Are you unsure when to use oil-based primer? You’re not alone.

Many people struggle with this question, wondering if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. In this blog post, we’ll clear up any confusion and help you determine when to use oil-base primer for your next project.

Primer is a necessary step in painting projects, but there are different types of primers available on the market. Oil-based primer is one of those types, and it has unique benefits that set it apart from other primers.

Let’s take a closer look at when and why you should use an oil-based primer and what makes it so special.

When to Use Oil-Based Primer?

Use oil-based primer when painting interior and exterior unfinished or bare wood. This is because primers seal the wood’s porous surface. Apply primers to prevent the tannins from bleeding through the surface and ruining the paint. As such, the paint you use over the primer adheres well.

Why Use an Oil-Based Primer?

Oil-based primers have been around for a long time. In fact, they were the standard primers in the industry, and most people would apply a coat of oil-based primer before painting. But what makes them so great?

Many oil-based primers cover stains, ensuring they do not show through after applying your paint. This primer can easily cover water, nicotine, and ink stains. 

On top of that, they work amazingly with latex paints and oil paints. Thus, you can apply them on different masonry surfaces and still look great. 

Surfaces like galvanized metals, wood, or painted surfaces can be used with oil-based primers. 

Another thing that makes oil-based primers stand out is that they act as sealants for the wood’s porous surface. After applying a finish coat on wood, you can apply oil-based paint, knowing that it will cover the surface much better and stick for a longer period.  This makes an oil-based primer the best primer for bare wood as it can take rough handling.

Therefore, preventing minor repairs such as cracking, blistering, or peeling of the oil-based paint.

Furthermore, oil-based primers can stop tannins – which are released by wood – to start bleeding through the oil-based paint surface and ruining the aspect. This happens because of their sealing properties. 

Oil-Based Primers vs. Water-Based Primers – What’s the Difference?

A common question before buying a primer is the difference between a water-based primer and an oil-based one. 

Well, it’s easy – you should use water-based primer for latex, acrylic, and oil-based paints when applying enamel paints. 

Also, both primers are fit for application on different porous surfaces. For instance, water-based primer works best for ceilings, interior walls, or exterior surfaces where you are starting a new project. 

At the same time, oil-based primers can do better on your windows, doors, wood, or metal.

When to Use Oil-Based Primer the Right Way?

When to Use Oil-Based Primer

Oil-based primers and water-based primers are both great for different purposes. However, for oil-based primers, it is important to know when to use them. 

Here are situations you can use oil-based primers:

1. When You Need to Cover Old Stains

Stains and smells are unpleasant, especially when cleaning seems to have little results. The last thing you want in your house is a nasty smell and a dirty surface despite thorough cleaning.  

Oil-based primers are the right choice for this reason. They block stains and odor. 

For instance, all stains such as smoke stains, nicotine, ink, rust, or wood tannins can be covered with ease if you apply oil primer. Meanwhile, water-based paint odors will also be blocked and keep your home nice and fresh. 

2. When You Want to Paint Wood or Metal

Wood surfaces are porous. And certain types of wood will release tannins, which can easily bleed through the paint and ruin its aspect. 

Oil-based primers act as sealants – they can seal the porous wall surface of the wood while blocking any tannin stains. 

As for metal, its adhesion is why you should use oil-based primers. On the other hand, water-based primers are harmful to metal because of the water in their composition. In addition, water-based paint causes the surface to rust, so everything, including the paint, is damaged after a while. 

Oil-based paints don’t have water in their composition, making them ideal for application on metal. 

3. When Using Enamel Paint

The paint you want to apply over the primer is equally important. Not all oil-based paints will work with every type of primer, and it can ruin your work if you combine the wrong products. 

An oil primer is the best choice when using oil-based paint, such as enamel. Avoid using it if your paint is water-based. 

4. When You’re Not in a Rush

If you plan to finish your work fast, then an oil primer is not the best. Compared to water-based primers, oil ones dry very slowly. Unfortunately, you will have to wait a while before applying the new paint coat. 

In some instances, you have no choice but to apply this primer if the surface needs it, even though you`ll spend some time waiting for it to dry, depending on how many coats you want. 

The Drawback of Using Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers release many volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs

While they might not be that bad in small concentrations, they can affect you if you`re exposed to them for too long and when they`re concentrated.  

So, if you must use oil-based primers, ensure the working environment is well ventilated. 

How to Apply Oil-Based Primer – Step-by-Step Process

Once you decide to apply oil-based primer, you must follow the right steps. Here is what you will have to do:

Keep Stirring

Take a traditional wooden stir stick and keep stirring until the oil and pigment are mixed. The two compounds tend to separate when the primer sits on the shelf for a very long time.

Keep stirring and stir for longer, even when the two are mixed. It’s also useful to keep the stick nearby so you can mix even while using the primer.

Use a New Container

Many people refrain from doing this, but it’s important to use a new container and pour the primer into it. Take a plastic or a large yogurt cup and pour only a small amount inside, as this will be your working container from now on.

Try putting the lid back on the original paint can if possible. Usually, if you keep working from the paint can, small, completely dried primer blobs will end up in the can from the brush and affect the mixture.

This can lead to brush marks or paint adhesion to your woodwork, so it is best to prevent this.

Use Mineral Spirits

Use mineral spirits to thin the primer if it gets too thick. This way, you should be able to apply it smoothly. Add them little by little, as this will slowly thin the solution.

You must be able to apply the primer without brush drag marks. Also, ensure you don’t make it too thin, as it can drip and ruin your work.

Use a Good Brush

Purchasing a high-quality bristle brush is important for your successful paint job, so don’t go with something cheap and bad.

Go to your local hardware shop and look for some top-quality brand brushes that will allow you to spread the oil-based primer properly.

Don’t Go Back

Ideally, you shouldn’t use your brush on any surface left to dry for more than one minute. Instead, you should only keep moving forward.

Oil-based primer tends to stick way faster than latex primer, and because it’s so sticky, your brush can leave marks across the painted surface as it is drying. The only thing you can do in this regard is sand the surface to make it smoother.

Sand After Drying

When the surface is done drying, you should start sanding gently. This is necessary if any imperfections bother you.

Make sure to only sand enough to eliminate the imperfections and not get too harsh. In case you need extra help, call a professional painter.

What Are the Best Oil-Based Primers?

There are many great oil paint primers, but a few of them shine. One of the best brands when it comes to oil-based primers is Zinsser, and it’s very popular among painters.

While comparing Zinsser primer vs kilz, Zinsser is an especially amazing product if you want to paint old wood with stains on the surface. Besides, you can even use it outdoors and it will maintain its quality. It is also easy to sand.

Another great product you can use is Kilz Original. Some people also like to use Pro Block as a primer, so if you find it in your local shops, you should try it. Its benefit is that it dries faster.

Painting with Oil-Based Primer

It’s crucial to ensure you are using the right primer, whether you are painting interior trim, spindles, cabinets, or any other wooden surface.

Ideally, you should consider oil-based primer instead of latex paint. However, latex primer may not be the greatest option for wood, especially if the wood is stained.

Latex Primer

The problem with latex paint primer is that it doesn’t seal wood properly. So, after painting over the entire surface, the paint may end up discoloring due to natural wood oil.

Tannin bleed is a big issue when painting wood, which is why you should never paint a uniform surface without priming first. You will start noticing oily stains, particularly if you use white paint on cherry, pine, or oak wood.

Oil-Based Primer

Oil paint primer is much better for priming unpainted wood compared to latex paint primer. Sure, it may smell very bad and be quite messy, but in the end, it works better when covering stains and sealing the wood.

It can act as a sealant without raising the grain. This way, there will be no tannin bleed affecting your paint job. The old paint gloss can also be enhanced. When you paint over gloss paint, oil paint primer provides a solid foundation for achieving a professional finish.


Can you paint over oil-based primer?

You can paint over oil-based primer, but you should first allow it some time to dry. Find out why oil paints take longer to dry compared to other primers, with some taking as long as 8 hours to become dry. Don’t paint earlier than that, or risk ruining your painting project for good.

Can you use latex paint over an oil-based primer?

Yes, you can paint latex over oil primer, but you must first allow the surface to be fully dry. Once it’s dry, you can apply the existing paint without problems, as the oil-based primer doesn’t seem to be any natural characteristic that will prevent latex paint from sticking.

Meanwhile, oil-based paint doesn’t work over latex paint, so you must ensure you don’t confuse the two.

How to get paint primer off skin?

To remove paint primer from your skin, you can use a mixture of soap and warm water, rubbing alcohol, vinegar, or a commercial paint remover. Apply the solution to the affected area and gently scrub with a cloth or brush. Rinse thoroughly with water and repeat if necessary. Wear gloves in the future to prevent this problem.

So, What’s the Next Step?

Now that you’ve learned when to use oil-based primer, it’s time to start looking for the right products. 

Carefully read the labels and specifications, making sure you use the proper combinations of best primers and paints on the intended surface. 

Once you know how to choose the right primer, you’ll be more confident working on your projects. For more inspiration, check out the best primer for exterior wood reviews.

Leave a Comment