When to Use Oil-Based Primer and How It Can Help

Why you need to use an oil based primer
When to Use Oil-Based Prime Image

If you clicked on this post, you most likely have a question on your mind: when to use oil-based primer? Many individuals who want to start their DIY projects wonder the same thing, as they want everything to be perfect. 

Well, as an expert in primers and paints for years, I can tell you what you want to know about oil-based primers. 

Oil primers are great as long as you apply them on the right surfaces and use the right paints over them. There are also some safety concerns to consider before you use an oil-based primer.

In this article, I will explain when to use oil-based primer and why it’s important to use it the right way. 

When to Use Oil-Based Primer?

Use oil-based primer when painting bare wood, whether it’s interior or exterior 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?

A lot of oil-based primers cover stains making sure they do not show through after applying your paint. Water, nicotine, and ink stains can easily be covered with this primer. 

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

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

Another thing that makes oil-based primers so appreciated is the fact that they act as sealants for the wood’s porous surface. After applying a coat on wood, you can apply 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, cracking, blistering, or peeling of the paint is much slower and actually prevented.

Furthermore, oil-based primers can stop tannins – which are released by wood – to start bleeding through the 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 people pose before they buy a primer is the difference between a water-based and an oil-based one. 

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

Also, both primers are fit for application on different surfaces. For instance, water-based primers work best for ceilings, walls, or 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. 

Wrong application could cost you more, as the paint will start peeling or cracking, and you may have to redo the work very soon.

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, nicotine, ink, rust, or wood tannins can be covered with ease if you apply oil-based primer. Meanwhile, water-based 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 surface of the wood while blocking any tannin stains. 

As for metal, its adhesion is the reason you should use oil-based primers. Water-based primers are harmful to metal because of the water in their composition. They cause the surface to rust, so everything, including the paint, is damaged after a while. 

Oil-based primers 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 paints will work with every type of primer, and it can ruin your work if you combine the wrong products. 

An oil-based primer is the best choice when you`re planning to use 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-based primer is not the best idea. Compared to water-based primers, oil ones dry very slowly. Meaning you will have to wait for a while before applying the paint coat. 

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

The Drawback of Using Oil-Based Primers

Oil-based primers release a lot of 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, make sure the working environment is well ventilated. 

How to Apply Oil Based Primer – Step by Step Process

Once you decide on applying oil-based primer, you need to 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 the pigment get mixed. When the primer sits on the shelf for a very long time, the two compounds tend to separate. 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 very important to use a new container and pour the primer into it. Take a plastic cup 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, there will be small, dried primer blobs that will end up in the can from the brush and will affect the mixture. This can lead to drag marks or will adhere 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 either, as it can drip and ruin your work.

Use a Good Brush

Purchasing a high-quality bristle brush is very important for your project, 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 that was left to dry for more than one minute. You should only keep moving forward. Oil-based primer tends to stick way faster compared to latex primer, and because it’s so sticky, your brush can leave marks across the 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 there are any imperfections that bother you. Make sure to only sand enough to get rid of the imperfections and not get too harsh.

What Are the Best Oil-Based Primers?

There are many great oil-based 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.

The Zinsser Cover Stain is an especially amazing product, particularly if you want to paint old wood that has 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 always crucial to make sure you are using the right primer, no matter if you are painting trim, spindles, cabinets, or any other wooden surface. Ideally, you should consider oil-based primer instead of latex. Latex primer may not be the greatest option for wood, especially if the wood is stained.

  • Latex Primer: The problem with latex primer is that it doesn’t seal wood properly. So, after painting over the surface, the paint may end up discoloring due to natural wood oil. Tannin bleed is a big issue when it comes to painting wood, and it is why you should never paint a 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-based primer is much better for priming unpainted wood compared to latex primer. Sure, it may smell very bad, and it may be quite messy, but in the end, it works better when it comes to 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 paint gloss can also be enhanced.


Can you paint over oil-based primer?

You can paint over oil-based primer, but you should first allow it some time to dry. Oil-based primers 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 your risk ruining your project for good.

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

Yes, you can apply latex paint over an oil-based primer, but you need to allow the surface to be fully dry first. Once it’s dry, you can apply the paint without problems, as there doesn’t seem to be any natural characteristic in the oil-based primer that will prevent latex paint from sticking. Meanwhile, oil-based paint doesn’t work over latex, so you must make sure that you don’t confuse the two.

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 primers and paints on the intended surface. 

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

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