both.
With that in mind, most professionals recommend that if you have the time, you should go for paint and primer separately.
How to Choose the Right Product
There are several aspects that you might want to consider when choosing the best exterior primer. Here is what you should look for in a primer for exterior use.
1. Low Odor
Painting projects can last for several hours at a time. The last thing you want is a strong-smelling primer that can put you off your game.
Look for the primers that have low-odor properties. Since these primers do not have as many chemicals, you won’t have to concern yourself with too strong odors.
Every exterior primer will have a certain degree of toxicity. However, higher toxicity levels are not good for you, especially if you spend a lot of time painting.
This is why you should go for something that is labeled as non-toxic. These exterior primers have fewer chemicals in them, so they won’t be too dangerous for someone coming in contact with them.
Each can of exterior primer will have specific coverage, depending on how much product is in there. Usually, you should be able to see it on the label.
Most primers will have a 300-400 square feet coverage, but exceptions may happen. Calculate based on the surface how much primer you will need to buy.
If you aren’t completely sure, you might want to buy an extra can. Buying too much is a better alternative than not having enough primer for your project.
The quality of the primer will not be influenced by its finish. It also won’t have anything to do with the lifespan of the paint and primer.
It will, however, influence the final look. If you want to obtain glossy surfaces, then you might want to get a primer with a glossy finish. The same thing applies for matte finishes.
The finish you choose does not matter when it comes to resistance or application, so choose the one that you like.
5. Drying Time
Some primers can take 10 to 30 minutes in order to dry. Others may take one hour or 24 hours. Depending on their formula, each primer will have a different drying time. And this takes us to the next point.
6.The Time You Have
This and the drying time usually go hand in hand. If you do not have a lot of time on your hand, choose a quick drying water based primer.
However, if you have the time, use an oil-based primer.
The latter usually has a longer drying time. A paint primer may also allow you to skip a step, but it may lack the quality.
7. Scratch Resistant
The more scratch-resistant the primer is, the more the paint will also survive. While scratch resistance is not mandatory in an interior and exterior primer, it would not hurt to have it either. You should also look for rust resistance.
8. Is It Eco-Friendly?
This may not be an issue for many primer buyers. However, if you want to take care of the environment, go for a clean primer. Usually, the label should specify whether it is quick-drying or not.
9. Can It Be Used Indoors?
Most primers can have both indoor and outdoor use. If you have an indoor project alongside your outdoor one as well, check that the label says “interior/exterior” so that you can use it for both.
Considerations for Exterior Primer Paint Surfaces
Depending on the surface you are planning to do the paint job on, there are several considerations that you might want to keep in mind:
Bare Wood – Exterior Wood
If you are planning to prime paint bare wood, then you might want to use latex primer or an oil based primer. If the wood surface has never been painted before, these primers will allow for it to adhere better to the surface. The wood durability will also increase this way.
Painted Wood – Exterior Paint
Painted wood can get chalky if you use the wrong primer. The best route here would be to use an oil based primer, as it should provide a smooth finish. Plus, due to its denser formula, it’s much more efficient at preventing imperfections.
Some surfaces are more stain prone compared to others. This is why you might want to go for a stain-blocking primer if you have this problem.
If you want to cover water-based stains, then you might want to go for a latex primer. With that said, if the stains are from grease or smoke, then you might want to go for an oil based primer sealer instead.
Glossy primers are rather tricky, which is why you may want to go for a bonding primer. This type of primer was specifically made for glossy surfaces, as well as glass and plastic.
The base does not matter, as long as it specifies it’s a bonder as well.
Exterior Stainable Wood
Exterior sustainable wood, just like bare wood, needs to be handled carefully. This is why you might want to go for an oil based primer, or perhaps a shellac primer.
The Bottom Line
The Kilz High Hide Stain Blocker is a definite winner here for the best exterior primer, but if you want a similar option but on a budget, you may get the same benefits from the Rust-Oleum Zinsser Bulls Eye.
All the products are very efficient at what they do, but those two seem to be the most popular options.
Some people might look for mildew resistance in a good primer, whereas others just want to finish the paint job faster. This is why it is very important to look through all the features.
Hopefully, our guide helped you find a good exterior wood primer for the surface that you need. Happy shopping!